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Psychopathology of Extreme Masculinity, Mass Shootings, Assault and Rape

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Mass shootings may be impossible to predict, however, a cultural milieau that idealizes violence for men (and authority figures in general) as “necessary” for the maintenance of “social order” that keeps those deemed “low” status groups in their place, is one that breeds domestic violence, rape and assault of women, child sexual abuse, bullying — and mass shootings.

Extreme masculinity depicts maleness as a construct that, essentially, stands against everything that is arbitrarily associated with femaleness, such as emotional connection, caring, compassion, empathy, kindness, collaboration, vulnerability to pain and growth, and the like, as signs of “emotional craziness” and inferiority.

It’s called a might-makes-right worldview, and it’s a belief system that disorders the thinking pattern of the human brain to such an extent that high levels of fear, along with rage and scorn, are activated to produce hyper-vigilant states of mind and body ready to eliminate or defend against perceived threats, such as signs of weakness inside self or other.

Literally, this belief system hijacks the body’s autonomic nervous system. To the extent one holds this belief, certain neural pathways remain hyper-vigilant in the brain, scanning for threats (ie., to status, false-self), ready to trigger, and activate the body’s survival system, defensive or offensive aggression strategies.

According to Dr. James Gilligan, psychiatrist and educator, “whether it’s homocidal or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behaviors only when they are shamed or humiliated, or feel they would be if they didn’t prove they were real men.”

Let’s be clear, however.

Mass shootings, sexual assault or rape of women, domestic violence are not mere mental illness. (Most mentally ill persons, after all, do not commit acts of violence.)

They are personality disorders, more specifically, two interconnected profiles of: (1) antisocial personality disorder, or APD, also known as psychopathology or sociopathology or “the criminal mind”; and (2)  narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD.

Both pose risks, at minimum, for emotional harm and cruelty to another person’s sense of self, sanity and agency, and disruption their network of relationships with others, as they are both characterized by overall disregard and scorn for others, an inflated sense of self as superior in relation to others, a deriving of pleasure from inflicting pain, doing so without remorse, and feeling entitled to hoard benefits, to treat or mistreat others with impunity, and to be treated as infallible, and above reproach.

On a continuum of higher to lower risks for harm, relatively speaking, the former is a far more dangerous profile characterized by a sense of entitlement so extreme that they feel entitled to make and break laws, and to judge and punish those in low status groups, in order to protect the “social order” with godlike impunity. And thus they can cause a lot of pain and chaos in the lives or others, to include varying degrees of emotional trauma, or narcissistic abuse syndrome, physical and sexual violence, financial ruin, isolation as a result of disruption of another’s relationship network, removal from work and career where applicable, and in more extreme cases, taking or threatening to another’s life, or lives of loved ones, i.e., children, siblings, parents, friends, pets, etc

(Note: Whereas previous editions of the diagnostic manual for mental health practitioners, or DSM, listed NPD as a separate diagnostic category from APD, it has been removed from the current version, DSM-V.)

Our boys “really buy into a culture that doesn’t value what we’ve feminized. If we’re in a culture that doesn’t value caring, doesn’t value relationships, doesn’t value empathy, you’re going to have boys and girls, men and women go crazy. ” ~ Dr. Niobe Way, psychologist and educator

The trailer below draws attention to a new documentary “The Mask You Live In.” Considering recent mass shootings, and the fact that violence rates in the U.S remain 4 to 20 times higher than any other advanced nation, this one deserves mainstream traction, special attention.

The documentary invites us, as a society, to carefully examine how our hyper-masculinity culture is swerving out of control, and, in varying degree, damaging to the emotional and mental health of our men and boys.

On the one hand, men learn to view femaleness as weak, passive and inferior, and yet on the other also as a contaminating and adversarial force to masculinity, dangerous and fiercely competitive, something men must either break, tame and conquer, or be conquered by — emasculated.

“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy,” coach and NFL player Joe Ehrmann notes, “is when he’s told to “be a man.”

They are destructive because they literally shame boys and men into rejecting the parts of themselves that are most critical to their living fulfilled and healthy lives as human beings, in relationship with other human beings.

Literally, we raise men to fear and regard as “unmanly” the things women stand for, such as nonsexual affection, romantic evenings, watching “chick-flicks,” or conversations about her feelings, hurts or opinions. Men’s use of gaslighting and other tactics serve a hyper-vigilant goal, to avoid “giving in,” lest they become emasculated. Wow, mind-boggling.

Educator and youth advocate, Dr. Joseph Marshall, states that if you’re taught to believe that “everyone needs to respect you, and this is the way you handle it as a man,” then “respect is linked to violence.”

According to Dr. Judy Chu, a sociologist and professor, “[boys] within their pier group culture [are] posturing based on how the other boys are posturing, and what they end up missing is what each of them really want, which is just that closeness.”

What men fear is being shamed as “unmanly” and worthless, inferior, weak, etc., for not displaying control, overt or covert, in keeping the woman in their life at bay, in “her place” — not possible to do with any human being, even children, as any parent who’s raised a child knows, at least not without causing severe damage.

It’s not unusual for men to feel surprised, and at first hesitant to admit, the extent to which they fear the woman in their life. One male client in a couples therapy session, an active duty U.S. Marine, put it this way:

“I’ve done two tours in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. Nothing however scares me more than my wife when she’s unhappy. Nothing, nothing compares.”

Sociologist and educator, Dr. Michael Kimmel states: “We’ve contructed an idea of masculinity in the United States  that doesn’t give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity; and so we  make them go prove it all the time.” And thus boys go out of their way to commit acts of cruelty, emotional and physical, against those society deems inferior and weak, primarily, girls and women.

We know from research using magnetic resonance imaging, that the brain circuitry responsible for aggression and violence resides are in part the same as those responsible for empathy, and that these have an inverse relationship, that is, encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, and vice versa.

The ability to empathize is what allows us to form an emotional connection to our self and others, and life around us, to meanings that makes it possible for us to gain mutual understanding of our self and the other as separate, and yet connected. It is also critical to regulate fear-based emotions and anger, face challenges with resiliency, grow courage and compassion, access possibility thinking, and many other amazing capacities of the human brain.

What is damaging to one gender, however, is also damaging to the other; and ultimately to the marriages, and families they form, as well as communities, and society at large.

It is a biological reality that we cannot regard another with hatred, scorn, disgust, without producing the same toxic chemical release of hormones and feelings inside us. It’s a function of the “mirror neuron” feature of our brains.

In short, a world that is not safe for women and children, is not safe for men and boys. From the time of Sparta, the physical and sexual abuse of boys has strategically served to train them to be killer warriors.

It’s time to wake up, and for men and women to work together, to rescue our boys, so that they are first and foremost human beings, who feel free at last to express human emotions, value human emotions of empathy, compassion, kindness, and so on — conceivably this is the heart of restoring sanity to our society at every institutional level, marriage, family, church, government.


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Psychopathology of Extreme Masculinity, Mass Shootings, Assault and Rape

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2017). Psychopathology of Extreme Masculinity, Mass Shootings, Assault and Rape. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Nov 2017
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