joseph campbell

Being a Man isTerrifying

What most women I know don't get about men is the terror that governs a man's inner world.

Getting Through It

Men are scared of having relationships, being in their bodies, having and caring for kids, making a meal by themselves, being alone, getting soft or intimate, connecting with big emotions, becoming violent, or committing to a partner.

I could go on and on--how often I see it! This ocean of terror is locked inside and seems to seep its way into every part of a man's world. Most of all it seems to rise and swell with providing for families or making a way in this world. A father recently confessed to me that he felt "terrified" that he couldn't take his kids to Disneyland this next year because the money just wasn't there. He was overwhelmed with fear of disappointing them, of NOT giving them the life they imagined was needed.

Women who support the men I’ve mentored often complain that their husbands or sons seem to mope around looking exhausted and weighed down. 

It often appears like its a struggle for men to enjoy the moment.

The sense of "constraint" and obligation, of looking like life is a chore, comes from feeling a need to master the fear. What often is complained about concerning men's need to conquer and subjugate starts right here. In response to our sense of terror we attempt to conquer life. It's not just being Attila the Hun--it's also making lots of money, having plenty of friends, wracking up exciting experiences, screwing their way through female relationships, or even practicing the spiritual life and mastering meditation, religion, or science. It’s about starting that podcast, building a brand, or even initiating a band of brothers.

The fear driving this need to conquer is always the same. Dare I say it?

The Mother.

No—Not your mom. Not actually, not exactly.

Deeply buried in the male psyche is the image of The Mother being one with him, holding him captive, and then forcing him to attach to her, to be dependent on her. The archetype of fertility and life turns out to be the greatest Monster of a man's dreams.

We see this in ancient mythology. The slaying of Tiamat the Dragon (the female goddess of the ocean waters) at the hands of Marduk ( a young male deity attempting to free the world from the feminine) is the most ancient creation myth we know. The bringing of order and land out of the swirling womb of chaos early in the Hebrew Scriptures is another example of this. Norse mythology depicts a slaying of a primordial cow—a vision of fertility—as what births humanity. In fact, most early agrarian societies had some form of these myths in which the masculine destroys the feminine, or binds it. Men cannot enjoy life, or the feminine, without attempting to conquer it, because we are terrified of it.

Life itself, with its rise and fall, and torrent of potential mishaps, simply looks alarming to the male ego. It appears as the chaotic attachment, the emotional embrace, we received—first in utero, then in life. We deal with it as best we can--often by escaping it or conquering it. Earlier I mentioned examples of conquest styled behavior, but drinking, using drugs, zoning out on the couch, watching sports (as opposed to playing them), playing video-games till all hours, or being a Zen master, are all great examples of the male impulse to escape. To be a man is inevitably to seek distance from the Feminine.

Because the Feminine is identified with uncertainty—that which we cannot control or even understand—it is the thing that both feeds us and confounds us. We both are drawn to it, and horrified by it. As with women—so with life.

I know what you're probably thinking--especially if you're a woman. "My man is NOT afraid...he's lazy or he's driven, he's tired or he's just a high achiever...but FEAR is NOT his thing."

I get it. That's certainly the line we've sold you, or been sold our selves. And the truth is, its far easier to deal with escapism or over-achievement (the SYMPTOMS) than the fear (the ROOT CAUSE). But I guarantee that until a man deals with the overwhelming sense of terror that is bound up in him, he will be rigid, remote, a pleasure seeker, addict persona, guarded, distant, or a work-a-holic...

Men--you know I'm right. You feel it, don't you? Your fear of commitment, vulnerability, and sitting with women experiencing BIG emotions, are all examples of this. Waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat about finances is an example of this (especially if there's enough money in your bank account to fund a small army, already). Whether you want to admit it or not, fear lies at the heart of so much of your daily life.

Are you tired of it already?

An old remedy works in this case.


The beautiful, and poetic, verse, "Perfect love casts out all fear" is a true statement.

Because men feel constrained, feel tethered to life, and as if our back was being broken under the weight of having to soldier on, we have to experience a sense of rejuvenation. A mature man draws this energy from those around him who are connected to life in a way that is unrestrained--his children, his partner, or some form of the feminine.  Radiance, generosity, and grace are all experiences that temper and soften the rigidity that creeps in, and covers a man with fear.

Love penetrates through fear. Love leans in and drowns fear in a wave of givenness. Love exhausts itself until there is nothing left.

I’ve received this kind of love.

As I’ve said before—I’ve struggled with intimacy addiction. Attachment, and its physical embodiment, sex, have had a profound impact on my undealt with shadow. It’s damaged many I’ve loved in the past and effected individuals I’ve cared about. Not unlike the Prince in Beauty and The Beast, my own selfish choices, impact everyone around me (remember how in the movie his choices bring about a curse that turns a castle into a haunted house, friends and servants are transformed into cracked dinner ware, etc…). My own darkness, shaded others. What changed that for me? There came a moment when the weight of my struggles was heavier than I could bear and I anticipated being left alone to deal with and be buried by them. Instead, my friend and lover, my wife, looked at me—saw me—and LOVED me, unconditionally. She said, in the most unimaginable terms, “You belong—with all your brokenness, woundedness, shadows and gold. You are LOVED.” Not unlike that movie, in which Belle’s kiss unwinds the curse on the Prince-turned-Beast, so too the effects of her love began to undo the knots of ego and illusion I had been drowning in.

How do I know love conquers fear? Because I’ve experienced it.

An Assignment

Men--if you're reading this, practice imagining being invaded by loving kindness. Picture laughing with your kids or playing with your partner. Remember wrestling with them and being overcome by their enjoyment. Acknowledge that the very thing you're terrified of--being conquered by life, is also the exact thing you adore.

Women--if you want to know how to support your men when they're locked down with anxiety, or the behaviors I talk about above (conquest or escapism), don't become harsh or demanding--but drop into your own living connection with the earth, with your own softness. Free him with your crazy kiss, or take him on an adventure with your smile alone to motivate him. Touch him and enliven him.

Acknowledging we have fears is the first step, then moving from terror to love is the game changer.