Jung and Others on Fear Part IV: Managing Our Fears

Part IV: Managing Our Fears

men’s lives are essentially governed by fear.

Hollis (1994)


men’s two fundamental fears, the fear of not measuring up and the fear of physical or psychological trial.

Hollis (1994)


Beneath displays of power is the complex; beneath the complex lies fear.

Hollis (1994)


One oppresses what one fears. Fear is responsible for the oppression of women and for gay bashing, the latter most notably by young men insecure in their own psychological reality. 

Hollis (1994)


To become a conscious, adult being, he must struggle mightily with his mother complex, recognizing the battle as an internal one. Otherwise he will certainly project it outward

Hollis (1994)


For men to begin the process of healing they must first risk being honest with themselves, allowing the feelings they think they can’t afford. They must admit they are not happy in spite of what they have achieved. They must admit they do not know who they are or what they must do to save themselves. They must overcome the fear that blocks such thinking, the fear that they will have to change their lives if the emotional cat is let out of the bag. 

Hollis (1994)


For the hero, fear is a challenge and a task, because only boldness can deliver from fear. And if the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is somehow violated, and the whole future is condemned to hopeless staleness, to a drab grey lit only by will-o’-the-wisps. 

Jung  (1956)

The decisive question for man is: “Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life…. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.” 

Jung (1965)

The shirker experiences nothing but his own morbid fear, and it yields him no meaning. 

Jung (1966)

As I began the research on this four-part essay, I encountered a book focused on fears, particularly men’s fears. Since the author, Jungian analyst James Hollis, was so forthright and candid, and the patriarchy is still so dominant, I thought I would dedicate a separate part of the essay to this topic. Hollis’ presentation can be distilled into three sections: the realities we are living in, the tasks men have in healing the wounding inflicted by the patriarchy, and the goals of this most difficult work. 

The Realities We Live With

An obvious reality we rarely notice is that boys and girls do not grow up with the same experience of parenting. While girls can imagine mother as offering clues to how adulthood might look, boys do not have that same relationship: Mother is Other, and few boys grow up learning how “to feel comfortable with [their] feminine side.” With father off at work, or perhaps out of the picture altogether, Mother is the more present parent, and the result is that many boys develop a “mother complex.” James Hollis claims that

 “the macho man remains a little boy just as much as the man who expects all women to mother him. Both of them have unwittingly succumbed to the power of the mother experience and denied that same large power within themselves.”

“Terrified of their feminine side,” many men grow up “insecure in their sexual identity,” propped up by gender roles, and “afraid of the power of the mother complex.”

Intensifying this fear is the reality of the patriarchy. Fear caused men to evolve “the patriarchy, with its rules, hierarchical thinking and social structures, and its subjugation of the feminine, as a defense against the mother complex.” Patriarchy “substitutes power for love and measures worth in material terms,” and it causes men to be “ever wary, fearful that the other fellow might get the upper hand–the old patriarchal power game.” 

The “power game” is just one feature of the patriarchal system. Others include competition, the mind-set of winners-losers and either/or thinking, (which Jung recognized is far too limiting), as well as regression and oppression. Hollis explains the cause of men’s repression: 

When men feel the push-pull of the mother complex they are apt to confuse that power with the outer woman in their life. Just as they often regress in intimate relationships, making a mother of their partner, unconsciously demanding she be “the good breast,…” 

they unconsciously harbor the fear that the woman/wife will not meet this demand. Wanting an adult partner, many women don’t want to play Mommy to their mate, so they [men] “fear and oppress women, as if by controlling them they might master the fear of their own undertow.” Hollis reminds us that “One oppresses what one fears.” 

Men’s fear is responsible for both the oppression of women and also “for gay bashing, the latter most notably by young men insecure in their own psychological reality.” The “gay bashing” we see in our society is due to the fact that “men are afraid to love each other, less they sexualize that relationship.” Being “insecure in their sexual identity,… men fear and deny those parts of themselves that don’t fall within narrow collective limits.” Gay men live outside these limits, causing “straight” men to “reject them violently,” and homophobia is the result. Hollis recognizes that sexual orientation is not a choice, but a “biologically-based orientation that has existed in roughly the same percentages throughout history.” Our modern society is more open about this reality, but men’s fear continues to cause widespread suffering, as “the fundamentalists… supplant love with fear and oppression.”

Other realities of our time reveal just how detrimental and pernicious the patriarchy is. Hollis enumerates the physical consequences for men of living under the dictates of the patriarchal system:

American men die, on average, eight years before women. They are four times more likely to be substance abusers and also four times more likely to take their own lives. They are 11 times more likely to spend time in jail. And these statistics do not even begin to plumb the depths of male rage, male sadness, male isolation. 

Men are not encouraged, in this oppressive system, to be aware of their rage, sadness or sense of isolation. Nor are they clued in to the unconscious stress that arises from their lack of emotional freedom, “the fear of not being “a real man” (because they have “the crazy notion that they ought not to be afraid), and their “fear of not measuring up and the fear of physical or psychological trial.” In his experiences speaking to groups of men, Hollis found that most men told him that 

“they are more afraid of illness, incapacity and impotence than of death… they are more afraid of the trial, of failing the ordeal,… powerlessness in any of its forms is worse than annihiliation.”

And because a man is “unable to admit this to himself, lest his hold on things slip,” he cannot share these fears–or any significant feelings–“with his comrades lest he be shamed.” So men compensate, but that “is just as killing as the problem it seeks to defend against,” because “suppression of the complex and the patriarchal reaction alienate men from themselves.” Hollis notes that often the only connection men have with each other “comes to superficial talk about outer events, such as sports and politics.” 

The reality is that “what we do not know, controls us.” and “what we have not owned within will be projected without.” Avoiding self-awareness, fearing “the feminine within themselves,” many men are “full of rage against women and often they act it out….” as incidents of domestic violence attest: all the “unassimilated need, fear and rage [of men] are acted out in intimate relationships.”  

“Machoism”— Hollis’ word for the swagger and gruffness of the John Wayne, Clint Eastwood model – is pathological, and exists “in direct proportion to men’s fear,…” I am reminded, in this context, of a vivid phrase I heard among a group of women some years ago as we walked along a quiet street. A very loud motorcycle blotted out our voices as it raced past, and a woman in the group noted, in response, that “the louder the noise, the smaller the dick.” Was the loud noise a form of compensation for the insecurity the man felt? Fortunately, the rider never heard this question or the remark that occasioned it. 

This incident made me aware that women know about men’s fearfulness and insecurity. What to do? Hollis warns us women: 

“Many a woman has set out to change such a man and found herself the victim of abuse….Whether the man tries to make his partner the nurturant Other, that is, the mother, or fears the magnitude of his own need and defends himself against her, in all ways he testifies to the power of the mother complex.” 

Clearly, “fixing” men is not the responsibility of women and could endanger us if we tried. But this pathological situation must change. Hollis provides multiple suggestions for how it might. 

The Tasks Men Face in Order to Heal

As one would expect from a Jungian analyst, Hollis starts with the individual man and his inner life–on him becoming more self-aware, more conscious of what is really going on in his life. This involves dozens of tasks, including, first of all, looking within, giving time to introspection, examining his life and tending to questions like 

“What fears block me? What tasks do I, in my heart of hearts, know I must undertake? What is my life calling me to do? Can I bring my work and my soul closer together? How can I serve both relationship and individuation? What areas of father’s unlived life must I occupy and plant my own flag on?”

Questions like these will lead the man to struggle with his mother complex, to recognize and own the issues this complex generates, and from this struggle, to work to shed the directives of the parent complexes, so he can make his own decisions, based on a relationship he develops with his own inner truth.

Truth-telling requires honesty, and it feels risky for a man to admit to himself that he is not happy, that he does not know who he is or what he must do to save himself. But nothing else will work, if a man wants to heal and address his fears.

This is another task–facing fears–and most men in our patriarchal world have many fears–fears of change, fears around acknowledging emotions, fears around the need for nurturance, care and feeding, and fears of other men, even fear of himself. From his work with many men, Hollis concludes that men’s greatest fear is that they have not truly lived their lives. 

Such inner work is not easy, since it involves the man becoming conscious of how he is “grievously wounded,” and discoveries like this can easily pitch a person into despair and depression. As a Jungian analyst, Hollis knows this painful hero’s journey need not be done alone: it can be comforting to have outer-life witnesses (like an analyst), but even alone, working inwardly, if the man respects the images, ideas and insights that come up from his unconscious, e.g. in dreams and active imaginations, he can get in touch with his inner empowering father, and this can help him find the source of his homophobia. He is likely to discover patterns, e.g. of false idealization, ambivalence, rejection and abandonment, as he struggles to feel self-acceptance in the face of failures, and as he tells himself the truth of his soul.

In accordance with the Law of Correspondence–as within, so without–inner work eventually translates into actions in outer life. With commitment, strength and courage, the man is able to beat back the shame that once threatened to engulf him. He summons the courage to speak his emotional truths, and allows himself to have the feelings he thinks he cannot afford. He takes risks to reveal his pain, and accepts as his responsibility his need for nurturance. Becoming self-activating, he feeds his own hungers, and relinquishes the tendency to fall into ideology or dependency on others. As he mobilizes the energies which serve life, he comes out of the macho closet and names the real problem: that men fear those who incarnate their unlived life. Having learned to love himself, he holds the feminine in a respectful balance, and he replaces the homophobia he once felt with eros (the capacity for relatedness) and caritas (love for humanity).

The Goals of These Efforts

Taking up these tasks is not a project of months but years, in some cases, many years. As much as this work requires courage, it also demands patience and persistence, as well as a thick skin, for those times when, having risked showing his pain, a man finds other men reflexively shaming him, or, out of their own fear, even dissociating from him. Some friendships may die, others remain, and new ones may form. Hollis is convinced that “in time all will come to thank those who speak their truth aloud.” 

This gratitude is due to the fact that courageous men speaking the truth about the pathologies of the patriarchy and living true to their heroic task, are doing no less than “building a new world.”–a construction emanating from their personal empowerment (rather than the power based in the power complex of the patriarchy). Hollis knows that “the power game castrates all men,” while empowering “means that one feels good energy available for the tasks of life.” 

The goal of healing here is possible because of the capacity of the psyche to enlarge our lives and the realm of the possible. For thousands of years, men have been living in a reality that is too narrow and confined by myriad fears. This suits neither soul nor Self; “neurosis is the necessary outcome when the infinite possibilities of the individual are subordinated to the restrictions of the culture.” Jung noted that he had

 “… frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with an inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”

Neither women nor men can thrive in a reality driven by need, greed, speed or fear. We require a larger vision, “the framework of the eternal.” as Hollis put it. 

He gives Jung the final word. In his memoir, Jung noted the key question we all must ask ourselves: 

“Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life…. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.” 

We all need to feel a tie to something larger, to feel we matter, and to feel that our lives have a purpose. 


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