Five Terrors of Being a Man

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, HLN, Talking Cranes, The Shriver Report, The Huffington Post, Mamamia and Role Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.


  1. Well written article, but it’s a bit broad brush and one dimensional. It seems to be playing to the male stereotypes that are floating around and, with a bit more depth, could have been sensational. Well done though.

    • Thanks Len. I’ve revised the article quite a bit, if you make it back by, let me know what you think.

      • This should just be called “5 things that terrify people.” I don’t get why this article is gendered. Sometimes I think that if we all just gendered less stuff we would see we have a lot more in common than we think,

        • Michael Rowe says:

          Katherine, it’s probably gendered because this is a men’s website, ostensibly geared at discussing specific issues facing men in society today.

        • On one level I do agree with you, Katherine. But I’m also intent upon communicating with men, who, I think deal with emotions in very different ways than women do. This is because of how men are raised and conditioned regarding what is acceptable for them to express. I am writing not to say that these fears are only men’s fears. I’m am speaking to men about them. My goal is to encourage broad levels of communication between men and women.

  2. At first glance, I tend to agree.

  3. Impressive. Nice write up.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    Common enough issues to be worth a good look.

    It seems to be pretty common for men to seem more emotionally withdrawn and more cautious about expressing their feelings than women. I don’t think that’s just an empty stereotype.

    But, part of the problem is how our society talks about talking about feelings. In some ways, we keep making it a really big deal when a man openly talks about his feelings, when we should not make such a huge production out of it. Telling men over and over again that expressing your feelings makes you “vulnerable” or “opens you up to other people” is actually discouraging it, not encouraging it. It just reinforces the idea of a bunker mentality.

    And, not everyone works through feelings in the same way. Just because a man is not currently, right this moment, talking about his feelings does NOT mean that he’s “withdrawn” or “repressing” or “ignoring” his feelings. Not everyone is a jabberer. There is no single healthy, appropriate way to have an emotionally fulfilled life.

  5. Mark, Wow, I really enjoyed this article. These themes resonate with man’s inner-caveman. Isolate these concepts/fears and they have an instinctual male-quality to them, generally speaking. Those qualities tend to complement instinctual female-qualities. Even #2, the male-fear of providing tends to correspond to the female-fear of nesting today. Men fear not being able to provide enough today, women fear becoming a burden or a mouth to feed, if you will.

    Although, you mention men being emotionally disconnected today, that part is disturbing to me as a woman. It’s our responsibility to complement the opposite sex and try to meet each other’s emotional needs. I think we’ve all strayed from that quite a bit.

  6. I simply don’t recognize these men you are describing. At all.

    My ex-boss weeping because the farmer next door shot his dog for trespassing.
    My son’s pride and exhaustion after a 14 hour day digging fence posts in clay, visible in the way he wiped the sweat from his head.
    My nephew’s joy at having his beef wellington turn out perfectly for a dinner party of 40,visible in his grin as he surveyed the pin drop silence, and closed eyes around the room.
    My brother’s sorrow and grief as he contemplates his lost relationship, and the profound serenity as he reads to his son and his daughter.
    My other brother’s fury and contempt as he deals with the vicious emotional abuse of his ex’s rejection of her own son, and the crushing of his son’s sense of maternal attachment.
    The skepticism and worry evident in the posture of the hard rock miners as I stood in a stope, seven levels down, to explain a major change in their employment.
    I know of no man who does not readily express emotions other than anger. None.
    As for fears (and I reject the use of terror in the title) – everyone has fears. When men trust you, they readily express fear. Nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to working hands-on with a man with fears, to deal with the issue driving the fear. Men often express their emotions while doing something with another person. And it does not matter whether the thing being done is teaching a kid to skate, working on his financial problems, addressing an educational failure, confronting a challenging future path to open up options, building a house, cooking haute cuisine for family and friends, or playing pick-up hockey on an open air rink on a frozen lake.

    Perhaps the problem is more that one doesn’t engage with men doing things, one doesn’t know a lot of men who trust you, the micro-culture you inhabit is rife with distrust, or you are not attuned to the ways that they communicate emotion. If you think that all men will sit down and discuss their emotions using a vocabulary that you recognize from talking to women… yeah, you are likely to be disappointed.

    As for your list of fears, everyone has those fears (sex, resources, capability, age, and identity), they may present slightly differently between the conventional sexes, and the addressing of those fears varies even more, but to attempt to explain men by means of fear, is a disservice and disrespect to men, in my view.

    • Dear Rezam,
      You say you do not recognize the men described in my article. If so, you are a fortunate person. But I assure you that if you start your car and drive to where I was raised you would meet them. It is not due to some bias I have toward listening to emotions in a vocabulary that I “recognize from talking to women” that causes me not to hear some rich vein of emotional communication in those men. The simple fact is, they are not speaking emotionally. And they are certainly not communicating in ways that reveal their hidden side.

      They typically rely on some derivation of authority and confidence as the primary filter for what they do discuss. Much like you did in your post.

      • “I simply don’t recognize these men you are describing. At all.”
        as in I.
        “the micro-culture you inhabit is rife with distrust”
        as in your community of men may differ – you assert that is so… OK…

        You use the verbs listening, speaking. In my experience, much of men’s emotional expression is NON_VERBAL. To highly verbal people, accustomed to verbal expression of emotion, it often seems that there is no emotional expression coming from men. That is what I was expressing. I am surprised that someone who is an animator and illustrator might not have understood that.

        Reveal their hidden side? It is not particularly hidden. Verbal expression does in my experience require that they trust you. Others experience might vary.
        “They typically rely on some derivation of authority and confidence as the primary filter for what they do discuss. Much like you did in your post.”

        Much like I did in my post? I gave my experiences. I gave my opinion on what conclusions I have drawn from that. Authority ? Confidence? In my own experiences? well yes I do rely on that in this instance.

        Perhaps instead of attempting some kind of what appears to be an insult attempt, you might address why you are painting men as some kind of less than human automaton. Do you really believe that men are some form of crippled subhuman? I don’t think that you do.

        As for my being an outlier in the men I know? I’ve now known four generations of males. I’ve worked with them in settings ranging from hospitality to retail, to hard rock mining, to heavy manufacturing, to high finance, to farming, to teaching, Its a pretty broad cross-section of men.

        I’m sorry to hear that your experience with men has been so unrewarding.

        • Rezam,
          Let me just say this. Non-verbal is fine and real and valid. But it’s not the be-all end all of communication. Non-verbal wouldn’t get you through an AA meeting. Non-verbal wouldn’t get you through marriage counseling. What I am suggesting is that men hide their deeper fears. It’s not a complicated idea. You clearly don’t agree with what I am saying and I think you’ve made your position clear. I’m fine with that. But I assure you I am not painting men as human automatons or anything else.

          • I did not say it was the be-all and end-all. I said they expressed emotion non-verbally, continually, and with an astoundingly broad range. Those non-verbal interactions built trust.
            Once trust was there, they did communicate verbally – their vocabulary was not as great as some, but they did express verbally.
            Frankly, an AA meeting and marriage counseling are rather specific environments, would you not agree.
            I don’t think we have anything further to achieve Mark. Perhaps our experiences are just too divergent.

          • Mark and Rezam – I can’t speak from a man’s perspective, because I’ve never a walked a mile in a man’s shoes, but I have walked a mile with men. In my experience, I noticed men express emotions quite differently than women and our natures complementary…generally speaking. I usually get an argument from women, but I know there’s a general difference.

            I can attest to the non-verbal quality, until trust is built. Just to share a one unique experience from a woman’s view, I was in the military and spent time in combat with thousands of men and very few women. In combat trust and reading non-verbal cues is vital for survival. In short time, I was able to read men’s emotions without the need to talk much. Men did more emoting and talking than I did, which was awesome. Communication was fluid and in sync. Some of the recent research corroborates what Rezam pointed out about men expressing non-verbally and my experience reading non-verbally. Women tend to rate higher on non-verbal empathizing than men. Men tend to express non-verbally.

        • Michael Rowe says:

          Rezam, I’m fascinated by the notion that you’re pushing your own version of “what men are like” as evidence that Mark’s view is flawed. Perhaps you’re lacking either the courage, the honesty, the intelligence, or the sensitivity to open yourself up to what Mark is proposing, but the view of men’s experience he writes about is entirely accurate and reality-based. If yours is different, that doesn’t make him wrong, it makes you very lucky. Perhaps instead of attempting to attack, condescend to, and deconstruct his version, you should write your own essay on men’s experiences and submit it to the GMP.

          • Michael, I clearly and unmistakeably prefaced my comments as being MY EXPERIENCES. His may easily be true for the men he has known. Given that he is speaking in very broad generalizations, and has written in collaboration with Dr. Bava, I think it is reasonable to assume that this is not to be applied to JUST the men he has known.

            “you’re lacking either the courage, the honesty, the intelligence, or the sensitivity to open yourself up”
            Is this your normal style of discussion? I fully grasp what Mark is proposing. I simply disagree with his premise, based on my experiences. I cannot for the life of me understand how this stance plays out – not in a therapeutic setting, not as a foundation for any form of social policy, not as an educational basis, and not even in a relationship setting. Does one start such an interaction in any of those settings, by adopting the position that the man has no internal emotional life, apart from fear and anger?
            Is this valid to you? Men are emotional deaf mutes?

            men do not share their feelings
            do not communicate feelings well
            emotionally limiting ideas of what it means to be a father
            ongoing emotional suppression of men
            Fears unspoken and unexplored
            no way to share their stories of uncertainty, grief or fear
            resist committing time for self examination or emotional growth
            live lives of isolated desperation, ultimately unsure of who they are
            I recognize some of this description. I heard it as commentary of men returning from world war II.

            You assert that this view of men’s experiences is entirely accurate and reality-based. It may well be an accurate description of the VIEW of men’s experiences. ” We have all heard it said” . That does not mean that the view itself is valid. I do not believe that the view IS valid.
            Am I lucky? Doubt it. I just don’t approach men with the expectation that they will lay the intimacies of their life and identity on the table immediately. The first thing I do, is to do something with them – not talk, not watch TV, do something. It builds trust.

            ” attempting to attack, condescend to, and deconstruct his version”
            When someone advances a position that I disagree with, I offer my experiences, and the reasons I disagree. If you wish to characterize that as an attack, then that is fine – wrong, but fine. As for condescension – where? Do you disagree with the four possible reasons that I gave for such a different experience outcome? Do you think that the pathway to emotional intimacy does not start with the non-verbal? Or that distrust is unlikely to produce same? If you are a highly verbal person, accustomed to emotional intimacy through verbal communication, do you think you might miss the non-verbal openings? Do you think that all people, men included, have taken the time to engage with a broad array of men to build trust, because there was a time in my life when I simply did not have the time resources to invest in that. This is not condescension, this is explanatory efforts at a discrepancy.

            Or do you object to the vocabulary of women statement. One of the things that is argued, is that men seem to often to be unable to list a broad array of words denoting emotional states. Women seem to have a greater vocabulary for this. I believe that a part of this comes from the range of reading material that men are exposed to. I was using the word vocabulary intentionally, not as some kind of slap at either women or Mark. In my experience, men do have fewer words to denote emotions. That does not mean they don’t communicate them verbally and clearly, simply that they are less fluent with a vocabulary. As they describe a situation, however, they express emotion very clearly, and accurately.
            And I could not care less about your “deconstruction”.
            Mark’s article was written in collaboration with a behavioural pyschologist. I am not particularly interested in the behaviourist school, primarily because I think the human brain is far too complicated to be reduced to behaviour. I am more interested in the meaning behind behaviour, and the neurotransmitter state that embodies emotions. While the model described by Mark has broad currency, I consider it inaccurate, and invalid – yes based on my experience, and my understanding of neurology. Tell me Michael, in a therapeutic setting, does the therapist expect to build trust before achieving sufficient emotional connection to be effective? If so, why does this model of men set such a standard?

            First I am accused of being authoritarian, and operating from ?confidence?, then of lacking what was it – intelligence, openness, sensitivity and honesty. That is what is fascinating, Michael. I will not respond again, so have at it.

            • Rezam, two clarifications that I can not leave unspoken:
              You say, “Does one start such an interaction in any of those settings, by adopting the position that the man has no internal emotional life, apart from fear and anger?
              Is this valid to you? Men are emotional deaf mutes?”

              I am not saying that men are emotional deaf mutes. I have never said that. I would never say that. What I am saying is that we live in a culture in which men are taught to HIDE their internal emotional lives. And that they are punished when the reveal supposedly “weak” emotions like fear, grief or uncertainty. Over time hiding these emotions becomes a deeply ingrained way of approaching life. I am also saying that our culture primarily permits men to express confidence and anger as valid modes of processing fear or uncertainty. Men are expected to be stoic and to carry on with our responsibilities not express the fears we all hold inside of us.

              Also, Dr. Bava is not a behavioralist. She is a constructionist. And to be clear, in articles where I am expressing my own ideas, her role as my collaborator is purely conversational. She logic checks me in terms of what other points of view I might consider. We like exploring ideas together.

              Again, thanks for your comments.

  7. I completely agree with 1, 2 & 5

  8. I think if I were generalizing about men’s emotions I would say that men are less likely to politicize their emotions and are less negotiable about their emotions.

    I think the characterization of “soft skills” as being undeveloped can easily be seen as unreceived and under appreciated. To be honest I see more soft skills generally in young males than I do in young females. Which leads me to consider this perspective to be somewhat dated or directed at old men like me.

    I would also say that when it comes to emotional growth, people around me have had a vested interest in ignoring it. Change does not serve their interests. It’s a great article to consider the male experience and perspective but not as definitive as it reads. I do think that men today are more sophisticated than the article suggests.

    • Keith,
      I suspect that soft skills are underrepresented across the board in the young because our institutuions tend to teach math not empathy, and you’re right about the article being directed at older men. That is men who are old enough to have made the kinds of deals we make in longer term relationships or marriages. Mid-30′s or so at least. But the men who hide their emotions are taught to do so as children and that is still happening today. Those kids who are taught to examine and share their emotions are fortunate in that they have an additional skill set with which to engage the world.

      • Mark
        “the men who hide their emotions are taught to do so as children and that is still happening today.”

        You used the word “hide” I’m going to present a different perspective “imposed silence” for your consideration. T
        The belief that you should never hit a girl obliterates the personal experience that motivates it. The motivating emotion is silenced and the evidence of emotional pain is removed. A unique moment of masculinity is imposed removing the experience of maleness. We may better teach our sons to never hit a girl………. after she apologizes.
        The fact is that childhood is the only time when the sexes are close in physical ability.I see no need to impose silencing techniques on one sex in early childhood.These values are taught to boys by their mothers and by female caregivers. These values are damaging.

        “institutions tend to teach math not empathy”

        If the schools aren’t teaching it where are the girls learning it and additionally why are mothers not teaching it to their young boys.

        I’m onside with your article it’s important that males develop a wholesome emotional living experience. But I do believe that we also need to teach our boys about emotional dishonesty, coercive political correctness, manipulation and how to identify them with critical thought. After all if we have a pulse we have empathy the evidence is in how easily we are led by the media, but comprehension skills are taught.

  9. I am this man. Spot-On on all five counts.

    I agree it is courageous for man to be self-aware and admit his fears. But your conclusion takes it too far. Way too far.

    The real question is why is it socially acceptable to convey these fears by expressing “weaker” emotions, but yet not socially acceptable to express them via manly emotions.

    John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” What’s wrong with that brand of courage? I think that type of “false confidence” should be admired.

    Your are correct that men have these five fears. Your conclusions on what should be done in light of this are off base.

    • Hey Beau,
      If I’m not being clear, let me attempt to be so here. I am not excluding any of the culturally approved approaches to living that men might choose to take. I am arguing to add some more approaches that have thus far been stigmatized as weak or unmanly.

  10. It is rubbish to conclude that economic & physical vitality must be replaced by emotional sensitivity to maintain an older man’s value!
    From my experience I have found that the need for economic vitality loses its importance as we age and we become less focused on material needs. We get by with less and are still as happy (or even more so).
    As for physical vitality goes, older men can & should maintain their physical condition for as long as they can into their old age. I am 67 and have never been fitter, working out at gym 3 days per week with long walks & cycling on the other days.
    I don’t think you should be suggesting that men progress through old age by replacing physical activity with emotional sensitivity. Old people need to maintain their strength and keep active as long as possible.
    It is wrong to say old age terrorises men.

  11. Dear Gary,
    Aging is a wide ranging issue. It can be about end of life issues, or it can be about mid-life challenges created when younger men begin to pose a threat to our employment security. When women stop looking. When we can’t find our damned reading glasses. So the fears I speak of can be wide ranging.
    What I am most definitely not saying is that men as they age need to “replace physical vitality with emotional sensitivity” in order to “maintain value.” What I am saying is that emotional connectivity gives us rich and varied ways to manage the changes that aging brings.
    It is not an exclusionary stance I am taking. I encourage physical vitality and strength through exercise for men for as long as that is an option (well into their 80′s), but some day we all will face the degradation of our physical form. I would suggest that the extra capacities provided by emotional connectivity will carry us through that phase of our lives when we can no longer run a marathon or work a stair climber. (Not to mention a wide range of other benefits in our ongoing lives.)
    What I am also saying is that no matter how economically powerful and authoritative any of us are, we won’t be that way forever. Someday, if even for a short time, we will be humbled and feeble. And if financial and authoritative power is our central mode for engaging the world, our old age will be a frightening thing indeed.

  12. I agree with your general conclusion that human beings, and men in particular, must confront their fears & share with those that are close to them. However, the examples given appear to be outdated caricatures & not representative of the majority of modern men. Honestly, I think the biggest” fear” of modern men equates to narcissism: the fear that they do not get affirmation for doing routine tasks (I.e., raising their kids, being faithful to their spouse, etc.) Furthermore, openly sharing emotions would be much easier if men werenot judged when their feelings did no fi neatly into some PC category that was accepted as “authentic.” It is my belief that men will share their emotions in a more productive manner when the dialogue about true emotional expression values honesty & is less patronizing.

    • I tried to be clear, indicating that a lot of men don’t hide their emotions and that this is just a sampling of fears, not the five fears. However, this stuff rings true to me. And I count.

  13. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi Mark, you want to feel terror? Say to a woman someday you are going to be a soldier and kill people who you no nothing about. She would look at you very strangely. Or you will play a sport where you are going hit someone as hard as you can and try to hurt them, while other folks watch. Or if you try to put your arms around your best friend in public, you might killed, and don’t even think about holdings! Men don’t feel the slightest bit of terror. How could we, we have thoroughly trained not to. Men live on average 7-8 years less longer than women. We haven’t internalized a thing. I do not no any man who doesn’t feel bad about himself. We cannot show it, because that would be terrifying! Nothing is going to change unless we learn to listen to each other. That is a fact. Thanks!

  14. This article shows me how different American men must be from Scandinavian men, in general.

  15. Bravo. I am so glad I found a site that explores men in an honest way to encourage growth on both sides of the aisle. I think the biggest fears on this list are 1 and 2 in that order. When men can let go of the struggle and the “facade” a new world opens to them…..then again, that applies to women as well!

  16. Why in the world would one want to focus on the negatives in their lives? Any sports psychologist worth his salt would tell you that the unconscious mind manifests in reality what we spend mental and emotional energy on – it’s amoral that way. It just grows what’s planted – regardless of what’s planted. Instead – men should focus on, spend mental and emotional energy on – the positives of their lives, what they aspire to, the achievements elemental to their self esteem, etc. In the war of the inner demons of Men, it’s critical to realize that those inner demons Men have cannot be killed – but they can be starved and they can crowded out….

    • Mark Greene says:

      One of the biggest challenges we face as men is evident in your comment. Men are not encouraged to explore or even admit to their pain. My journey has been to acknowledge and then move past the emotional challenges of my life as a man in America. Although I heartily agree that we all need to focus on and grow the positives in our lives, to suggest that focusing on negatives has no value is just more “toughing it out” talk; textbook performance of American masculinity.

  17. Loved the article and the message you are trying to get across. It’s not about gender in the end but this is a men’s website that deals with men’s issues so making it about gender is important. My hope is that eventually men won’t be so afraid to show their emotions and share their vulnerability with someone the trust and love. Thanks for putting this out there.


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