Neurosis is not usually defined as a fear of life, but that is what it is. The neurotic person is afraid to open his heart to love, afraid to reach out or strike out, afraid to be fully himself. We can explain these fears psychologically. Opening one's heart to love makes one vulnerable to being hurt; reaching out, to being rejected; striking out, to being destroyed. But there is another dimension to this problem. More life or feeling than one is accustomed to is frightening to the person because it threatens to overwhelm his ego, flood his boundaries, and undermine his identity. Being more alive and having more feeling is scary. I worked with a young man whose body was very unalive. It was tight and contracted, his eyes were dull, his skin color sallow, his breathing shallow. By breathing deeply and doing some of the therapeutic exercises, his body became more alive. His eyes brightened, his color improved, he felt tingling sensations in parts of his body, and his legs began to vibrate.
But then, he said to me, "Man, this is too much life. I can't stand it."
I believe that to some degree we are all in the same situation as this young man. We want to be more alive and feel more, but we are afraid of it. Our fear of life is seen in the way we keep busy so as not to feel, keep running so as not to face ourselves, or get high on liquor or drugs so as not to sense our being. Because we are afraid of life, we seek to control or master it. We believe that it is bad or dangerous to be carried away by our emotions. We admire the person who is cool, who acts without feeling. Our hero is James Bond, Secret Agent 007. The emphasis in our culture is upon doing and achieving. The modem individual is committed
to being successful, not to being a person. He belongs rightly to the "action generation," whose motto is do more but feel less. This attitude characterizes much of modern sexuality: more action but less passion.
Regardless of how well we perform, we are failures as people. I believe that most of us sense the failure in ourselves. We are dimly aware of the pain, anguish, and despair that lie just below the surface. But we are determined to overcome our weaknesses, override our fears, and surmount our anxieties. This is why books on self-improvement or How to Do It are so popular. Unfortunately, these efforts are bound to fail. Being a person is not something one can do. It is not a performance It may require that we stop our frantic business, that we take time out to breathe and to feel. In the process we may feel our pain, but if we have the courage to accept it, we will also have pleasure. If we can face our inner emptiness, we will find fulfillment. If we can go through our despair, we will discover joy. In this therapeutic undertaking we may need help.
Is it the fate of modern man to be neurotic, to be afraid of life? My answer is yes, if we define modern man as a member of a culture whose dominant values are power and progress. Since these values characterize Western culture in the twentieth century, it follows that every person who grows up in this culture is neurotic.