Leaf in the Wind Syndrome

“I’m always comparing my relationship to other people’s relationships. Why does everyone else look like they’re so in love?”

“I have such a hard time making decisions. Sometimes I can’t even decide what to order at a restaurant!”

“I worry about whether or not my family likes my partner. I always care so much about what they think.”

“I believe every anxious thought that enters my brain. It’s exhausting.”

“What if I’m gay? What if I’m a pedophile? What if I have a terminal illness?” 

All of these statements are symptoms of the same core issue: lack of self-knowledge and self-love which result in a lack of self-trust. In other words, when we’re filled up inside – when the waters of our well of Self are full – we have a strong and solid sense of ourselves and so we naturally stop caring what others think, stop comparing, stop needing others’ approval to the same degree and ultimately start to trust our decisions, our agency, and our sense of inner direction.

When my clients are struggling with these issues, I say to them, “You’re like a leaf-in-the-wind!” They get it immediately. When you’re a leaf in the wind, you fly in whatever direction the wind carries you. You have very little self-agency and  inner strength that can help you chart your own course and trust your own decisions. If an intrusive thought like “I don’t love him” enters your brain, you’re at the mercy of the thought. The thought is the wind and your inner self traipses behind like a young sheep following its mother. If your boss offers some constructive criticism of your last project, you go home and not only stew about what you could have done differently but start to feel badly about yourself and question your self-worth.

By contrast, when you’re an old growth redwood tree, your trunk is solid and unshakable. You might sway with the wind but you won’t be buffeted or break. You know who you are, you value who you are, and you trust who you are. By extension, you’re also able to trust your decisions because you know that the outcomes aren’t predictors of your self-worth. You’re able to access the place deep inside that trusts your wisdom – the place beyond thoughts and deeper than feelings. You’re able to hear others’ opinions but ultimately form your own.

How do you become a solid tree trunk instead of a leaf in the wind?

The key is in learning how to reverse the focus of your attention from externalizing your sense of self to filling your well of Self with warm and clear waters. That means that you take time each day, through intentional actions, to learn about yourself so that you can learn to love who you are and ultimately trust who are you. This process of developing self-trust doesn’t happen on its own. It doesn’t happen through reading or watching self-help videos or talking. It happens through practice and action.

Quite often a client will ask me, “Do I have to do these loving actions every day?” to which I respond, “Do you have to brush your teeth every day? Only if you want a healthy mouth. Do you have to move your body every day? Only if you want a healthy body. Do you have to attend to your inner world every day? Only if you want to feel healthy, strong, and solid about who you are. If you want to continue to feel swayed by others’ opinions and bogged down in comparisons, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want to shift into a more solid version of yourself and learn to access the place inside that isn’t blown around by every thought and feeling, then you have to take action.”

Inner work is just that: work. The problem is that most people have a negative association with the word work. We think of work as boredom and drudgery, as something we have to get through in order to do what we really want to do. We think of the endless hours in boring classes watching the hours tick by or the endless hours sitting at a desk waiting for five o’clock.  But true work – work that fuels your soul – is closer to play. True work may be challenging, like raking up a pile of leaves, but it leaves you feeling accomplished, inspired, and satisfied. Part of the resistance people feel to committing to the daily practices is that they imagine it’s going to feel like drudgery. It doesn’t have to feel that way. For me and for thousands of people who have gone through my courses, inner work feels more like an adventure and a process of discovery, a journey through the labyrinth of Self that includes hidden pathways and mysterious caves. Guided by the headlight of curiosity, we alight on the sparks of insight that help us put the pieces of our inner puzzle together as we begin to make sense of our lives and rediscover the hidden crystal of self-trust that awaits us in the dark caverns.

Another spoke of resistance is that nobody taught us how to do inner work. We learned math and language arts and history and writing but was there ever a course on Self? Of course not. We balk in the face of what we don’t understand. We feel overwhelmed by a blank sheet of paper if we don’t understand the assignment. This is why I created my Trust Yourself program: to teach you the roadmap for inner work that you never learned in school. Together, we embark on a 30-day journey of learning and discovery. Together, we piece together the strands of your inner quilt that were shredded into disparate shards years ago so that you can taste your wholeness once again. Together, we remember what it means to love ourselves and trust ourselves.

My eighth round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt is open for registration and spots are filling fast. I hope you’ll join me.

What If I Make a Mistake?

When my boys were learning how to write, they would freeze in their tracks for fear of making a spelling mistake. Their perfectionist tendencies were not a surprise to my husband and I – after all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – and it was both fascinating and painful to see how powerfully the perfectionist halted their creative and free expression. I would say to them over and over again, “Make mistakes! It’s how you learn. I don’t care about spelling mistakes. I just want you to be able to express your thoughts.” Eventually the message penetrated and they were able to move past their blocks and just write.

If you’re prone to perfectionism you know well of which I speak. The perfectionist is not only the voice that says, “You have to be perfect” but is also the voice of self-doubt that stems from the inner … Click here to continue reading...

Am I Only With My Partner Because He Makes Me Feel Safe?

There are so many ways the ego tries to dismantle real love, and it’s favorite is to perseverate on a single question until it tires itself out, then jump to the next story. I’ve dissected many of these questions on this blog and in my courses, approaching each in the same way: name it as an intrusive thought, douse it with truth water, then ask: What is this thought protecting me from feeling? The current thought-story that seems to be making the rounds of the collective unconscious, meaning I’m hearing it through all of my channels – from my clients, my readers, and my course members – is the title of this blog: What if I’m only with my partner because she or he makes me feel safe?

Let’s dissect this intrusive thought and douse it with some truth water. The statement implies that feeling safe is a poor … Click here to continue reading...

When Love Makes You Flinch

One of the common fear-lines that arises when the ego is trying to deconstruct the idea of relationship anxiety and convince you that your truth is that you’re just with the wrong person is: “If what Sheryl says is true, why don’t more people talk about it?”

It’s an understandable question, and I have many responses to it. But the best response is to inform the person who is questioning that those who are intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of relationships do, in fact, talk about the interplay between fear and love in a very similar way as I do. Clergy, couple therapists, longtime married couples, and anyone on the front lines of real relationships know that love includes fear, that certainty is often followed by doubt, that love is action, and that falling in love isn’t a prerequisite for having a great relationship. It’s only the mainstream media – … Click here to continue reading...

If I'm Calm Now Is It Still Relationship Anxiety?

There is often a predictable arc to relationship anxiety that includes three stages.*

The first stage is characterized by typical symptoms of anxiety and panic:

Can’t sleep Can’t eat Tearful Depressed Bolting awake in the middle of the night Difficulty functioning at work Fluttering stomach Racing heart

On a purely physiological level, we can’t maintain this state of high anxiety for very long. Eventually the alarm will simmer down to something that feels like calm. This isn’t the true calm that arrives after working long and hard facing our fears. Rather, it’s the calm that follows the dramatic and intense storm of the first stage. It’s where psyche and soma settle into a manageable state that might be characterized more by numbness or indifference than true calm. You can sleep now. You can eat. You can function. But you’re just not that excited about your relationship. At least when you … Click here to continue reading...