Caught in the Story

snowOur stories form a crystal cave of stalactites and stalagmites in our minds, a cool chamber that seduces us with the promise that if we spend enough time there we will divine our answers. How beautiful this cave looks! How many promises it offers! And how familiar this cave becomes when we’ve spent thousands of hours there seeking safety from the vulnerability of childhood. Each stalactite tells a story. Each stalagmite offer the infinite details that need to be figured out.

It’s very easy to become caught in this cave of stories, to fall prey to the widespread belief of the culture and the intrinsic ego belief that we can solve our anxiety by figuring out the “answers” to the conundrums and riddles that occupy daily, human life. Yet as Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This means that the problems our minds create – our stories that arise from our own ego-inventions – cannot be solved at the level of the mind. We must go deeper.

What are these stories? Our projections are story. Our blame-tracks are story. Our intrusive thoughts are story. Becoming obsessed with figuring out the details of a situation is story. When we are righteously attached to our position and cannot see another perspective we’re caught in a story.

To be even more specific: Focusing on your partner’s flaws are story. Focusing on the “what-ifs” of “What if I’m not attracted enough?” or “What if I don’t love my baby enough?” or “What if I never make enough money?” or “What should I do about my job?” are stories. Focusing on how your method of stacking the dishwasher is superior to your partner’s method and dwelling on this “fact” as “evidence” that he’s not competent is a story.

The tricky part about stories is that they’re always incredibly compelling. Our mind lures us in like the witch who removes the breadcrumbs and, unless we have consciousness about how the mind works, we can’t help but follow. And before we know it we’re sitting in that cool and beautiful crystal cave, separated from the warm fire of the heart but protected in the illusion of safety.

When I first started working in the world of the wedding transition twenty years ago, I wrote and spoke extensively about the tendency for women to over-focus on the planning details – the dress, the flowers, catering, photographer, guest list, etc – as a way to avoid facing their deeper, more vulnerable emotions. Everything in our culture, of course, encourages this mindset for those getting married, so it’s frightfully easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the “stuff” of the wedding planning. This is the story.

Now it’s become code with my longterm clients, many of whom found their way to me during the tumult of their engagement anxiety, when they’re projecting onto the details of the current story to say, “It’s the dress”, and they know I mean, “It’s not about the stuff or the details.” When we’re focused on the tangibles, it’s often a way to avoid tending to the vulnerable feelings of grief, uncertainty, and fear that are activated by the current story. The thoughts are the protective, top layer; the feelings are the underlayer. The underlayer is where the potential for transformation lives.

When I’m working with a client and I can hear that she or he is caught in the head-space of story, I will help them shift out of mind-space and into heart-space. What I’m interested in – and what ultimately shifts us from head to heart – is to delve into what lives underneath the story. So I will often interrupt the attempt to “figure it out” and say something like:

“Let’s stop for a minute and recognize that you’re getting caught in the story.” The simple act of naming the ego’s tactics sets us into a new direction.

“Now let’s take some time to breathe.” Even two full, deep cycles of inhale and exhale can loosen the grip on “figuring it out” and bring us into our bodies. The intention here is to interrupt the habitual pattern of staying stuck in the rumination, which is often characterized by the question, “What should I do?”

“Now let’s stay here for a few moments. What do you notice?” My client might notice some warmth or opening in the heart. She might notice sadness. He may cry. She may notice that she’s having a hard time dropping in, but when we stay here long enough, the nervous system calms and she can eventually find space.

Let me pause here to say that it takes a lot of practice to be able to do this on your own, so please be gentle with yourself if you’re having trouble dropping in and down. If you’re struggling with a lifetime of anxiety, this work is best initially done with a therapist or meditation instructor, as when you sit across from someone else’s calm state, you will be able to absorb it as your own. This is the beauty and power of mirror neurons at work.

With my clients I will continue with: “Now let’s become curious about the family and cultural download that may be playing into this rumination.” (see last week’s post) When we can name the patterns that are keeping us captive, we can shift the patterns. The light of awareness loosens the knots of history. At this point, we’re traveling back up into head-space but from a very different mindset. Now, instead of being led by fear, we’re being led by the high-beam of curiosity.

“Now let’s come back into the space of silence and just be there together.” We stop talking, stop trying to find an answer, stop figuring it out, stop problem-solving. Here we just be.

When we can stop and redirect, a micro-moment shift occurs, a brief space when we can catch the habitual pattern and shine our focus in a different direction. It’s these micro-moments that pave the way for new neural pathways to solidify. And it’s this gap between stimulus and reaction, when we can slow down the moments and try something new, that the possibility for an insight springing from our inner well can arrive.

The paradox is that when we let go of trying to figure out “what should I do” from the thought-space and allow ourselves to release the grip and drop into the body, the sense of direction (which isn’t really an “answer”) naturally arises. This may not happen in a nanosecond, but will eventually occur more and more if we practice dropping into our body over time.

From the dropped-down place of breath, we find the direction that we’re seeking. From the spaciousness of being, authentic doing arises. When we can un-attach from the belief that our serenity lies in answering our stories’ riddles by clamping down in mental rumination and instead learn to drop down into our bodies, trusting that true wisdom originates there, our inner lives begin to shift. And when our inner lives shift, our outer lives follow suit. We act now from response instead of reaction, from wisdom instead of habit, from love instead of fear. And that’s what this work is all about.

85 comments to Caught in the Story

  • agnes

    My goddd, I needed this. You are a treasure 🙁 thank you. I’m going to practice: “Oh, I’m telling myself a story” (even though the ego compellllls me to believe that it is true. Pause, breath. Practice patience in allowing my feelings to reveal themselves. I’m feeling much braver.

  • becominglove

    Thank you so much for this much needed and divinely timed post. Having moved countries a week ago and been reunited with my partner a week ago, I have seen myself literally clamping down in mental rumination as my jaw has been tight and there has been huge tension in my head and body. When I read your post, after a week of ‘seeing’ ways my partner could look after *his* kitchen better, I just stopped and dropped in and felt I could cry and cry. Thank you again for this safe space to be honest and feel x

  • Sarah

    Hi Sheryl, how do you know it is a fear story? My latest thoughts are about my partner not being cool enough and I get most embarrassed when we around other people and he says something silly or his stories don’t have much meaning. I know that I care a lot about what other people think, but could it be possible that I actually just find him irritating and not that interesting? I have thought that this is my ego but if I sit with it, how will I know the truth? Thanks so much.

    • When you sit long enough and with enough stillness you will know the difference between the fear/ego voices and your deepest wisdom. But just so you know, this is a classic fear story ;).

  • Molly

    Thank you! After reading this I realized this is exactly what I’ve been practicing each day. I found myself projecting, ruminating on my relationship when with my bf last night. I could feel some sadness that wanted to come up but it wasn’t right time. Today when I was alone I gave myself the space. So much sadness, feelings of inadequacy, grief about relationship with my dad came up. At yoga it came up even more. I cried the entire class.
    I also find that when I sit down to study ( I’m about to begin last semester of nursing school), the intrusive thoughts about bf and relationship come on strong. I think it’s covering my feelings of inadequacy about being a nurse. The thoughts are also stronger during school when I’m feeling overwhelmed and ‘not good enough ‘.
    So much learning. Thank you for your work!

    • These are essential connections to make, Molly, and this is the work. Keep going!

    • Izzie

      Molly, you’re not the only one who’s intrusive thoughts come on strong when you’re studying! I was actually doing really well with my anxiety before having a load of deadlines for university but every time I sat down to work, my mind kept coming up with new stories (as fear does) for me to ruminate on instead of concentrating on my work and now I almost feel like I’m back to square one. I think stressful and overwhelming times are a breeding ground for this kind of anxiety- we just have to do our best and push through it. Good luck with your studies and inner work 🙂

  • Cami

    Lately I’ve been more and more aware of my thoughts just by naming them when they occur: “I’m having a thought about x, y, z”, i tell myself. Recently I asked you what the flashbacks of a relationship might mean after a break up and you said there is more grieving to be done. However, my awareness of how many times a day the flashbacks come to mind is very, very scary. I feel like I’m going crazy. How do I know if these flashbacks are a healthy part of the grieving with respect of them being my head space not letting my grieve properly?

  • Fight_for_Happiness

    You say a sense of direction arises when we get out of the headspace. Perhaps I’m not as good at this as I would like or need to be but often something tells me the direction I’m heading feels forced. Like it’s what I think I want so I force it. However something else tells me this “forcing it” idea is simply another fear voice. That staying isn’t something I’m forcing but rather something I’m choosing despite the fear. Anxiety is a curious, many layered beast ( I say beast simply because beasts are not all bad nor all good ).

    • The “I’m forcing this” is a classic fear tactic, and a very compelling one. We do, in fact, have to “force” ourselves to work through the fear, otherwise we wouldn’t do anything risky in life. Anxiety is, indeed, a many-layered beast!

  • P

    Amazing. Truth. I need to breath this all in!!!

  • Futureself

    Love this entry Sheryl….I am (slowly) getting this more and more….it is a tender, vulnerable place underneath that safe, familiar one but I am learning I need to be here more and more in all aspects of my life. This framework/shift has helped me in my work as a therapist as well. Thanks so much for sharing your gift. ❤

  • Britt

    This post seems different; like someone else wrote it. I enjoyed it, however.

  • Christy

    Wow – thank you!

  • Katie

    I’ve been struggling what intrusive thoughts about 3 months into my relationship and my partner and I have been together 1year and 2 months now, it’s been hard but I haven’t left because that’s the last thing I want. It all started after we got back together after he broke up with me, we were apart for only about 5 days but they were the worst, I always crying and felt like my heart was being ripped out my chest. I kinda started to accept we were over the day we got back together but kept telling myself I’ll keep him as a good friend and hopefully he will want me back, my main thought is “you don’t love him” all because I can’t “feel” it, he is my first serious relationship where I see myself having a proper future with, we have no red flags, get on so so well, connect so well together and he is my bestfriend. I’ve just grown up always thinking that love is a feeling and if you don’t feel it then it isn’t love. I’ve read so many times on here that’s not the case but I’m just finding it hard to train my mind to believe that. I want to love him so badly, he’s the best person I’ve ever met, I see myself building a loving home and family with him.

    He knows all about this and he is very supportive. Yesterday I asked him what his idea of love was and how he knew he loved me and this was his response..
    “I don’t think there is really any difference between love and being “in love”. I know I love you because you’re my best mate, I love being with you, you make me laugh so much and I couldn’t begin to imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have you in it! maybe you would say you “love” like your parents or a hobby or even something like cheesecake haha and maybe say “in love” for only your partner as it’s a choice to be in love with that particular person you’ve chosen, a bit like a marriage I guess as it’s also a commitment. But to be honest I think it’s the same thing really. I don’t feel love 24/7 I don’t think anyone in the world does, everyone has ups and downs and that but still love each other. It’s those really special moments that you have when you’re doing something together and you just think to yourself ‘I fucking love you, so much’. Love isn’t always butterflies in your tummy but occasionally you just have those really nice moments and you just know. That’s my out look on it”

    I just need to know if it sounds like anxiety I’m struggling with or if it’s the truth. & also, it only really comes into my head when I’m not around my partner like if he’s out somewhere or I’m at work, when we are together it fades away slightly

  • Eleonora

    Hi Sheryl and everyone,
    This idea of dropping down from thinking into feeling is something I believe in and have started to work with. I read in a book, beautifully: “Let go! Live in harmony with the stillness – until the stillness takes over the wheels and the responsibility. The infinite intelligence will then take care of the problems – but only to the extent to which you dare to let go of control”. I dont remember the author sadly.

    But… I have PMS now and a lot of negative thoughts. When I try to step into my body, it is so far away! Its like I can see it but not really step into it. I have a completely hollow feeling in my chest of no emotions. My breath is distant. All I have is this universe of thoughts. Does anyone recognize this state of disconnection and how can one step into the body when it is so distant?

    Best regards,

    • Contrary to what the culture tells us, PMS is a time when your body is drawing you near and inviting you to listen to its wisdom. If you’ve ignored its wisdom the rest of the month, it will flare up with greater intensity during this stage of your cycle as a way to get your attention (much like an intrusive thought). Can you get into nature? Can you write a letter to your body and let it know that you’re ready to listen?

      • M

        Hi Sheryl, I find that my intrusive thoughts are their loudest when I’m PMSing. I hope you do not mean that they are the “wisdom” I should be listening to!

        • Not at all (and great question!). What I mean is to listen to the wisdom embedded inside the thoughts, which has nothing to do with the thoughts themselves.

      • Eleonora

        Thank you, Sheryl, for sharing your perspective on PMS and advice on how to help get into the body. All the best,

    • Katie

      Sheryl could you please respond to my above post, sorry I just need to hear some feedback

      • If you could shorter your comment, Katie, I would be happy to respond.

        • Katie

          I think I’ve been struggling with intrusive thoughts, it all started when me and my partner got back together after he broke up with me, he broke up with me about 3 months into our relationship and I’d never felt anything like it, constantly crying, felt like my heart had been ripped out. We were separate for about 5 days and I think I started to accept it and kept telling myself “I’ll keep him as a close friend and hopefully he will want me back” we got back together and that’s when all these thoughts started from “is this th right thing” “I love him but I’m not in love” I’ve had “am I gay” spikes, the main one that I can’t shift is “I don’t love him” all because I can’t feel it? I’m 23 and he is my first serious relationship, I see a future with this man, I see myself building a home together and him being the father or my kids, I want all that but I just keep having this thought that I don’t love him, it makes my chest feel a little tight and I just want to cry, I don’t want to not love him, there’s nothing wrong with our relationship, we make each other laugh so much and he is my bestfriend, we get on and connect so well together, we just work. I’ve just always grown up thinking that love is a feeling and If you don’t feel it then it’s not love. We’ve been together now 1year 2months, I don’t want to lose him 🙁

    • Katie

      When I’m around my partner I feel a lot more at ease and I have no trouble being affectionate and doing things for him, I cuddle him and I feel safe, content and warm and I know that this man is the one I wanna be with him. Then the minute he goes to work or I’m at work or we are a big distance away from one away, the thoughts hit

      • That’s the million dollar question, Katie: Is this anxiety or my truth? It’s what all of my work is based on. Keep reading through my site and it will start to make sense.

      • Katie

        From what I’ve said though does it sound like it could be the truth or does it sound more like anxiety? I so badly don’t want it to be the truth, I don’t wanna lose this guy 🙁 I’ve never had thoughts or anxiety before that I’m aware of.. when the thoughts come into my head my chest feels a little tight, I feel like my heart races a tiny bit more and I just worry and get upset

    • Laura

      Hi Elenora,
      I can really relate to your comments about how the intrusive thoughts are louder when you’re PMS-ing. It’s always at that time of the month when I get extremely needy and clingy around my fiancé and little moments when I feel ignored or like we are not connecting send me into a mood of depression and frustration. I’m afraid that my truth is trying to come out that my partner can’t meet my emotional needs and that I’m always going to feel slightly let down and disappointed in my relationship/marriage. I’m very scared because I love him so much and he tries his best to be a loving,caring spouse. I’m just scared that his all is never going to be enough for me and that thought is tearing me apart. I’ve made progress over the last six months since these feeling were at their peak, but I’m scared that I still feel this way at times. I keep telling myself that these feelings are indicative of a bad sign and that my fiancé can’t truly make me happy. I want so badly to know that this bad thought is just a myth my mind is telling me to believe because I know in my heart that my fiancé is a wonderful person who loves me more than anything, and I love him too. I just want to be certain that we are right for each other. These feelings tend to subside significantly at the end of my cycle but when they come on, it kills me inside and makes me feel terribly guilty for having these thoughts. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

      • blual

        Just an ideea..maybe you are more needy around those times and that’s why you feel he’s not enough. But how you feel the rest of the month is important too.

      • Eleonora

        Hi Laura,
        It sounds as if you have a great fiance and that you like him a lot. I think we just have to keep on living. This anxiety feels like torture and for me it has consequences in the relationship. I am trying to feel compassion for myself for being in a difficult situation and love myself even more for this. I hope you are taking Sheryl’s Break free-course. I wish you the best!

  • Lorena

    Thank you, Sheryl. This is exactly what I needed today.

  • Newly Married

    Beautiful, I been reading the book “loving what is” and it talks about this, and how to do the inquiry work.
    Thank you and blessings Sheryl.

  • PJ

    Thank you Sheryl. I have suffered for a decade and continue to suffer with OCD and ROCD. like an earlier person said, I am PMSing and feel my intrusive thoughts are overwhelming. I fear that I’m in the wrong relationship and I’m supposed to get out.

  • onedayatatime

    So timely and getting caught in the stories something that I am constantly doing and want to change. Thanks Sheryl :).

  • growinglove

    Me and my boyfriend had an argument which was probably the worst of them all. We have since sorted things out but I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost trust in him… Things got very intense and I’m scared they can’t get back to normal. When I talk to him and he’s trying to be kind I feel a sense of disgust and annoyance at him, he was horribly mean to me doing the argument. I felt victimised and bullied even. He’s generally the most kindest and loving person that I know but I’m holding a lot of pain in my heart… He knows how the argument made me feel. Can things get better or are they now permanently damaged? My trust is quite fragile as I’ve had a messy past with guys in the past, who made me feel like a burden etc. I really love my boyfriend, but I still feel like we should part ways (especially when I’m in the rut of the anxiety).

    • Eleonora

      growinglove,
      I just wanted to say that you are not alone. During some discussions with my boyfriend, when he gets angry, I can get completely terrified and even dissociate from reality. I have thoughts about him being a mean person, disconnected from humanity and completely careless. And then I get terrified by those thoughts and wonder if I can really dedicate myself to such a person. Feeling bullied and victimised is something I recognize. But my boyfriend is kind and caring so I suspect that my interpretation has to do a lot with my own fear – fear of anger for example. Feeling bullied and victimised also seem as things that we can create internally. Could this be the case for you too? I believe that trust is something that can be broken and restored, broken and restored… All the best,

      • growinglove

        Thank you for your response. It was very insightful and I’m feeling sad almost that I have not been able to explore those emotions the way you did, I wish I was better at doing that. Then maybe things would not be the way they are right now. We have sorted things out and I realise that there’s no black and white answer to trust, as you said it can be broken and restored but, things don’t feel the same between me and him anymore. He’s really trying hard to prove to me that he won’t do that again, but I feel like in a way I must be on edge incase he displays similar behaviour. But the relationship anxiety right now is making me believe I don’t love him, I don’t really want to speak to anyone right now and my appetite is down plus my period is due. I just feel like there’s no hope for me and I know many people write that on this site but I genuinely believe maybe things just won’t get better for me. I’m always seeing him in a perspective that does not match actual reality. I can’t seem to let myself be happy.

        • Eleonora

          Hi growinglove,
          I know what you are going through with loss of appetite and delayed periods. I have also been nauseous and vomiting. When it’s like that for me I try to recognize, which is not easy, that I am in an anxious state. I therefore try to wait with important actions and decisions. We will have moments of clarity and calm again and then we will have a better sense of direction. Until then, we just gave to try to take as good care of ourselves as possible. Have you taken the Break free course? And by the way, I have not been able to explore my emotions either. I am just hoping that my scared thoughts are not truth.

  • Maria

    Hi Sheryl. I always turn to your blog when I feel lost. I feel I’m going crazy right now. I’m struggling so hard. I’m starting to believe my intrusive thoughts are real (maybe they are?) and that makes me panic and cry. I feel irritated about my partner most of the time, then sometimes all I want to do is hug him and feel the smell of his skin, as it soothes me. Then I think maybe I’m just making that up out of fear of being alone or not being able of letting him go. I’m so sad Sheryl. I started my antidepressants again last week but all I feel is tired. I don’t know what to do about him, I feel I’m lying to him. I just want to feel love again but I kknow I can’t force myself. Please help =(

  • Stephanie

    Thank you, Sheryl! It has taken me years to even understand what it meant to be in my head, and I’ve been able to do a lot of great work (with a lot of guidance from your writings). I realized that I was constantly en guard, preparing for the scary “what-ifs” I was surely going to encounter, and worried about doing things “right”. Being in the world felt unsafe (there is no control there); I was always thinking, planning, judging, analyzing. The more I am able to say “Woah, I’m thinking again” the easier the state of being present has become. I’m just grateful that this sort of guidance makes sense now. Thank you for helping to put into words what this process looks like, and reinforcing its importance and the work involved. I, in turn, have been able to help my sensitive loved ones translate some of their stories and it feels wonderful. Thank you for being such a great feeler and putting into words the things that are hard to have words for.

  • Angela

    This blog came just at the right time! Thanks Sheryl, today i had the anxious thoughts pop up, i wasnt in a state of panic or fear, but i did feel not grounded. I used the tools that you so passionately put together brilliantly. I instantly noticed my mindset shifted and I focused on my feelings. Incredible and powerful, it does feel like magic. Im sure alot of you guys know and can relate to my experience. It does take effort and time and is so worth it. Thank you so much ? Sheryl. ?

  • Eileen Mulligan

    Thanks for this Sheryl. This week Im struggling so much its the second anniversary of my mums death so knowing Im projecting left right and centre. Im doing the course just about to embark on Lesson 10.. I still and can’t get my head around ‘sitting’ with feelings, I so want to sit with my loss and grief but I don’t know maybe it will come to be one day. Its there, its in my body i know this liminal period of adjusting to life without family is the crucial factor in my anxiety and your teaching about projection has really helped me truly. Am I waiting for the penny to drop re dropping into the feelings? Am I fighting it as i don’t know what I will find.. I probably answered my own question haven’t i? I suppose I m after a step by step guide that doesn’t exist.

    • It can take time to re-wire your brain and body so that you feel safe enough to feel your feelings. It sounds like you tapped into a core belief that says it’s not safe to feel or you’re scared about what you’ll find. When you find the courage to give yourself permission to feel and trust that you can handle what you’ll find inside, the feelings will come.

  • Joanna

    Hi Sheryl,
    What can you do when you try to ask yourself to feel as others do: this person is my best friend, I love spending time with them, they are so wonderful etc and you can’t feel that so much about your partner? It makes you feel like you got it wrong or your not in love. Is it the anxiety that is even making me as these questions about my own relationship? I mean there has to be people who have fallen out of love or made a wrong choice and what does that look like? I wish you could write an article on that but probably is hard. I know love is not quantifiable but what can I do to once and for all be ok with my choice and know it’s right and ok and let it go?

  • Mary B.

    I used to write stories. Short stories, poetry, fairy tales;they were my way of communicating and sharing feelings and experiences. I don’t write anymore. I can’t write anything but “I’m scared.” I’m scared and anxious about my (mental) health, my relationship, my future. I used to take pride in my imagination; now I only imagine things going awfully wrong and me regretting every choice I’ve ever made.
    I just want to stop being caught up in this story but I feel powerless…

    • Are you in therapy, Mary? This work is best done with the guidance of a skilled and compassionate counselor.

    • Eleonora

      Hi Mary,
      I know what you mean. It is as if all the creative and intelligent power one has is poured into torturing oneself mentally. I am superscared too. I remember though, in one moment of clarity, that fear was not the correct response to even highly desired things going wrong. It was something like “ok so not everything in life might happen according to the wishes, but those are just wishes, it’s not SCARY if they do not come true”. I try to connect to those ideas sometimes. Kind regards,

  • Mary B.

    I am not at the moment, although I have been. My therapist had good intentions, but she believed that “doubt means don’t”…Also I live in a country (Greece) where the term “relationship anxiety” is unknown. My anxiety keeps changing subjects and has been a constant companion for the past 5 years. It has focused on my (physical and mental) health, my relationship,my morals. Your site has helped me feel less alone and flawed, although I still get the “you believe what you read because you are too weak to see the truth and leave” thoughts…

  • Kathy

    I think I just need a few words of encouragement (from anyone at this point). I feel like I am stuck in this terrible story that is running in a loop in my head. I have struggled with relationship anxiety pretty much since I started my current relationship, it really blew up to full capacity around March of last year. Connection has always been a pain point for me. My boyfriend can be very quiet around me and I’ve always felt like he doesn’t confide in me the way I would like for him to. I always feel like I’m finding things out second hand or at the last minute (i.e. if a friend comes in to town and is staying with us, if something important happens to him at work, if he gets into a big disagreement with a good friend, if we’re invited to a party together). I’ll hear him talk to his friends about it but I have to ask him about it later if I want to know. And I feel like when I’m trying to tell him about things that are important to me he just seems disinterested or I have to repeat myself because he’s zoned out and stopped listening. At this point you can probably hear the story running through my head. There are moments when I do feel heard. The major exceptions were when I told him that I struggle with anxiety and depression or when I was going through a health scare with my dad or when he apologized for making a particularly hurtful comment. But lately those good moments just don’t seem to outweigh the bad ones and I can’t help the feeling that he just doesn’t care. Right now the running commentary in my head is: “Why would you still be worrying about this if it wasn’t a problem? You shouldn’t have to work this hard to be in this relationship. It doesn’t matter if these thoughts are normal, they still bother you and if they’re bothering you there must be some weight to them. He doesn’t get you. He’s not even trying to and he never will. He wants to call you his best friend but won’t even talk to you the way he talks to his friends. You keep making excuses for his behavior, what if it’s not your perception and he really just doesn’t care? He just isn’t willing to make the effort to be with you and he never will. Can you handle marrying this man and spending the rest of your life feeling this way? What if this is meant to be a lesson? What if you’re supposed to learn that there are some people who you just can’t be in a relationship with? What if he’s just not the person who will make you feel heard and loved?” It. Is. Exhausting. And it is literally painful, it feels like my heart is breaking right now and I feel physically blocked from feeling anything from him or for him at all.

    I already know that this is long winded, part of that is cathartic for me. But I am having trouble bringing myself back to the place I used to be in. Recognizing the fear when it does chime in, being optimistic about the future and him and I together, talking to him when I felt like my anxiety was getting the better of me. Now I’m stuck in this mindset of “If we’re going to fail anyway then what is the point of trying to get better or make us better?”. So, needless to say, any encouraging words or wisdom or just perspective would be appreciated. I am really in the thick of it right now.

  • Lea

    This site is my go-to when I’m having anxious moments about my relationship. I have a question and don’t know who else to ask – what do I do if I dont like my bf natural smell. It’s not bad – just different
    Ia that an indicator of something? Does anyone has the same experience? Thanks

  • Leslie

    Oh Katie,

    How easy it can be to unburden ourselves with a stranger on the bus, how hard to someone we adore.

    Intimacy is the journey of a lifetime. If we are lucky enough to have years with our partners, we get to unveil ourselves one layer at a time over years as we inch closer and closer, opening our hearts as wide as we dare, then again and then again. Then shut, then open.

    This brings to mind the cat my husband and I adopted after our honeymoon. Stanley was a fat Buddha of a cat, a higher being, the best fur angel of all. And he wanted nothing to do with me. He immediately took to my husband, but this dignified, gentle animal wouldn’t let me touch him…for about a year. So I loved him at a distance, knowing that with cats it can take time. Finally he deigned to pad onto my lap and settle in for a good purr and snooze. Then came hugs. Then kisses. Then squeezing, the best thing of all—squeezing that chunky Buddha boy! I miss him so!

    So it is with men and so it is with us. To share those tender places is the heart of it—and the hard part of it. And it takes time and maybe some space. It wasn’t until I stopped running and squealing for Stanley that he came to me, quiet, totally serious and full of love.

    I, too, used to think my husband didn’t listen. He has a way of not always looking me in the eye or he acts distracted. But then he would reiterate something I had said weeks ago or he would say something pertinent days later, and I realized that he did listen—not always—but neither do I.

    I am no professional (and Sheryl, please correct me here), but I think if you listen carefully to your partner above the din in your head, you might hear him purring. Be sure, too, to do some purring back.

    • This is stunning, Leslie. I’m purring ;). x

      • Katie

        I’m sorry to ask again but based on what I’ve said previously does it sound like relationship anxiety or truth? My chest feels a little tight when the thoughts enter. & even though I have these thoughts quite a lot, I am still doing loving actions for my partner like this weekend I’ve arranged a birthday meal with his friends and family coming down and he has no idea as it’s a complete surprise and I can’t wait to see the look on his face 🙂 I don’t want to lose this amazing man. I just want to feel love

    • Leslie

      This is meant for Kathy. My apologies for the error. <3

      • Kathy

        Holy hell Leslie, that was awesome. Really insightful, thank you so much. It’s interesting because I find that I’m really the same way. I am very slow to warm up to people, family members included. I always find myself holding off on really letting people in, especially at the first sign of perceived danger (I’m including someone showing too much interest in me as “danger”). Conditions really have to be perfect for me, i.e. the other person gives me space to figure out how I feel about them and I have to get my head in the right place, to actually start to forge an intimate relationship. That’s probably why I’m hypersensitive to this time of behavior in an S.O., I want him to open up to me but, more than anything, I want him to want to open up to me. I suppose that’s my biggest fear, that he doesn’t want to be more intimate with me. I will say that I have also found myself in the situation you described, saying something-or-other to him thinking he wasn’t listening and then he’ll magically bring it up days later. I guess men can be funny like that.

        Katie, I think it may have been semi-fate that she called me your name. I am going through EXACTLY what you are going through. I mean literally even down to the timeline, my anxiety started three months into my relationship and we are now about a year and two months into it. I even find my anxiety getting spiked when we are apart, the thoughts run rampant then. To address your question about “knowing” whether it’s anxiety or the truth, the answer is unfortunately not really here. What you are going to have to come to terms with is that you will never be 100% for sure. It is not easy, at all, it’s actually probably the hardest part about this entire process. What you’re going to have to do is make a choice about you’re relationship, neither choice you make is going to be easy. You’re mind is not independent of you, it’s not going to make you break up with your boyfriend when you really want to stay and it’s not going to make you stay when you really want to break up. You get to control that, not your mind, or the thoughts, or the anxiety. But if you choose to stay, you are going to have to trust and breath into and work for that choice. I chose to stay.

        You are looking to him for something that he can’t really give you, that loving feeling comes from you and how you act and treat your partner. I do think that it’s classic relationship anxiety that you are experiencing, love doesn’t have to be a fluttery feeling in your gut and no man in the world is going to ever “complete” you but I also know how persuasive those thoughts can feel. They start to change your view of things and instances that would seem benign to anyone else look like glaring evidence to you that you don’t love your partner and should definitely leave. After all how are you supposed to act “lovingly” when you don’t feel it? It’s hard as hell but you have to commit yourself to it. If you if you start reading past blog posts you’ll start to find little ways that you can help yourself out of this. I started keeping up with this blog around March of last year and while it has really been like a godsend for me I still find myself backsliding into those old thought patterns (see my above panicked rant). I actually started going to see a counselor around the same time the anxiety started and she’s really helped me find some clarity. But it’s going to take time, probably a pretty long time. I’ve made the choice to commit to my partner, even when I don’t feel it, even when that feeling is overwhelming, and I am going to trust that I will come out of it okay. I know that’s not the answer you were probably looking for but it’s where I’m at right now. Sheryl if I’ve completely misinterpreted your words please let me know, but I really felt compelled to reply to Katie just because of how similar our situations seem.

  • Newly Married

    What can you do if your husband put so much doubt in a relationship about another woman that you dont trust him anymore?

    • Newly Married

      The doubt I have with him is consuming me, its horrible I know I have always been anxious but he put so much doubt in my heart and head about this other woman he was with who left me to be with that i dont believe him anymore or trust him. I feel so desperate I am going crazy.

  • E

    I had a miscarriage this past summer and cannot stop overthinking everything since then. My husband and I just started trying to conceive again, and I keep worrying about whether it will work out, timing, and judging every minor decision and feeling. I had a better relationship to my anxiety before my miscarriage. It was not perfect but I felt somewhat able to make gut decisions without over analysizing. Now, I feel paranalyzed by my intellect trying to make sense of everything, and am of king in the trust to just let go. I wonder if things will ever feel happy again. It hard to try for a baby without going crazy.!

    • Trying to conceive is one of the most challenging and painful journeys for women, and trying to conceive after miscarriage is exponentially more so. Please bring immense compassion to yourself and turn to any spiritual or mindfulness practices that you have so that you can connect to the deeper well and current.

  • bumbleb

    when we talk about money, my husband said I should responsible for myself, he couldnt work and he doesnt like to work, I Dont know why I felt hurt..maybe I had too much expectation… I observed my parents pattern,long time ago when I was child, my mom had a job but my dad asked her to quit, after 10 years my dad feel heavy around daily need , they raised 4 children but my mom didnt want to work but my dad wanted her to work to help him… they often argued about it , my dad really want my mom be able to earn money eventhough she’s at home, he want her to make a business.. my mom feel controlled n she’s not business person, maybe because of that my dad is really difficult to earn money… and I planted the beliefs unconsciously on my mind… so when my husband said that I feel really sad , abandoned and angry to myself

  • Heartchakra

    I came back to this blog post today to read it again. I love how the emails always arrive on Sunday nights (if you’re in the US on the east coast), right in that challenging Sunday blues liminal period where it’s no longer the weekend but not quite the new week yet. I wonder if that’s by design. Anyway, I noticed all weekend a quiet sadness underscoring my uneventful, otherwise relaxing two days. This is the first time sadness has showed up (since I started doing this work) without a story. My immediate reaction was to turn inward and ask my sadness what brought it here. I couldn’t get an answer. Then I noticed my mind go into troubleshooting mode, scanning my hard drive for errors. Am I sad about this? Am I sad about that? Then feeling crazy and worried when I couldn’t find the answer. Then I remembered this blog post from last Sunday and thought, maybe this is what Sheryl meant when she said we must focus on the feelings and not the story. And so I tried that. I stayed with the sadness and felt it. The tears came and I sobbed. I had no idea why but I did it anyway. Today the sadness returned but I didn’t make space for it. Shortly after I noticed free-floating anxiety that then morphed into projection onto my partner. This must be more grief, I said to myself. So now tonight I am letting the sadness hang out if it needs to. I admit I still feel a little nuts/embarrassed when I don’t know why I am crying, but I find comfort in the fact that I don’t need to figure anything out. Thanks Sheryl

    • Beautiful, yes, this is it. I love that you’re able to chart the trajectory from unacknowledged sadness to projecting onto your partner. And quite often we simply don’t know why we’re sad. There are infinite “reasons” to feel sad when you live with an open heart, but we can’t always identify those reasons. And it doesn’t matter. The work is to do exactly as you’re doing: bring compassion to the feeling and sit with it until it passes through. Quite often, that’s all the heart really needs.

  • Brittany Murray

    Sheryl, I could not figure out how to drop down from my stories until you walked me through it during this post. I was beginning to feel stuck and now I have a breakthrough. I’m enjoying minutes of clarity and love but I know the time will come to drop down again and I feel more empowered for the future work inside. Bless you. Thank you for everything you do.

  • Linda

    This post came just at the right time for me. I’ve not struggled with relationship anxiety for some time, but today, sitting home sick from work for the third day in a row, with much time to ruminate and perseverate, and entering into possibly purchasing a home with my fiancee led me back to that dark night of the soul that I was saddened to see return, as I have worked so hard through your course to control. I know cognitively that this is the work of a lifetime, and I accept that as my reality. My story here is how it relates to my attachment to my family of origin and how a marriage and purchase of a new home removes me further from them and into the matriarch position of my own family. However, as you stated so eloquently above, recognizing when you are in a story is only the beginning. It is the dropping down that I struggle with; when I can, I see fear. Fear of failure, of growing up, of change. of being in charge. Of judgment from others. Hopefully, the more that I can fill my well of self, the less these things will matter. They may always be true, these fears, but the stronger my core is, the more effectively I will be able to confidently approach all of life’s blessings- because that’s exactly what they are.