Conversations with my Seven Year Old: In the Fear Forest

One of the blessings of having a second child is that we, as parents, gain some skills by walking with the first one through predictable stages of growth, maturity, illness, and emotional challenges. When our firstborn had a high fever, we panicked. When the younger one has a fever, it’s old hat. When our firstborn struggled with separation anxiety we thought he would never leave our side. With our second born, we trust that he will find his way with time (and some help, if he needs it).

These milestones of childhood often manifest as confrontations with fear. In the early days of this blog I often wrote about my older son’s fear of the dark and his intense fear of change and death. Like many highly sensitive-creative-prone-to-anxiety children, the fear of change and death tends to arise early and can easily preoccupy their minds for hours on end. Left on their own, the fear magnifies and often morphs into their first intrusive thoughts: What if my parents die? What if I get lost and can’t find my way home? What if I’m gay? It’s essential, therefore, that the fear is addressed at the root, which means beginning to teach kids some kind of contemplative/spiritual practice like meditation, creative visualization, breathing tools, or dreamwork as soon as this fear first appears.

So when the fear of sleep showed up for our seven year old, we understood that he was walking through a portal, an initiation into a deeper stage of maturity, one that includes the inescapable fact of death. And because we had already gone through this with our older son, we understood that this initiation is an essential phase of his growing up process, one that needs to be attended to as quickly and skillfully as possible. Fear, as always, is the teacher, inviting us to the next stage of growth.

“I’m scared to go to sleep,” our son would say when the fear first took hold a few months ago.

“I understand. Tell me what you’re afraid of.”

The fear would jump stories, as fear does. First it was, “I’m scared I’m going to get stuck in a dream and I won’t be able to get out.” Then it changed into, “I’m scared I’m going to be up all night long and not be able to fall back asleep.” Then it story-hopped to, “I’m scared I’m going to feel lonely.”

These were not mild fears. One night he got into bed and experienced his first panic attack, shaking and sweating and feeling like he was going to pass out. As both my husband and I are very familiar with anxiety and panic and we know it’s inherited, we were not at all surprised by his first encounter with this powerful manifestation of fear. We held him and reassured him and talked him through it. We gave him extra nighttime parenting, including telling him he could climb into bed with us whenever he needed to.

These reassurances couldn’t last forever, though. Not only do my husband and I need our sleep, but it wouldn’t serve our son to make us his primary source of reassurance. I knew he needed to find his own strength, and having walked through this with my older son, I had a few tricks up my sleeve. When the bedtime panic took hold the next night, I told him that we were going to read a special book and isten to a visualization to help change his fear tracks. He resisted because he has a very strong-willed personality type, but I insisted.

“We all need ways to handle fear, sweetheart. Fear is part of life, and most people don’t know what to do when it shows up. Fear is here and it’s making you scared to go to sleep. And when you wake up in the middle of the night, you need to train your brain to go somewhere else, otherwise it will automatically go to the fear place.”

“Why does my brain want me to be afraid?” he asked.

“Fear is part of being human,” I responded. “Every single person on this planet has to confront fear, and if we don’t address it directly, it comes out in other ways. Your psyche is telling you that you’re ready to handle this fear otherwise it wouldn’t give it to you.”

“But I don’t like it. I want it to go away,” he said.

“Yes, of course you want it to go away. But we can’t really make fear go away, and the more we try, the stronger it gets. The more we try to figure out the fear directly, the more we fuel its fire. We need to say hi to fear but then learn ways to move through it without getting caught in it. This will make more sense as you practice different tools. And this tool I’m going to teach you tonight will help you not get stuck in the fear forest. Jeremy Taylor says that our unconscious doesn’t bring us any dreams that we can’t handle. And there’s a popular phrase that says something similar: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. It might feel like this is bigger than you are, but you can absolutely handle this.”

First I pulled out my copy of What to Do When You Dread Your Bed and started to teach him basic cognitive-behavioral tools for working effectively with fear (this book is part of an excellent series for kids). Next I sifted through my iTunes library and found the three visualization CDs that I had downloaded for my older son many years ago, then added them to my phone (technology is so convenient sometimes). These are visualizations designed to teach children how to use their breath to calm their nervous system and their imagination to change the tracks in their mind. Through practicing these mindfulness techniques, kids learn that they can work with their minds and, thus, find their own power.

We practiced the tools and listened to the stories every night. Within a few nights, he was falling back asleep in the middle of the night by “going to his magic garden and healing pool.” He had his first experience of working effectively with his fear. He was still scared to go to bed, but I would remind him that, even though he was still scared, he had worked through a layer of the fear. He would acknowledge this as well and say, “Yes, just a few nights ago I was shaking at night. At least I’m not shaking anymore.” Every time we can consciously acknowledge our progress we reduce fear’s power.

My husband also spoke with him in depth about lucid dreaming: becoming aware while we’re dreaming that we’re dreaming and using that awareness to control the dream’s unfolding. I’ve been aware of lucid dreaming since I was a teenager but I’ve only been able to access this high-level dream skill on very rare occasions. My husband, on the other hand, has frequently lucid-dreamed, and it seems that our son has inherited this gift. For just as anxiety is often inherited, so is creativity and spirituality. Our work with our sons is to help them channel their high sensitivity into creativity and spirituality instead of anxiety.

We also had conversations about love and fear, similar to those that I had with my older son years ago (and of course similar to those that I have with my clients every single day ;)). We talked about the fact that love is stronger than fear, and that love, like fear, shows up in many forms: his love for our cat, his love for us, his imagination, his dreamlife – these are all forms of love. Whatever we water will grow, and when we water the love-tracks, the love-flowers bloom big and large and shade out the fear. For just like plants need light in order to grow, fear needs the same. Without the light of our attention, it withers and eventually fades away.

One morning, after many months of struggling through his initiation into the forest of fear, after working with cogntivie-behavioral techniques, visualizations, meditations, breathing practices, and honing his lucid dreaming skills, he said, “Mommy! I did it! I had a lucid dream and it was so fun. I did what Daddy said to do and I made floating pizza appear and then I blasted off in a rocket! How many hours until bedtime so I can try that again?” It was an extraordinary moment, and his sense of self-control and strength were palpable.

A few days later, as we were driving into town, he piped up from the backseat:

“Hey, Mommy. I’m not tired anymore now that I’m not waking up all night long!”

“That’s great, bunny. I think you’ve really walked through a fear forest.”

“What do you mean?”

“We all walk through fear forests at different times in our lives,” I explained to him. “And every time we do, hopefully we learn new skills and acquire new amulets for wrestling with fear. You just walked through one, and you learned a lot and grew stronger because of it.”

Then I flashed on the scene in the Princess Bride where Wesley and Buttercup have to cross through the Fire Swamp. Pay particular attention from 1:14-1:50, starting when Buttercup says, “We’ll never succeed.” Sound familiar? ;). 

Fear is the Fire Swamp. Relationship anxiety is the Flame Spurt. The stories attached to intrusive thoughts are the   Lightening Sand. The challenges of trying to conceive, carrying a baby to term, and the first year of motherhood are the ROUS’s (Rodents of Unusual Size). Every time we’re brought to our spiritual knees, we’re being initiated into a realm where fear and faith wrestle daily. But when we know the secrets of the Three Terrors of the Fire Swamp, as Wesley does, we can handle the tests, and can possibly even find beauty in the forest. Likewise, when we learn to unmask fear’s bravado and master our tools for working with anxiety, we step one step further into our strength and power. 

By no means is my son done with fear. He may very well have a difficult night tonight or tomorrow or in two weeks. And even when he moves through this particular fear of sleep, he will have to confront fear ten thousand more times in his life in ten thousand different ways, just as we all do. As I wrote about last week, we heal in layers and spirals, and wrestling with fear is at the core of most, if not all, of our challenges. He’s worked through a layer or two, and he’s found the courage to face this one facet of fear head on. He’s learning a new set of tools and discovering an aspect of his own strength that he didn’t know existed  – or perhaps didn’t exist until he entered this part of the fear forest. And this is how fear is, in fact, our friend, designed to invite us to grow, for we wouldn’t discover these new, strong parts of ourselves if we weren’t confronted with fear.

When we face our fear, we find our courage. When we face our fear, we discover our strength. When we face our fear, we walk through a revolving door on the other side of which is, in a word, love. Fear is not something to “get over” or eradicate. Rather, it’s our greatest teacher. My son learned this for the first time, and hopefully he will remember it when fear shows its face as he walks into each new stage of life and enters a new part of the fear forest. We are all, every one of us, learning it as well.

44 comments to Conversations with my Seven Year Old: In the Fear Forest

  • Just me

    Hi Sheryl,

    I decided to continue fighting for our marriage. I have got finally over that ex-issue, but my divorce dreams came back eventually..

    My therapist consider that they are showing me that our relationship has been disappointment for me in romantic manner. My therapist does not believe that my husband is right man for me, because I dream about leaving him..There might be some truth in that interpretation. I just do not want to divorce..

  • ann

    Hi Sheryl. Thank you for sharing

    You had mentioned that children live in fear of the parents dying. I had that as a child but as an adult it is so much worse. I find myself paralyzed by fear every day of them dying. It doesn’t help that they both live alone, and I live a few hours away. If I dont hear from them early in the morning I panic and start planning their funeral in my mind. Its really debilitating. I feel like Im either suffering through RA or suffering through the anticipation of my parents demise. I would miss them greatly, but also would feel remorse as I have a great feeling of responsibility for them. Esp my father who has severe anxiety his whole life and I’ve had to be the parent many times in our relationship

    Not only is this fear of loss concerning, but the LACK of concern I have in other parts of my life that worries me

    FYI I never fear losing my spouse. I think about it and it doesn’t even make me cry. I wonder if the great fear I have of loss of my parents doesn’t allow me to fear losing him too. Or maybe I just don’t really love him

    To add to this, Im also TTC for over a year now. Part of me feels sadness when I don’t concieve, yet another feels a great sense of relief. I actually don’t know why Im not more sad about it. Maybe I fear that concieving will tie me forever to a man who I still have doubts about. Or perhaps I wonder if Im scared its just one more person that I will love that I will have to worry about losing.

    • When you’ve been the parentified child (in the role of taking care of your parents), it’s easy to carry disproportional guilt and anxiety about your parents – much the same way parents tend to worry about their child’s well-being. It sounds like your deepest work right now is to learn how to individuate from your parents so that you can become your own loving inner parent. This is not an easy task but essential if you’re going to step into the fullness of your self.

  • A

    Sheryl, I’ve commented on an article of yours once before. I’m at a really strange stage in my journey – I feel this sort of calm, mean, quiet, dull anxiety about my relationship. Does that count as relationship anxiety? It’s almost as if without the urgent, persistent, constant heartrending fear I’ve given up trying to fight the anxiety. I am very tired of it all and I just want to feel the solid consistency of the love I feel for this beautiful boy when my thoughts are clear.

  • A

    Sorry also meant to comment – this article is beautiful and your son sounds so sweet, it really makes me want to have babies!

  • growinglove

    I no longer feel the crippling fear of relationship anxiety anymore. I just constantly feel irritated at my boyfriend, and feel as if almost everything about him disgusts me. Why is this?

  • Nat

    I enjoyed this article. As I get closer to my wedding day the fear tries to lose me into a story. Thanks for this post

  • Brooke

    I really enjoyed this article.
    My bridal shower and wedding is getting closer and with that I have been feeling so angry at my anxiety and worries because my entire engagement has been spent in what ifs rather than enjoying it.
    I keep feeling this urge to sit down & hand address my wedding invitations. I want to sit in a quiet place and do it alone. I feel that it will be a symbolic moment of releasing my worries and stepping into this journey of marriage. Marriage to me feels scary & completely vulnerable. No matter how bad my fears have gotten I refuse to let go of my nearly perfect, amazingly supportive partner!

    Has anyone had pivotal moments within their wedding planning that feels as though it’s a symbolic movement into the new chapter of life? (Even if it feels like it was or will be very emotional?)

    • Stephanie

      Oh yes!! Many pivotal and symbolic moments. During my engagement (wedding in about two months!), my fear has surged surrounding and right after taking concrete steps toward becoming a unit: getting a joint bank account, mailing the invitations, trying on my dress, starting a pre-marital course. I’m slowly learning to expect it when I take a new step, and that really reduces its scariness.

      Marriage IS scary. Why wouldn’t it be? Your fear is trying to do you a favor 😉
      But it’s worth it. I’m sure of it. There is no growth without fear.
      I think your idea of hand addressing your invitations sounds like a great way to welcome fear and take a concrete step, in a conscious and attentive fashion.

      Best of luck to you! You can do this!

      • Brooke

        Thank you for your reply Stephanie! It felt good to see that someone else understands the way I see things.
        How long has your relationship anxiety been going on & how are you feeling with the wedding being so close??

        & what has helped you to continue moving forward through the worries?

        Thank you!

        • Stephanie

          Sorry, didn’t see your reply until today!
          My relationship anxiety has been going on ever since I started dating my first boyfriend 15 years ago 😉
          But with my fiancé the fear was there from day 1. Depending on my perspective, I can see that fear and love have been there from the start, following parallell paths.
          I’m actually feeling better and better. The anxiety was at its worst right after we got engaged in July 2016, and since then, it has come more and more seldom and I’ve been able to work through it more and more quickly. I doubt it will ever leave me completely. But that’s ok.

          What has helped me most is trying to get to know what it is I’m feeling, what subtle feeling or need it was that triggered my fear, and learning to accept EVERYTHING I feel as being normal.
          The root of my anxiety is almost ALWAYS that I have some kind of reaction to my fiancé (or to something else entirely), and then my fear-mind says something like “you shouldn’t be feeling this way, you wouldn’t feel this or think this if you REALLY loved him!” Works every time 😉
          It’s ALWAYS something innocent that is perfectly ok to feel, in love or no.

          Another thing that has helped me resist ruminating is getting involved in activities – work, reading about other subjects, creative projects.

          When is your wedding? How are things going?

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    Such an inspiring blog! How so lucky are your beautiful sons to have you and your husband as parents. Its that much easier, having the tools which actually work everytime. Especially when you have experienced anxiety and fear yourselves. Like you said before people who inherit anxiety are creative and highly sensitive. Me and my twin brothers inherited anxiety from both our parents. We are all creative and highly sensitive in our family, so that is something to be proud of even though we dont necessarily like anxiety and fear. I do agree with you about welcome and embrace fear head on. I am so happy and blessed to have you as my teacher. Sending you love ❤️

  • Katie

    I’m not having a very good moment right now. I’m finding myself sat on my bed asking myself if I love my boyfriend and again because I can’t “feel” love like I keep thinking you’re supposed to it makes me think/believe I don’t love him. I’ve been crying, I get my phone out and write out a message to my boyfriend saying “I don’t think I can do this anymore, I don’t think I love you” and then I delete it because I don’t want to send it because this isn’t what I want to happen. I’m so scared. I’m scared of not having him in my life. I’m scared of him meeting someone else: I don’t want to lose him but can I really stay with him if I don’t feel love? I don’t understand why I have moments when I think to myself “I do love this man” and then I have moments like I’m in now.. I’ve never had a serious relationship like this before, I don’t know what love is. Is love different for everyone? I don’t want to leave my boyfriend, I want to be with him, I want a life with him and a family. But can I stay with him for that when I don’t have love feelings? Is that fair on him that I’m always battling with my head over wether or not I love him? He loves me so much and I feel bad, I don’t want to hurt him.. he hurt me before when we broke up once as he said some hurtful things.. but we work well together, he is my bestfriend and then my head makes me question or not “maybe you love him as a bestfriend but not as a boyfriend” but I love cuddling him, I love kissing him, we happily stand naked in front of one another, we love having baths together.. im really really struggling with the whole love and feeling?! I really need help cause I don’t want to lose this relationship

    • M

      I know how you feel, I have experienced on and off over the past four years with my husband. I’ve learning that love is not always a “feeling” but an action. It’s something you have to choose everyday, and there will be days where you don’t feel like you are in love with your significant other. It’s hard to get past what society tells us about love; it’s a feeling, and that if you are having doubts you are in the wrong relationship, and when you find the one you will live happily ever after. This is so not the case! I’ve also learned that there is no such thing as “the one” or a soul mate.” There are so many people in the world it’s not logical to say there is only one right person for us. A soul mate is someone you choose, and you have to choose to love what you have. This was hard for me to accept for awhile, because I was worried I married the wrong person. I hope this helps! You are not alone.

      • Katie

        I appreciate your reply so much.. may I ask how you overcome this? I’ve never suffered from anything like this before. I remember a few months into our relationship I had a “do I love him” thought but I didn’t act on it, it entered and then went away and then he broke up with me a few weeks later and I felt devastated and like my heart was breaking and I think 5 days into the break up I started to accept it but told myself I’d keep him as a good friend and that was my way of hoping to get him back but we got back together like a week after. He did say some not very nice things though.. as soon as we got back together that’s when all these different thoughts have entered from “is this the right thing to do” “I’m not in love with him but I love him” “am I gay” “do I love him” “I don’t love him because I can’t feel it” I sit there most the time asking myself if I love him and because I can’t feel it I assume I don’t. This has been going on for nearly a year and a half now, but these thoughts mainly enter when me and my partner are away from one another like work etc, the minute we are back in each others presence I feel calmer.. and when I read things about love being a choice I get thoughts like “how can love be a choice because then you could choose to love anybody” and things like “maybe you just love your boyfriend as a bestfriend” but then I wouldn’t necessarily want to kiss and cuddle and be intimate with a bestfriend. No matter how strong these thoughts are sometimes, my boyfriend is still the person I want to be with, I want to love him so badly, I want to have a home and family with him.. we are living with his parents at the moment and have been for a year now, it is hard and stressful, I’m an hours drive away from all my family, I’m not happy in my job.. my boyfriend always tells me “I love you so much” and it saddens me that he knows 100% that he loves me and then I’m her struggling to know what even love is 🙁

        • M

          Well I was pretty bad last year. I had recently stopped taking my anti anxiety medication because I felt like I was doing better. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I was in a constant state of worry and having thoughts like: Did I make a mistake in marrying my husband, do I even love him, do I love him enough to be with him forever, am I just convincing myself to stay, etc. I went back on my medication and it helped me get a better control on my thoughts. I’m not saying you need to go on medication or anything, for me I never should have went off my medication in the first place because it just made my anxiety a million times worse. Anyways, I found this blog site which helped me realize I wasn’t alone with having these thoughts. I have always been a perfectionist and someone who over analysis. Once I get an idea in my head it is very hard for me not to obsess over it. I learned to stop comparing my relationship to others and googling about relationship anxiety when I was experiencing my doubts, because it was just adding to my already anxious feelings. I also found this article and website very helpful as well. I still have these doubts and thoughts from time to time and have come to accept they are part of who I am.

          http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/i-didnt-marry-the-one-she-become-the-one-after-i-married-her/

          http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwikk8is7J_SAhXLOo8KHYHaDV8QFggoMAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Focdla.com%2Frocd-relationship-ocd-myth-of-the-one-3665&usg=AFQjCNHdq4zc0CL30HEUwedfW71e5oznkg&sig2=MfFs3AxS25VA6SWGlZ9Q4w&bvm=bv.147448319,d.c2I

          • Katie

            Thank you I’ll have a look at those links you sent me when I get home.. see with me, looking back I don’t think I used to suffer with anxiety but then I’m not 100% sure, I have always overthinked everything and that though but this is my first relationship where I’ve suffered with thoughts like this. I’ve never really been in a serious relationship like this before where we are planning on buying a house together (the thought of this makes me happy and excited), talking about our future together etc, my first ever relationship I didn’t have thoughts like this and that was about 16 months long but then looking back I never stopped and asked myself if I loved him, looking back I don’t recall thinking about spending my life with him.. I’m just scared that “what if when me and my current partner split up and I felt like I started to accept it was over, what if then I no longer loved him” but I also spent 5 days straight crying, not really eating, if I wasn’t at work I’d just want to lay on my bed next to my phone hoping he would message me, I skipped work to go and see him like an hour away and could of got in serious trouble at work but in that moment all that was important was fighting for the man I knew I loved in that moment and couldn’t lose.. I still see my future with him and he is the only person I want a future with.. but now lately I just find myself accusing myself of things like “feeling like I need to look good/impress people when I’m at work” “you shouldn’t feel the need to look good/impress other guys if you are with someone” I don’t like myself being too chatty and smiley with guys even if it’s just a friendly way because then my head makes me think I’m doing something wrong.. I don’t wanna lose this man but my main issue is just how do I know if I love him if it’s not a feeling. Loads of people around me seem to “know” what love is and when you have it you just know and go through all the Hollywood movie love terms etc.. I just want my loving feelings back 🙁 I feel like I’m lying to him sometimes and feel like I’m being unfair to him when he could be with someone else and they might be 100% what love is, but I don’t want him being with anyone else. I want him. I want to love and care for him.

  • Laura

    Hi Sheryl. My partner has recently moved abroad for a job and, while he was moving over here and I was still in the UK, we spoke about my coming over too and potentially trying to start a new life here. I have since managed to secure myself a job and have come to visit him this weekend, expecting we would be celebrating – instead, we’ve had several anxiety-fuelled talks in which he’s emphasised just how anxious he is about my moving here – that he doesn’t want me to move here “for” him, that he’s uncomfortable about the notion of living together, that he is afraid of things going wrong etc. He says that a big part of our relationship being easy for him before was that he felt very “free” in it. I know that he is anxious about the change and anxious about further commitment, but I’m not sure how to ease his worries or show him that commitment doesn’t equal lack of freedom or the end of things going well for us. Do you have anything I could say to him? Thanks (love your blog so much, by the way) x

    • It sounds like he’s struggling with his own relationship anxiety spurred by his transitions. You might want to direct him to my site, specifically my free e-book on transitions, which you can find on my home page.

  • Mary

    Hi, Sheryl (or anyone that can understand me, really). I’ve been on and off about my boyfriend and relationship anxiety and the HOCD it came with and lately I feel like giving up, that I’m really homosexual (a lot of homosexual thoughts have been popping into my head and in them I’m 100% satisfied with my homosexuality though this scares me a lot). At the same time I feel like my boyfriend is the person that I admire and respect the most in the world. The problem is I never seem to feel (though I rationally know this) that way when I’m with him or when I’m calm. I always feel deeply when I’m ruminating about the issue, so lately I’ve been afraid that losing the anxiety will mean losing my feelings for him or if those feelings are just momentary reliefs from the idea of being in the wrong relationship, which means they’re a solution to a problem I created by entering into a relationship and thus breaking up would solve everything. Then I try to go with simpler questions that should guide the decision to be in a relationship like “do I like talking/being with him” and sometimes it feels like being and talking to him is rather tiresome and a heavy burden and I wonder if other people experience the same thing or this is definitive proof that all my anxiety in fact results from actually being in a wrong relationsip.

    • Izzie

      From my experience, it’s just as difficult to answer even the simple questions like “do I even like them?” “do I want to be around them?” when you’re stuck in a loop of anxiety- which from your gay spike (and I suffer with them too)- tells me that you are.
      It’s horrible when the things your brain comes up with contradicts the things you rationally know about yourself and/or your relationship, but more often than not that quiet sense of knowing is what you need to hold onto while you do the work on your anxiety, then eventually (and sometimes only in short bursts of clarity) you’ll realise that the person you know you are was there all along, she was simply clouded over by fear.

      Maybe I’m not in the best place myself to offer these words, but I really feel your struggle with HOCD and want you to know you’re not alone!

  • Just me

    Thank you Sheryl for this article. I got a lot of good advices how to handle fear with my son ♡

    I would be grateful, if you have time to answer how to deal with negative dreams about my husband. If I dream about not finding him attractive enough or not feeling enough sexual chemistry, can it be just projection or does it mean that these feelings are my truth, because those thoughts and feelings are also present in my dreams? I really care about my husband and I hate those dreams..

  • Brooke

    sheryl,

    I am constantly checking my feelings toward my fiancé. Every time I look at him I have “is this really my future husband?” “Are you sure?” I also keep going back to worrying that I didn’t fully understand the whole entirety of marriage before I was wanting it so bad and now that I have it I am totally freaked. Is it the right move? What if I’m doing this for our families or because we’ve been together for so long (6 years). What if I don’t want to marry him. But these thoughts are not what I want. I don’t want these thoughts & I feel like they aren’t truly ME. But I can’t find myself underneath them.
    My thoughts are continuous. How can I challenge them in journaling or in my own mind?

    Thank you, I hope you can reply.

    • Brooke

      I should also add that I feel the slightest bits of time where I look at him & I am in complete amazement that he will be my husband. And I feel excitement for the wedding day. But not even moments later I will have it all taken away by thoughts.
      I can’t seem to get out of this cycle

  • Izzie

    Hi Sheryl, beautiful words as always!
    I have a few questions about the grieving process, feeling the difficult feelings, etc… The latest spiral of my healing seems to have come in the form of waking up this morning with what I can only describe as crippling sadness and pain. I’ll note that lately I’ve been more and more aware of the commitment I’m making to my boyfriend (of 8 months, living together), realising that I’m never going to have that infatuation stage again (and realising that’s the feeling I’ve been chasing all along), realising that I’m in this for the long haul (we’re saving up for a flat right now), realising that I’m not going back to my old, single life where I’d just smoke pot and binge watch TV shows on my own 24/7. So given that, I think what I’m experiencing right now is grief. But how long am I meant to focus on it for? How long will it last and when will I know if it’s time to let it go? How do I get on with my life in the meantime trying to process this pain? How do I get past the thoughts that, while not as strong, are still there- telling me “what if you’ve fallen out of love and you’re just not right for each other?”, “what if you don’t even like him enough to commit without the in-love feelings?”, etc. I’m just a bit confused by it all.

    Also, reading your response to A’s comment, I’m really looking forward to your article next week about that constant, dull stage anxiety as I feel like I’ve been stuck in that for a while now too.
    Thanks again for your wonderful work 🙂

    • Grief has its own cycle and timeline, and it’s different for everyone. What’s essential is that you name and own that this is, indeed, grief emerging, and you make time and space for the grief about your end of singlehood to move through you. To process is more actively you may want to write a goodbye letter to your single self, then ritualize it in some way (burn it, shred it, dissolve it). You may need to write this letter many times before you start to notice a shift. What I can tell you is that you won’t be in grief forever, and that the more you actively grieve, the more alive you will feel and the less you’ll focus on your relationship.

  • C-

    Dear Sheryl,
    Perfect timing for this post, as I have been struggling with fear as well, and lots of anxiety around sleeping and changes in general. I will be making a big life change soon, moving countries to an unknown place where I dont know anyone and feel like a complete stranger, where everything feels (and is) uncertain and unknown. I am excited but *terrified* at the same time. My therapist suggested I take medication during the transition to avoid major panic attacks and to make the transition smoother. What is your input on the issue while working through your fears during the liminal zone and actual transition?
    Thank you for showing your human side to us and for taking our hand to grow together, I personally can’t thank you enough.

  • Audrey Basham

    Hi Sheryl,

    I am 2 weeks away from my wedding day (second marriage) and your words today we’re exactly what I needed. I still frequently dream of unlived lives and am grieving my “single” self. I have been with this wonderful man for almost 4 yrs and never had any of this prior to our engagement. We also have a child each and have managed to blend our family very well, albeit with a lot of anxiety in different forms for each of us individually. Our children’s fears are a big source of our anxiety on top of our own (my son is HSP) and just reading your exchange with your son who is the same age is priceless. Thank you for sharing your personal story and tools that really do make a profound impact in the lives of others.

  • Katie

    When I keep telling myself that love isn’t a feeling it’s a choice, why does it feel like I’m lying and feel like I’m just making excuses to stay in the relationship? And can I just ask, if love isn’t a “feeling” then how do you actually know when you love someone? I start to feel happier and then it’s like boom, thoughts come back

    • Katie

      When I think about having a future with my partner, getting married and having kids and stuff I feel really happy and excited and giddy, but I’ve always wanted a family life so then I get a Thought like “it’s just cause you want the family life” but there’s nobody else I want the family life with. My partner and I currently live together and we are looking to buy our first home together this year, I want this so bad. I don’t want ROCD if that’s what I’m suffering with to get the better at me and make me convinced that I have to let him go 🙁 I’m scared

      • Sarah

        Hi Katie,
        Love is a practice, it will blossom like a flower if it is carefully watered and nourished. You know that you love them because it becomes an inner knowing rather than a feeling, or rather than just a feeling. It becomes more than a feeling, as it becomes an act of will. I hear the urgency in your comment and want you to know you are not alone, we are all in this together, holding each others hearts through all emotions, including the uncomfortable stuff, including our friend and teacher anxiety. All you can now do is turn inward and lovingly attend to yourself through whichever means feel right for you. This does not mean you will never have those thoughts again, it just means you learn how to respond better, and they do not cause such an upset, because you become more discerning and compassionate to yourself. It is a lifelong journey to soften into the dark feelings. But it is the only way to alleviate them. I hope this helps you somehow. Sending love.

        • This is beautiful, Sarah. Thank you.

        • Katie

          I’m finding it hard to turn in though, and trying to find out where these thoughts have come from etc.. when I ask myself what’s bothering me or whatever I have no clue. I am going to look into seeing a therapist or something cause I’ve not been this scared over something in a long time. (My eyes are welling up right now) I’ve always known or thought love was a feeling and if you didn’t feel it or didn’t know 100% if you love someone then it means you obviously don’t.. my partner is the best, we get on like a house on fire, we know each other inside and out, we laugh so much together, he is my best friend and is the person I want a loving life with.. I have no issues being loving to him what so ever, sometimes I don’t feel like being intimate but I’ve always been like that, but I love kissing him and love his cuddles and everything. I’m just really struggling with the whole “knowing” and “love/in love” feelings or what not.. I’m finding it hard to accept/believe that love isn’t a feeling and because of that I feel like I’m being selfish in staying with him just because it’s something I know I 100% want and not necessarily love, I’m scared it’s unreal, I don’t want to let him go 🙁

          • Katie

            Also a friend of a friend, her and her partner split up because they realised apparently that they just loved each other as best friends, so since I was told that, I’ve been thinking what if that’s the same regarding me 🙁 he’s the only person I want to be my boyfriend and more

  • Zoe Carter-Beedie

    Hi Sheryl, thank you so much for this lovely post. And for the recommendations! I’ve just ordered the “Indigo Ocean Dreams” CD you talk about as I’ve been searching for a good visualisation-based CD for our little girl’s bedtime. I feel so so passionate about teaching these life tools early on in life and if/when I go into counseling as a profession, I know I want to just help kids and guide them towards their own inner resources. Thank you for your tips here and for inspiring me once again. Lots of love, Zoe xxx

  • Katie

    Hi Sheryl, it’s always great to hear as a mom another mothers experience. I have a highly sensitive three year old daughter, as I’m highly sensitive myself is easier for me to get her. Any parenting Tips or recommended reading/authors for raising HSP children? Thank you!

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