Fear Distorts Perception

IMG_4204Our eyes are not viewers; they are also projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script. Now fear is going to be a player in your life. You get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear.

 Jim Carrey’s Secret of Life

It’s our ultimate decision: How much do we allow fear to run our life? In every moment, we’re offered the choice. Every time we choose love, our heart opens. Every time we choose fear, we contract further behind the wall of pain that barricades the heart. And if you choose fear, you will see the world through fear-eyes. Life will look bleak and you’ll fall prey to fear’s soundtrack, the running commentary that has likely powered too much of your life. If you’re prone to relationship anxiety, this fear-based commentary will become projected onto the movie screen of your partner. If you don’t understand how projection works, you’ll easily believe that something is wrong, for how can you look at the person who loves you most in the world and feel nothing or like you want to run?

What very few people understand is that fear distorts perception. Fear is the projector that tries to convince you to run because you don’t feel enough love or attraction, because you feel irritation and some part of you wants to reject your partner. It’s fear that wants to reject. It’s fear that doesn’t want to take the risk. Fear is the projector and the protector. Fear creates the armor around your heart so that you cannot get hurt again.

If you don’t understand this, you’ll run at the first sign of fear, even if that running takes the form of withdrawal or shutting down. Because our culture doesn’t teach us about real love and teaches even less about being stuck in a projection, we have no roadmaps to navigate the normal pitfalls of real love. We don’t understand that real love, love that touches deep inside your heart, will also kick up dust storms of fear. Why? Because we all carry love scripts that link love with fear – fear of getting hurt, fear of being known, fear of rejection, fear of invasion – and because it’s simply part of the human condition to do battle with fear. Facing fear is how we grow. We seem to understand this in many realms of our life, but when it comes to intimate relationships we don’t dare breathe love and fear in the same breath because we know we’ll hear, “Doubt means don’t.”

Doubt doesn’t mean don’t. Doubt is another word for fear and it’s the fallback term for describing what happens when someone gets too close. Fear is writing that script, says Jim Carrey, meaning the second story that overlays the first. He’s talking about projection, that powerful psychological phenomena in which the fear that lives inside of us is projected like a movie onto the screen of our partner. Suddenly his or her face, which looked lovely a moment ago or a month ago, looks distorted. How can that be? Fear distorts perception. It literally alters the way we see our partners, ourselves, and the world.

It’s often when the relationship turns solid – when you know that your partner isn’t going anywhere – that the fear of being rejected turns into the fear of rejection. Oh, you’re not going to reject me? Then I’m going to have to reject you first. This whole love thing is much too risky. I’ve been hurt too many times; I’m not going to hurt again. Except it doesn’t appear so literally. Instead you think, “Do I love her enough?” or “Why isn’t he more social? Can I really love someone who isn’t as social as I am?” You pick apart your partner because you’re terrified of the vulnerability that comes with loving, and picking someone apart keeps you separate and safe.

But underneath you know the truth. In moments of clarity, you see the beautiful essence of this man or woman who stands before you, hand outstretched, waiting for you to hold it. When the overlay of the second story – the one that fear writes – is removed, you see truth and beauty. You see the loveliness that shines through your partner’s eyes. You stop fighting and settle into the rhythm of home and stability. You rest in the knowing that here before you is everything you’ve ever wanted.

This can only happen when you remove the fear-tinted glasses. Are you ready to do it? There are Love Laws and Loving Actions that, when practiced, will show you how. There’s a roadmap for cultivating and sustaining real love, and when you follow the map by learning and taking the loving actions, you grow the love and shrink the fear. For there is one sure antidote to fear’s convincing tactics: Love. Love is stronger than fear. Gratitude is stronger than fear. Setting your intention to learn and grow is stronger than fear. It takes courage to move toward the one you love despite the voices that tell you to run. Are you ready?

This is the last week to sign up for my fourth round of Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which starts this Saturday, September 13th, 2014.

30 comments to Fear Distorts Perception

  • Skye

    Hello, Sheryl! A couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon your blog while frantically searching for answers as to why I might be feeling such overwhelming anxiety towards my relationship. Since then, I’ve been learning more about myself and its definitely been easier to flick away the thoughts that my fear-based self often tries to convince me. I’ve learned about what real love is and that my fears do nothing but try to keep me in my comfort zone of not being in pain; however, lately I’ve been feeling as though I’ve been sinking back into believing my fear-based self.

    Is it okay to be feeling low again? I felt like I was making so much progress while reading your posts until I realized that my fear-based self was telling me that I’m an exception towards all your blogs because I’m still young (currently in my first year of college) and because I’m still with my first boyfriend (I will have been with him for two years in November). I always see people saying that people as young as me should date around before knowing what we want, and it’s starting to make me feel as though I really should do it. However, my boyfriend means so much to me. He helped me get out of my put of depression and encourages me to better myself, he understand me and never lets me go to sleep mad. He’s my best friend..and i don’t want to leave him just because my fear-based self is taking me that I absolutely HAVE to leave him because I’m still so young.

    What is your opinion towards the “date around before you find the one” idea?

    • I don’t believe that you have to date around before you find “the One.” If you’ve been blessed enough to find yourself in a loving, solid relationship at an early age, count your blessings. You can save yourself a lot of heartbreak by staying with the one you’re with and learning to work through your fear-lines, as you’re already doing.

    • onedayatatime

      Hi Skye, I wanted to reply to you because I have been almost EXACTLY where you have been (I’m sure like many others also). My first year of university me and my bf were dating 2 years also. It wasn’t until my last year of university that I started constantly ruminating about this theme (going back and forth back and forth) and there is for sure a lot of pressure out there to date around (which really is what intitially influenced my rumination). I don’t want to tell you that my story is yours but we are now going on 9 years together! These thoughts still come up and I can ruminate on them but with time and with work they aren’t as strong. It takes some acknowledgment and grieving around “The life I may never leave”, “singlehood” and breaking down some false beliefs. Just like you express in your post, I find practicing gratitude for what is and what you have in the present, is a great tool. So at least these things have helped me settle these thoughts. Still a work in progress but there’s hope and your relationship can be beautiful, loving and enjoyable if you both want it to be 🙂 and it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong.

      • Skye

        Sheryl- thank you for your response. The way that you perceive my situation makes it sound a lot better than the way my fears perceive for them to be. 🙂

        onedayatatime – Thank you for your response, as well! It literally brought a smile to my face knowing that someone went/is going through almost exactly what I’m going through now. Knowing that you’ve made it so far and that you’ve been working through your thoughts really encourages me to do the same. I’m so grateful for your response, and although I’m still feeling a little low, I know I’m still determined to continue working through my own fears as well. 🙂

  • Amy

    Beautiful reminder, Sheryl. Thank you for constantly sharing your wisdom and heart with the world.

    Fear does distort. We can either fall prey, or call it back. Through my journey, by pulling back the fear, and choosing to see/feel truth and love has opened my eyes and heart wider than I ever imagined. The more I push through, the more I truly begin to understand and practice real, unconditional love. I sometimes imagine the woman I’d be today if I had chosen to let my wounded parts control my life, and write my life script. So thankful for everything I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so I can live a truly loving life. Thank you ❤️

  • Ashlei

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. I am with a wonderful man who loves me and has been with me through some of the most difficult times of my life. As something who struggles with anxiety on a regular basis, there should have been no surprise when my fiancé proposed to me and suddenly I felt a wave of anxiety come over me. “Do I love him enough?” or “Do I love him at all?”. I’m so thankful for your post, and I am in the process of learning what true love is despite what society tells me about it. Thank you for this timely blog post. I’ll be sure to reread it when I feel unsure or doubtful. Thanks so much!

  • Amy

    Hi Sheryl. I always love to read your articles and feel that they often apply. I have been with a man who is twice my age for the past three years, and I love him, his body, and his heart. But not only do I not feel attraction to him in the bedroom, but I become anxious and very stressed out. I have not had this experience when getting physical in past relationships, and I don’t like that in all the time we have dated, I have not particularly been drawn to kissing sessions or time in the bedroom, though I am generally a sexual person. The articles you write often remind me of our relationship, and yet I don’t know if I can see my relationship through the same lens. I don’t know if these things truly are fear, or if I love him more than anyone but there is just not that attraction. Our relationship has certainly never been simple and we have worked hard, but yet this remains. We have dealt with many obstacles, but this one has not been one we could tackle. I have been on the fence about leaving the relationship, but we share many things, including a home, business, et al. Part of me would like to be with someone my own age, with no children, a blank slate. My boyfriend has been with me through thick and thin, as have I for him, and I love him fiercely, but I have reservations that feel as though it is better if we are apart. However, we cannot end our business, nor do we want to. I do believe that somehow we can keep that alive, despite what some say. I am so overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings that I don’t know how to siphon out the voices I should and shouldn’t listen to. I have been seeing a counselor but I wonder: Do you have any suggestions?

  • Angela

    As you know I’m forever grateful for your grace, simplicity, beauty, intelligence, honesty, compassion, uniqueness. That’s my projection of you and is now and always been my husband it’s heartbreaking to see my husband with lens filled with fear. So you could say I was wearing dark shades from the start of my relationship with my husband and now I don’t wear glasses my vision is full of love. I choose love every time no matter what I feel. I’m not the least concerned about anxiety anymore because it’s a massive bluff. Massive..

  • Molly

    Sheryl, I needed to hear this so badly this morning. I’ve been working through your e-course and have been having a tough time of it. My WS has been winning most of the time because this is the voice I’ve been listening to for much too long. Retraining those voices and building up my inner LA has been much more of a struggle for me than I thought because I actually pride myself on being able to listen to myself pretty well.

    This past week I had taken a major 3 steps backward from the minimal progress I was making and this blog article is putting me back on the forward track. Thank you so much for all the work you do and give us!

  • Karina

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thanks a lot for your post. I have been following your blog since my boyfriend and I broke up after nearly 5 years of our long-distance relationship. He was my first boyfriend and unfortunately it all started with doubts out of a friendship plus thing, during which I was sure that there are not enough feelings for being in love (butterflies when looking at him etc). Up to the point when he left the city and I was shattered and missed him. So I Fought for him. But ending up as a couple eventually meant the return of my doubts and the feeling that there is some sort of feeling missing when I look at him. He is not ugly or anything, but there are one or two flaws that have distracted me right from the beginning of the friendship plus thing. After a short break I could somehow reduce my doubts, although they were probably still there all the time. After nearly 5 years now the doubts have become stronger and we decided that breaking up is the only logical way.
    That was now 4 weeks ago and I still hope that we can start afresh again, although being worried that sometimes I just have negative feelings, no connection anymore and upon constantly checking whether I miss him, there is nothing. ..which makes me sad.
    He says I just need time and new experiences, but I cannot imagine dating anyone at the moment. Probably it’s too early.

    do you think it makes sense to hope for a new beginning, knowing the our past and that I ooriginally was sure that he cannot be if there is a certain feeling missing?

    Best wishes
    Karina

  • Bill weber

    But how do i know that staying in a relationship that isn’t making me happy is not out of fear of losing the woman i’m with. We’e been together for many years, but there has always been doubt and makes me feel i need to leave and see what else is out there to make sure committing is the right choice. I’m both afraid to stay out of fear that she isn’t the one and afraid to leave for the risk of losing her, because she is amazing in many ways. Out of love for her and myself, it seems the loving choice is not to stay with someone who i don’t feel certain is the one. How do i know which decision is right if both are based on fear and love?

    • The only way you to know is by finding the courage and commitment to dive into yourself, explore your fears and projections, and learn to connect with your clarity, which is deeper than your fears and even your feelings. That’s what the program will help you do. It’s not a quick-fix or a magic pill, however, which means that, while you’re given the tools to grow more love and attraction, if you don’t practice them nothing will shift.

  • Chris

    I have the same exact question that Chris Weber does above…. ^^^^

  • Chris

    Excuse me Bill weber **

  • Rita

    Sheryl,
    What if there was never a very strong physical attraction to begin with. I the first time I met my husband I thought, “I would never marry a guy who looked like that. He unattractive.” Maybe that sounds awful. I was only 17 years old at the time. We became friends and went about iur separate lives. I dated others. We we friends. I truly care about him but I struggled all through our dating about my lack of physical attraction. After breaking up a couple times because of my anxiety over it we finally married. Then I struggled for almost 8 yrs wondering if I made the right decision. I’m not sure I can say this is everything I’ve wanted. It’s been hard. I wish I could know what the truth-did I simply settled and am subsequently disappointed? Or are these distractions and I’m really just projecting?
    I relate to Bill’s comment.
    Thanks

  • Katherine

    Sheryl,
    Your posts always have impeccable timing! I have been feeling very scared lately of my thoughts and am realizing how disconnected I feel from myself. My partner and I are discussing getting married and I am so excited and terrified at the same time. There are some days I feel so good and “in love” and connected to my LA and other days like I feel I have regressed backwards in my progress. I am just hoping setbacks are normal and not a reason to be afraid. Thanks for your constant support and wisdom!

    • Setbacks are absolutely normal! I don’t see them as setbacks so much as part of the natural ebb and flow of opening and closing, learning and growing. When you can become curious about the “setbacks” instead of alarmed by them you’ll experience a new level of freedom from the chokehold of fear.

  • Hannah

    Hi Sheryl,

    First of all I would just like to say thank you for everything you write and continue to write, it offers me great comfort and I honestly dread to think of where I would be if I hadn’t found your website.

    I met my boyfriend and quickly we became very serious moving in etc because I have had absolutely no doubt that he was the one for me, I had never felt such an amazing feeling of love and wanting to share a future with someone in this way. Around 6 months in, the weight and stresses of everyday life started to bear down on me quite a lot, being unhappy with my job, being tired a lot of the time because we have quite a hectic schedule. And then one evening after 3 days of very poor sleep, I had a fleeting thought of ‘do i want this?’ (I can see now this was probably due to my exhaustion) however it sent me into a full blown panic. For over a month after this I was so depressed and in the lowest point of my life because I suddenly started to think it was all because something wasn’t right and I attributed it to my boyfriend who is the most loving and loyal man I have ever met.

    I eventually managed to get my head above water (down to this website i think!) and I feel like I have now shifted into what you call the liminal stage. I still have regular thoughts of ‘I need to leave’, but I know that I need to work hard to get back to where we were before my panic, and I reassure myself that it isn’t him and it’s not possible to go from being head over heels in love to the next day being emotionally void.

    Sorry for the long and rambling post, but I still feel like I am doing damage to my relationship and upsetting my boyfriend as I am visibly low or intolerant at times towards our life together. I really do think this is projection as I am unhappy with other aspects of my life. I am currently working through your conscious weddings e-course and I really hope I can turn things back around. I would just love any other advice on how to get myself out of this middle stage? I will never forgive myself if I ruin the best thing that has ever happened to me,

    Thanks

  • Beth

    Hi Sheryl. I was wondering if it would be at all possible to give a better understanding or possibly even an example of one of the love laws that will be taught in the course? I would like to ask my boyfriend if he would consider taking this course as he has been having doubts about committing and says he just doesn’t feel something he thinks he should feel. Although he’s stuck around, I know he isn’t happy and doesn’t seem to want to try counseling if he’s not sure about wanting to commit to marriage. I’m not sure if he would consider this course either for that reason but I would like pursue best it to him if you think it will help? I guess I just want to make sure that it will be something that he would feel comfortable with and wouldn’t turn him off even further as I assume most of those taking the course that he will be interacting with will be women? How much time and committment it will take as he is very busy with work? Also he will be away traveling for work in the next few weeks. Do the love laws that he must practice require us to be together?

  • Christina

    Katherine- I am in the same boat. We are discussing getting engaged and one minute I am excited and ready to “jump in” and the next I am doubting myself wondering if it’s too soon or if can we make it, or is there enough attraction? So exhusting. Just when I feel like I’m feeling pretty good it comes back around. Geesh! Hurry up November, I am signing up!

  • Heidi

    I found this post very timely for me today! I have the fear of “whether or not” to have a third child! I am trying to let the process unfold. Mostly I feel fear about the idea–like what would people think? What would my mother say? (yes, I really still think that!) what if I as a very type A person, cannot handle it? On the other hand, I think, will I regret not doing it?
    It is difficult to be quiet and listen for the answer.
    Thanks for your article!

  • Alyssa

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’ve recently started following your blog after experiencing anxiety. As an anxiety-prone person my entire life, I have often become a victim to my “fear voice.” I am in my first serious relationship with a man who I would consider “perfect.” Our personalities seem to mesh well, we have similar values and goals, and our relationship has been healthy and supportive over its entirety. He has persistently stuck with me through my anxiety. Although I experienced increased anxiety over the summer, when I started my new job, an hour away, more concerns developed. I expected to “miss” him when I was away. While at work, it feels as if he was never a part of my life, and I have “moved on.” It feels as if I am single again. When I call him throughout the week, it feels as if I am calling him by an act of will rather than being motivated by the romantic longing I used to have. He has recently begun to discuss marriage and while this is something I clearly wanted before the anxiety struck and could see us sharing a beautiful life together, the lack of feelings makes me feel like a fake and that our relationship really isn’t genuine. In a sense, it feels as if I am growing apart from him, although I don’t desire that. I am hoping that this is purely due to the circumstances, but is this something I should be concerned about? Thank you.

  • Simone

    In this post you mentioned withdraw as a form of running away. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my relationship anxiety I take time away from everything (including my boyfriend) just to calm myself and let go of my fear. Is that withdrawing?

  • Sheryl,

    I can’t tell you how important your work is. I found your blog several years ago once I was a couple years into a wonderful relationship with a loving man. I married him this summer and although I’ve experienced many emotions throughout this transition, your work (through your blog and your book) helped give me context for my feelings and that made all the difference. My wedding day was so rich- I felt so joyful, loving, and present.

    One thing that I’ve had to teach myself (and you’ve helped me), is not to trust/believe my thoughts when I’m feeling fearful, precisely because that fear is a distorting lens. SUCH an important revelation for anxious people to realize.

    Thank you for all that you do 🙂

  • Natasha

    Hi Sheryl,
    I’ve just stumbled across your blog whilst looking for intrusive thoughts and relationship anxiety. I’ve been with my fiance for 10 years and I’m 26. About a year ago he went through a bout of anxiety and broke up with me, thinking he couldn’t give me everything I deserved. He soon came to his senses, realised this was wrong and we got back together however I am now suffering from depression and anxiety. I constantly question whether I love him and whether I should leave but then have moments of clarity telling him I love him with all my heart and that I never want to lose him. Is this just because of fear of being hurt again? It’s almost impossible for me to distinguish between intrusive thoughts and real feelings. Thank you for your acticles, they have helped me understand.