In Bed With Fear

dsc_0045We hear a lot about the power of fear these days, and the way we culturally/psychologically talk about it speaks to our beliefs that there are forces “out there” that are dark or evil that we need to overpower. In the early days of my work, I also spoke of fear in these terms, but over the years I’ve softened my perspective and have come to see fear as an inner bully that doesn’t need our aggression as much as our loving attention. When fear takes over, especially in the form of debilitating anxiety, it’s easy to feel like fear is the aggressor and you’re the victim. The truth (as I see it) is that “bully and victim” are two sides of the same coin, characters that are co-creating a dance that stems from pain and, when met with force, leads to more pain.

What happens when, instead of meeting the “inner bully” with disdain and judgment, we meet this scared part of us with acceptance and love? What happens when we remember that inside every bully lives a scared child acting out and trying to gain power, control, and safety in the only way it knows how? It’s somewhat of a mystery what transforms aggression and even violence into peace, but we have some sense that the most powerful alchemical transformations arise not from force but from acceptance and love. This seems to be as true on the inner level, when working with the fear-characters that populate our inner landscape, as it is on the outer level.

The first step of breaking free from intrusive thoughts is acceptance. When we push the thought away (deny) or meet it with disdain (judgement), the thought burrows in more deeply. But when we say, “Oh, there’s that intrusive thought again. I wonder what message it’s bearing?” we shift into a mindset lit by acceptance and curiosity and the hardened walls around the fear start to soften. Then the neural pathways fire in a new direction and we can almost feel, with enough practice, new pathways in our brains being created.

In order to respond to fear without hooking into its field you need to have a part of you that can remain grounded and clear when fear pipes up. I refer to this part as the loving parent, inner parent, or inner Wise Woman/Man, and, despite what it may feel like when fear grabs you by the ankles and pulls you into its underworld, everybody has this part of themselves. Like all skills, the more you practice it by accessing it, the stronger it gets. And, by contrast, the most you self-abandon by joining hands with fear instead of lovingly challenging it, the stronger the fear-voice becomes.

Here’s the example I often give of what it means either to take loving care or self-abandon when fear takes hold:

Imagine that you have a child who’s scared that there’s a monster in her closet. She calls to you in the middle of the night, “Mommy! Daddy! Come quick! There’s a monster in my closet!” Loving parent that you are, you dash down the hall and burst into the room. Here comes your choice-point.

Option One:

You say to your child, “Oh, my love, you’re scared of the dark and your mind is making up stories. Come, let’s turn on the light and open the closet doors so that you can see there’s nothing inside.” The next morning, in the light of day, you recognize that the fear of the monster is the proxy for an internal fear that your child is struggling with. You carve out some dedicated, quiet time so that your child can share what’s in her heart. It’s not about the monster in the closet, of course. It’s about her fear about fitting in at school or her belief that she’s not as smart as her older sister or her uncertainty about life and the big question of death (highly sensitive children start pondering death at a very early age). Together, you shine the light on the fear and expose its true message.

Option Two:

You burst into the room and scream, “OH MY GOD YOU’RE RIGHT THERE’S A MONSTER IN THE CLOSET!” You join completely with your child’s fear and amplify it with your own panic.

You’ve just gotten into bed with fear. Where is the parent? She’s nowhere to be found. Instead you will find two kids shaking in bed with nobody to comfort them.

It’s a somewhat humorous example because we know that no rational parent would ever do such a thing. We don’t jump into bed with this specific fear because we know, as adults, that monsters don’t actually exist. It’s easy to comfort a child over an “irrational” fear.

But here’s the deal: Your intrusive thoughts are the monster in the closet. I know they seem completely real when they take hold, but as anyone who has ridden the ferris wheel of intrusive thoughts well-knows (skipping from one intrusive thought to the next), is you can look back at the thought that strangled you ten years ago and say, “That’s ridiculous. Of course I’m not a pedophile”, you can burst apart the current thought as well. The key is resisting the impulse to believe that the thoughts are true.

Every time you believe the intrusive thoughts, you abandon yourself and fall into the tarpit of anxiety. Every time you latch onto a thought-story and dig your claws in even deeper, you send yourself the message that there’s no adult at the helm of your ship.

When it comes to anxiety, the challenge arises when you deeply believe that the story is true: that your partner really isn’t social enough or intellectual enough or funny enough or smart enough or safe enough; that you really are a mass murderer or a pedophile or the opposite sexual orientation than you’ve always thought you were. When you believe the intrusive thought, you fuse with the fear and there’s no place to go but down the rabbit hole of anxiety (like the parent getting into bed with their scared child). On the other hand. when you challenge the thought and connect to a wise, truthful part of you, you can comfort the scared child and then ask some of the most penetrating questions we can ask ourselves, “What is this thought protecting me from feeling? What is needed right now?”

I’ll end with a story that shows the power of meeting aggression with acceptance. It comes from Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World We Know Is Possible“:

My friend Cynthia Jurs met Christian Bethelson while she was doing peace work in Liberia, which had suffered a horrendous civil war in the 1990s. A rebel leader known by the non de guerre of General Leopard, Bethelson was infamous in a milieu of massacre, child soldiery, and torture. If any human being is evil, it would have been him; he was, in his words, a man with “no conscience.” Eventually the war ended, and with it Bethelson’s livelihood: he had no skill other than killing. He decided to go the nearest war, in Ivory Coast, where there might be demand for his gruesome services. On the way his car got stuck in the mud. Who would have guessed that another car would be stuck in the mud on the same stretch of road at the same time, and that the car would be bearing members of a peace group called the Everyday Gandhis? Intrigued by their conversation, he announced himself as a former rebel general. He thought they would vilify him, maybe even beat him, but to his astonishment the group gathered around him, hugged him, told him they loved him. He decided to join them and dedicate his life to peace.

This story illustrates one of the basic truths that I often write about: love is stronger than fear. We can’t measure this. We can’t quantify it. We can’t prove it. We can’t even predict it. But we know it when we see and we alight in inspiration when we feel it. This is what our world needs more of, and it begins with each and every one of us unraveling fear’s barricades until the heart of beauty that lives at the center is illuminated.

81 comments to In Bed With Fear

  • Maria

    Thank you so much Sheryl for this article, it’s exactly what I needed today to soothe my acking mind. I’m currently plagued by intrusive thoughts, which hinder me a lot in terms of working on getting out of my relationship anxiety. My boyfriend and I will soon move together, he is everything I ever wished and prayed for and treats me wonderful, but since my mind started to realize what moving in together actually means, like it’s an incredible big step for me (I lived with my parents until now, I have a very close relationship with them and I love my home), the relation ship anxiety and thoughts like “Do I love him enough? Why do I feel this way instead of being incredibly happy like I was a few weeks ago?” hit me. I’m working on it with journaling and positve thinking, and there are days when I really feel normal again, like a fogg is lifted and I see my boyfriend again and feel all the endless love I have for him. But in between these days, intrusive thoughts try to sabotage me and make it really hard for me to see clearly.
    I just hope I will overcome this phase and will be happy when we move in together. Again, thank you so much for this much needed article and methods, and greetings from Germany ♡

    • Alongside the journaling I encourage you drop out of the head-space of intrusive thoughts and see if you can soften into the feelings living in your heart-body: sadness at leaving your childhood home, vulnerability of being in transition, fear of growing up and taking an adult step, etc. No amount of positive thinking can or should take away the emotions that need to be held and known ;).

      • Maria

        I read your article “The uncorked heart” additional to this one, and actually realized today that I’m always trying to distract myself from dealing with those feelings, which you quite right mentioned (leaving my childhood home etc.). I rather listen to music, watch series or dive into university work, just to not be alone with those thoughts, it’s like I’m scared of them, eventhough I subconsciously know they are there (if this does make any sense).
        How can I handle those feelings in my heart-body, which obviously need attention? And will this help me getting over my relationship anxiety (and getting back the love feeling)? I kind of have the suspicious that I project all those bottled-up emotions on my lovely boyfriend, and sabotage myself with this attitude.

      • A

        Hi Sheryl, this is unrelated but I emailed you about a very personal question if you get a chance thank you

    • A

      Thank you for your help just sent you one more message

  • Francine

    The example you used about looking back on thoughts and thinking ‘that’s ridiculous’ (I still can’t type it), that was my exact intrusive thoughts a few years ago 🙁 it was horrendous and it robbed me of precious time. Not long ago I could see with clear eyes how ridiculous it was, but lately intrusive thoughts have been creeping back in, old and new. I should have addressed them sooner, but I didn’t recognise them as intrusive. It’s hard to pinpoint them when you’re also going through a patch of numbness (though my mind just tells me I’m horrid and unfeeling), as the strong anxiety reaction is not present, just the thought. It ends up going something like:

    *bad thought enters*
    *no emotional reaction*
    judgement: “oh so that doesn’t even bother you?”, “what’s wrong with you?”

    I need to practice attending to my thoughts with compassion, even if I feel like I don’t deserve it. Thank you for this post.

    • Becoming numb to the thoughts is a normal stage in the cycle of anxiety. The more you fully engage in your inner work (and yes, learning to attend with compassion is a key element), the more your emotional life will thaw out.

  • Bre

    How do you know that what you’re feeling is a reasonable reaction for feeling anxiety? Sometimes I feel like people will see things in a different way than I do and I immediately doubt myself. If they feel this way why don’t I? Is this having to do with trusting myself? I had a family member tell me they have noticed I do “too much” in the relationship and my significant other doesn’t seem to go through as far lengths as me (based off of what they see) This triggered my anxiety and made me reevaluate everything. I’ve struggled with anxiety in my relationship before but I feel like having someone who means something to me (my family member) say that she notices things in my relationship that bother her made me rethink everything I’ve been trying to battle.

    • Yes, this is about lack self-trust, also known as self-doubt. Of course you’re going to be affected by what a family member says, but ultimately, when your well of Self is full, you will be able to hear something like that then determine for yourself whether it’s true or not.

      • Bre

        Thank you so much. I do struggle with self trust in lots of areas in my life. I’ve also attempted journaling in the past but I don’t really know how to if that makes sense.. do you have any recommendations on any sites or blogs on how to properly journal? Thank you for everything you do xoxo

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Sheryl! Thanks for such a great analogy 🙂 I am excited to try it. This is where I am at the moment; Excited for fear to raise its head so I can exercise a new relationship with it. But every time it pops up I become disabled.

    I’m sure many can relate to the cycle of: anxiety/excessive mind activity then explosion, followed by new sense of motivation to work with fear, then loss of direction and back to the start. For me, its been going on for three years. The state of fear and anxiety is totally debilitating and not always because of physical symptoms, but because the mind is incredibly busy and dedicated to the process of “solving”, ‘working it out”. During such an episode I dont want to do anything. Everything is sad. I don’t care about my diet, exercise, study, meditation, socialising. I just want to go into a room and think and google questions to the effect of “should I leave my partner?” via the portal of astrology. In this state I dont care about analogies, or fear or anything, I just want to kind of torture myself with thought. All practical daily tasks get abandoned and when I come out of the state I find myself in domestic and physical disarray. It’s horrible. Can you suggest a strategy when one is in the thick of excessive anxious thought like this? What could one do I do step by step?

    Astrological compatibility is one of the key ways I judge and justify my boyfriend and I’s relationship and causes me a great deal of angst. Have you come across this before in your work? I have thought of creating a simple statement like, “Everyone one has positive and challenging aspects in their relationship with significant other and there is no wisdom in catagorising or judging because each partnership is innately complex and unique”. Any suggestions or support would be much appreciated 🙂 Thank you so much Sheryl <3

    • Hi Elizabeth: The most essential action for you to take when you feel the explosion and the subsequent urge to Google is to resist the urge to Google. As you now know from hundreds of firsthand experiences, Googling will only exacerbate the anxiety. It’s at that moment that your loving inner parent MUST step into the driver’s seat and take control of the car. By Googling, you’re allowing your scared small self to take the steering wheel, and it will only lead to an out-of-control experience.

      As far as turning to astrology, this article touches on the same principle:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/a-psychic-told-me-to-leave-my-relationship/

      Lastly, if you haven’t done so already, I HIGHLY recommend that you take the Break Course. Three years is long enough!

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you endless amounts Sheryl 🙂 x o

  • Cami

    Sheryl,

    As usual your posts are such blessings. This hit home, as I’ve been going through difficult times lately. My ex and I broke up almost four months ago and recently I’ve found myself grieving the loss of the relationship again. I’ve had flashbacks come to mind (that I don’t know if they count as intrusive thoughts) and try to welcome them, but I don’t understand them. If debilitating anxiety is just some form of fear taking over, I wonder what it is that I fear at this point? Is this part of healing, all these flashbacks happening at random times & bad dreams about us? How can I know what part of me is needing my attention?

    • The flashbacks are indictors that there’s more grief that needs to come out. The more you journal or turn inward in some way, the more you’ll learn to decipher the code that your psyche speaks in and can determine what is needing further attention.

  • Lindsay

    Sheryl,

    Thank you for such a great analogy! I could really relate to this post. In the next few weeks, I am going to be moving not only in with my Fiancé, but to a new state, getting married and starting student teaching. At first, before getting engaged, I felt a lot of anxiety about making the right decision since we are of two different religions, causing some concern in my family. Once that decision was made, there was a small decrease in anxiety and I thought it was over. Now that I have this HUGE transition coming up, much of it is back. My fiancé is so patient and helps me work through my anxiety frequently, but I realized that I live in a place of fear. I often feel like I have done something wrong and lack self confidence, which I believe affects my anxiety. However, this article was so helpful by allowing me understand a process of how to handle this fear. I did want to ask, when I am beginning to have fear and worry, I begin to think irrationally. Do you have any tips of what I could do in the moment to help stop that train of thought and to gain a little self-confidence about decision making?

    Thank you so much again for this article, and thank you so much for your time!
    Lindsay

  • Rebecca

    Hi Sheryl,
    I noticed the comment above about googling our fears, and realized I’ve been doing this in relation to my job/career worries a lot lately… googling things like “why a routine is important for productivity” when I’m riddled with anxiety about my procrastination…

    Is the practice to sit with my fear of not succeeding/moving forward?

    • Yes the basic premise of working with intrusive thoughts is to recognize them as flares from the inner self that are alerting you to the need to attend to the underlying feelings. So yes, the practice would be to sit with what’s brewing inside the beliefs and, as a first stop, stop Googling!

  • Mswonderful

    Well written and thank you

  • Mr_B

    Sheryl amazing post thank you.

    Powerful words, love is stronger than fear, I couldn’t agree more. Then I wonder to myself in a curious mind state: if love is so much stronger why does, at times, fear run havoc at times in peoples life including my own.. is it they just don’t know this truth? Or is it just a paradox of life? Also if love and fear live together in the same chamber of the heart, what happens when they meet? Would this be a point of understand that love can only exist once we accept fear?

    Learning and loving each week 🙂

    Thanks Sheryl

    • Fear takes over because we haven’t learned how to access and utilize the love muscle enough. If we don’t see it modeled, how do we know how to show up with the loving and calm part of ourselves? As we learn how to step into ourselves as loving inner parents, the light of love will shine more brightly.

  • LeeAnn

    I’m so glad I found your blog, Sheryl. I have felt so alone with my thoughts all this years – especially with my anxiety towards my wedding and becoming a mom. NO ONE in my life understood or could relate to the way I was feeling. I thought there was something wrong with me.

    A question for you : my daughter is 6 and is incredibly afraid of dogs. She will literally cry, scream and asked to be held up and away from a dog if we visit someone who has one. She understands that the dog won’t bite – and she has never been bitten / had a bad experience with a dog. It causes a great amount of stress (she doesn’t want to visit friends/relatives who have a dog + my hubby gets upset each time because of the dramatic scene that always ensues + I feel terrible guilt because I was the same way as a child and I feel a passed this fear to her). I was never bitten or attacked by a dog either – but I have a terrible fear of them – something about the way they feel and how they will touch and jump on you and how unpredictable they are. I have learned to fake it as an adult so I can at least be around them. But it’s a long road until she gets there. How can I help her? Does she need therapy? Thanks so much for all you do.

    • I’m smiling because we’ve had the exact same challenge in our house. Just like we live in a culture that worships the extroverted personality type, so we live in a dog-centric culture, and anyone who is afraid (or allergic) to dogs is judged or shamed in some way to “get over it.” Imagine how scary a dog must be to a young, small child? And how unpredictable they are as they jump and lick and run all around? To a young, sensitive child, dogs must look like monsters coming at them. What I hear in your comment is a lot of self-judgement and self-blame (your guilt that you “passed this on.”). What you likely passed on is high sensitivity, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It sounds like your husband also needs to soften his stance so that both of you can support your child instead of aligning with a culture that has unrealistic expectations of children and doesn’t understand the highly sensitive personality type.

  • Angela

    What a fantastic blog! Thats was me, that is me i say to myself. Intrusive thoughts are just a made up story that we, I play in my head. It feels so believable in my mind, but in my heart its false, lies about myself. I know who I really am, just learning to get into a new habit everyday is challenging but possible. Its just a script that i write, that ego writes. I am no
    Movie director its definitely not my intention to believe what goes on in my head. I have encountered moments where I feel with my heart ❤️and thats the place i wanna stay in my centre. Thank you Sheryl, for educating us the real deal about anxiety. You make us feel we are actually normal.. its ok to doubt it dosent mean its true. This crown is dedicted to you ? You deserve it. With love Angela

  • J

    wonderful as always. Interestingly, you say that “no rational parent would ever do such a thing” as jump into bed with her child who is scared of monsters, but I’d bet many of us here had parents who came close to doing this! My mother is also a highly anxious person, and when I was growing up I felt scared to confide in her sometimes in case she started to panic.

    • Great point, J. Certainly parents jump into bed with their child’s fear all the time, but what I meant was regarding this specific and literal example about the monster in the closet ;).

  • Elizabeth

    One thing that my mind keeps jumping to is that I just don’t like my boyfriend’s apartment (where we would move, if we get engaged – he owns, better location, two bedroom, while I rent a tiny apartment that can only fit one person). He has offered to move if I can commit and get engaged, but in the meantime I’m wondering if anyone else has such visceral reaction to physical space. I love my little apartment – I feel calm, peaceful, at home – and I just don’t like his apartment or feel like it’s “me.” I feel at home with him, but not at his apartment. Does anyone else have this experience where giving up one’s own physical space, for a space that doesn’t feel like them, is an issue? Suggestions?

  • Elizabeth

    Great post! One thing that my mind keeps jumping to is that I just don’t like my boyfriend’s apartment (where we would move, if we get engaged – he owns, better location, two bedroom, while I rent a tiny apartment that can only fit one person). He has offered to move if I can commit and get engaged, but in the meantime I’m wondering if anyone else has such visceral reaction to physical space. I love my little apartment – I feel calm, peaceful, at home – and I just don’t like his apartment or feel like it’s “me.” I feel at home with him, but not at his apartment. Does anyone else have this experience where giving up one’s own physical space, for a space that doesn’t feel like them, is an issue? Suggestions?

  • Denise

    Hi Sheryl,

    My partner lost her job on December 2, and since that day, I’ve been beyond irritated with her. Anything she does just bugs me. Is this normal? We’ve been together 9 years. I’ve suffered with OCD all my life, however, ROCD recently (2 weeks ago) decided to force her way in, and it’s HORRIBLE!! I hadn’t seen by my Dr. in 6 months, but on Friday I scheduled an appointment for Wednesday. This “ROCD” is triggering my “OCD,” and it sucks. I’ve been up since 1 am scrubbing windows downstairs in our condo. When I’d decide to go upstairs, I’d make it halfway up and think, “Oh, I’m sure I scratched the wood on the floor,” so, I’d have to go back and mop. I finally broke down, and cried an hour ago, because I knew, I was out of control. I went into the bathroom, grabbed a towel, placed it on the floor, crawled to the stairs, and walked up. Please help me get rid of this burning irritation I have towards her.

  • Isabelle

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thanks for this helpful post. It really outlines well how to deal with intrusive thoughts. I’d like to also highlight that checking behaviours really do not serve us when dealing with intrusive thoughts (googling, asking friends what they think, checking with our partner is they are able to handle social situations..etc). It just reinforces the fact that the fear is real. If you can stop checking, and practice tolerating the discomfort that arises when the thoughts/fear begins, you’ll notice that the anxiety eventually goes down and you can get better at realizing that feeding the thought just feeds the fear.
    I also realize that you’ve written a fair bit about about “What if my partner isn’t social enough/tall enough/funny enough/ etc..” which are all helpful, but I realize my go to thought is “what if my partner isn’t moral enough”. I was wondering if you would be at all able to write a post about this and how it is the same (or maybe different?) from these other thoughts. Does it point do a different fear underneath or is it similar to all these other intrusive thoughts? My guess is it is similar… but alas, would be interesting to hear more.

  • becominglove

    Dear Sheryl, thank you for this post. My internal pot is certainly stirring at the moment with the holidays and my return to a far away country (and my partner) coming up for me. I find that emotional scars from the years before I learned the skills you teach come up in the form of intrusive fear thoughts. My inner child is afraid that I will abandon her again and is reluctant to trust that relationships between two adults can be me AND you, rather than me OR you. Today I realised that I actually do trust my partner and that, ironically, is part of what scares me. My inner child needs to know that the adult me will be there from now on. Thank you for continuing to share your kindness xxx

    • Beautiful, becominglove. Transitions and holidays will always activate an invitation to engage in deeper layers of this work, and it sounds like you’re accepting the invitation beautifully.

  • agnes

    As I have written time and time again 🙁 I’m struggling with the bad-person thoughts more so than usual lately. This has been a deep-seated feeling I have carried all my life. It is a long and deeply held belief, which also has accompanying intrusive thoughts. No matter what I do, how I behave and treat people, I am bad. Without meaning to my mind latches onto evidence that I am bad and the good I do, which other people remind me of, has no impact on me. I can’t win. On the odd occasion I do feel okay about myself, there is a feeling that this is misplaced, and that I am some sort of sociopath for not hating myself. There is a feeling that I should not like myself, I suppose because I am somehow not deserving. My mind tells me I never feel bad enough (about myself, my thoughts, my feelings, my actions). “A good person would feel bad/upset/ashamed about that”. I feel disconnected from humanity.

    Another great post, Sheryl. Thank you for the continued wisdom and support.

    • This is mental torture, agnes. Have you taken my Trust Yourself course? It would address the root cause of this pervasive feeling that you’re a bad person (many, many people struggle with this exact feeling). Is there anyone in your early life who reflected your essential goodness? If so, I encourage you to begin an active relationship with that person through your imagination so that you can start to rewrite the false story that says that you’re bad. Also, this article might help:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/you-are-loved/

      • agnes

        Thank you for your feedback, Sheryl. It’s somewhat of a comfort to know that I am not the only person who suffers with this. I can’t currently afford the course but I hope to some day. My parents were so loving and praising of my ‘lovely nature’ and ‘golden heart’. They don’t deserve me to have turned out this way. I have felt like this as long as I can recall and I don’t know how it began. I didn’t fit in very well at school and I argued a lot with my Dad throughout my childhood and adolescence, but my parents gave me so much love and care. If I were to guess the root cause, it might be something to do with an experience I had as a child where I falsely believed I was a criminal. I carried that weight with me for around 2/3 years (age 6-9). I felt the bad-person feelings again at 18 when I suffered terribly with evil intrusive thoughts. I’ve always had that the feeling of ‘never feeling the right emotions at the right time’, but I’ve also always been described as sensitive too. I feel I’ve lost touch with that sensitive child. I’ve also always had a very vivid and quite violent imagination. Though, I am an artist and I hear that’s common with visual people.

        I’ll read the article, and continue to study the rest on the site. The response is much appreciated, thank you.

  • LovingKindness

    Thank you, Sheryl!

    My anxiety came to a head this week when my boyfriend and I talked about possibly breaking up – he was very disappointed that I’m backing out of moving in and wondering, if my anxiety and questioning the relationship is a trend, whether he should cut it off for his own sake. He is 35 (I’m almost 25) and he believed that I would be the last girl he ever dated, because he sees us creating a life together. He’s just concerned that if I keep having these panicky moments during all big transitions, I will one day I just decide this isn’t right for me, and he’ll be left at 37-40 years old high and dry. He loves me to death, and no part of him WANTS to break up with me, but he felt concerned he SHOULD.

    I shared your wisdom with him – that my TRUTH is how I feel when I’m not anxious, which is so much love, caring, happiness, and connection with him and that I have to work on transitions, getting a loving handle on my fear mind, and realizing that the what if’s are unanswerable questions meant to control an outcome. He decided that was enough for him and told me to get to work: he wants me and only me and believes this is worth sticking out.

    I used what I’ve learned in the BF course twice this weekend to identify the intrusive thought and what it is telling me. I was out with my parents and boyfriend enjoying a nice dinner, and became so uncomfortably full on bread, I started to have anxiety. I was able to sit with it in the moment and be like, “Hold up … where did this come from? I’m just feeling uncomfortable from food. I’m not actually anxious about anything.” Sunday morning I woke up anxious and dialogued with myself about what I am afraid of, and how I might very well be happy and less anxious if I wasn’t with my partner. However, I’ve always been searching for a wholesome, connected relationship, and what I’ve found is by far the most open, loving, caring, thoughtful, and sweet man. He is not who I IMAGINED I would date (I thought I would find a male version of me and it would be awesome). But he is the person that I love spending every small, insignificant, mundane minute of life with. He makes anything and everything fun. I deeply value a connection with someone.

    Listening to the interviews at the end of the ecourse has been so helpful. I’m ready and excited to keep meeting my anxiety and lovingly help my scared inner child move on. Until finding your work, I would have never classified myself as a highly sensitive person, nor would I have remembered that I have, in fact, intentionally avoided feeling big emotions for many many years. I find them extremely powerful and hard to feel. I avoid reading some books and watching tv shows because I know I will become too emotionally vested and it will feel uncomfortable. I avoided dating in high school because of the fear and pain of rejection.

    Since finding your site in October, I feel like I have come such a long way. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I feel more ready than ever to know myself better. I’ve been seeing a therapist as well, who is definitely helping me handle the challenges I am facing. But without your work, I know I would have left a long time ago – and I would have regretted that for the rest of my life. I shared your idea of grieving the transitions with my therapist, and she thought that was such a beautiful way of understanding what is happening.

    I am very grateful for your work. Thank you!

  • Julia Gomez

    What if is it’s just one question? the same one all the time?

  • Newly Married

    I suffer of intrusive thoughts about my husbands ex. Its horrible.

  • Newly Married

    I been trying to not give power to my thoughts and sit with them, but the feeling with comes with the thoughts is so strong and painful because of painful things that my husband said and did that sometimes I feel like it comes out as rage because I feel he was very hurtful, other times as panic attacks or a bubble of pain, and distrust of him because I doubt he is with me because he loved me
    I sit with them and cry, but then I am confused if my feelings are me or based on the past or what. I have been anxious all my life so I get lost in what work do I do if part of it was because he did act on someone of those things and my anxiety is attached into fear and distrust of him because of what happened in the past.

    • I know at one point you had talked about starting therapy. Have you started yet?

    • Newly Married

      I am starting January because I just got the health insurance and it all will be available for January. It has really been a nightmare. I dont want to leave my relationship just these feelings are very painful and I dont know if it is all me and my anxiety or what happened between us. I also get scared of what if our relationship is not good because of that.

  • Newly Married

    He is a great guy now and a lot of the things he did were based on his own shame and pain and he is not doing any of those things or games now but now I am hyper about those things because he used that ex or woman he was with to play games and I believed them, to me they were not jealousy games but hurtful things and I would take them as they came I never understood he was playing games to me it was real.
    Also the ex wrote a whole bunch of things to me that were hurtful about him and her, my husband says they are not truth but just to hurt our relationship, we confronted her and she said nothing in front of us, but it just added up a lot more to my anxiety that I been now getting panic attacks.

  • Leah

    I have been struggling with many intrusive thoughts, and it was around this time last year that I began really struggling with relationship anxiety. I just woke up and felt completely heartbroken that I couldn’t find any sort of love for my boyfriend. He is my first real relationship, and we’ve been together for a little over a year. I see now that all of my thoughts were completely made up in fear, but a couple months ago I had pushed and hurt him to such a level because of my anxiety that he broke up with me and said some hurtful things. Obviously I know that I lead to that point, and we managed to patch it up and have been doing pretty well. But my anxiety is latching onto him breaking up with me as a red flag and as though we are not meant to work out because he wouldn’t have done what he did. We’ve talked about the pain we’ve caused each other and want to make it work because to be honest, the only reason any of this happened was because of my relationship anxiety. I’m worried that I somehow won’t be able to get over the deep pain he caused me and the person he was during our break up time, but I also caused him deep pain. He is the only guy who has ever treated me with any sort of respect, he will do anything for me, he supports me, and wants to spend the rest of his life with me. I want that too, but I sometimes get afraid that I have outgrown him due to him hurting me and me simply wanting to move on. He has apologized many times for causing me pain and for acting how he did and has been making an honest effort to fix it. But its become a sticking point with my anxiety. I know long term relationships can involve hurt like this, but im hoping its something i can get over because he offered me forgiveness once and i would like to be open to being loving towards him again. It doesn’t help that I am 20 and he is 19 and I worry about us being too young. My head feels exhausted and I feel rather numb.

  • Magpie

    Hi Sheryl, I love your work! I’ve been reading your blog every so often over the past year or so, your writing is beautiful and powerful. I’m saving up for the Trust Yourself program in the spring, but have been anxious and thought I’d ask a couple questions before then.

    My anxiety about my partner not being funny, graceful, right enough for me, etc…has really gone down over time and I don’t struggle with those thoughts very much anymore. I also feel confident I can manage them when they do come up. Recently, I mostly struggle with is the reverse of that issue: wondering if I’m enough, if he misses his ex-girlfriend(s), etc… I know your site is mostly about the former, but do you see the latter much as well – somewhat completely flipping from worrying about if their partner is right/enough to if they’re right/enough for their partner? I suppose they’re both projections coming from the same place and intrusive thinking.

    Related to that, I am a beginner therapist in the licensure process for clinical social work. I’ve found that when my anxiety gets bored of worrying about my relationship, it starts to pick at my abilities as a therapist and I can be incredibly hard on myself. Though the thoughts are different, I’m thinking it’s the same process of self-doubt, shame, fear, etc…Any thoughts or wisdom on this anxiety in particular for new/beginner therapists?

    Thank you!

  • Newly Married

    I just went to see a doctor and he prescribed some medications for me, he said that my emotional brain and thinking brain are too moody or like blended and it could be a sign of being bipolar, my mom was bipolar and I feel very sad because I feel like I have a mental illness. He said that my emotional brain and thinking brain are too much the same and its a very unique thing that my brain has.

  • Newly Married

    I went to see a doctor from the place I work at a place that offers mental health services I could not see it before because I had no insurance but my boss knows that I been getting worse in panic attacks and anger outbursts and she talked to the prescriber and he saw me for like 45 minutes and I told him how I been feeling and a little of my life and symptoms and he said that my brain is very unique and it seems like my thinking brain and my emotional brain dont differentiate and that they sound like symptoms of a bipolar brain and that it could be a sign of me being bipolar and he prescribed medication and said that for now it can calm me down because right now i was too high in emotions and that maybe later once i get more calmed we can see again but for now i need to calm because I am not doing well at the moment, he said it could be lorn term or not the medication but for now not to worry once i calmed down we can go over it, but it made me very sad and scared to end up like my mom.

  • Newly Married

    he prescribed me Geodon 20 mg.

  • agnes

    I’m sorry to post again and ask for more guidance (I worry about bleeding you dry, Sheryl). I was supposed to add this to my original post. It may somewhat tie-in.

    My poor partner is having recurring issues with his mother over me. She does not like me and speaks very badly of me to him, which hurts him very much. We are not welcome in her home (their family home, where the two of them live together, alone) and she accuses him of changing for the worst, because of me (this feels like a very conditional type of love, in my opinion…). Their relationship is very strained over this issue and he is at his wits end. She is also an alcoholic and suffers with poor mental health and the sole-burden of her issues over the years has finally cracked him. He wants to repair his relationship with his mother, but has no idea how, other than asking if we can meet to talk about the issues. But, I feel, there will be no end; and this would only indulge her and add credibility to her opinions of me. I feel the problem runs deeper than the irritating things I do and the ways in which I am not right for her son.

    Can ANYONE give me some advice on how I can help him through this or what we can do to work towards repair? Blogs, books, articles – would all be greatly appreciated. Despite all of this, I have tried to support her in working towards better mental health and a more contented life. I have even recommended her this sacred blog!

    I wonder if the peak in ‘bad-person’ thoughts correlate to this issue.

    Thanks. Apologies again for the double-post.

  • Emma

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for your blogs. I get a lot out of reading them and trying to put them into practice. I’ve noticed that several times you mentioned how intrusive thoughts are protecting us from something, or you also said in this article to ask, what is needed right now when faced with intrusive thoughts. Could you explain a little more on this matter? I have a hard time understanding what intrusive thoughts could be protecting me from or what is needed at that moment but I feel like it could be a key piece in the healing process.

    Thanks again for all your wisdom!

    • It’s more than I can explain in a single comment, but it’s basically learning to attend to our four realms of Self: physical, emotional, spiritual, cognitive. I teach what this means in depth in most of my courses, particularly Break Free From Relationship Anxiety. In a nutshell, the thoughts serve as a protection against feeling the pain and vulnerability of life and being human, a pain which, as children, we couldn’t handle so we learned to travel into the safety of the mind in order to bear the big feelings.

  • Vb

    Hello Sheryl,
    I have been dating someone (long distance) and he is really kind and sweet. I know he would be a great husband and father. I like him but I do not find him very attractive. I realize I place too much emphasis on looks which is why I have been single most of my life (I’m 36) so I don’t want to make a mistake. I would love to love him for who he is and not what he looks like. Is this possible? Of course, there is much more to the story (me being critical, too picky, not liking myself all the way) and I don’t mind working on myself but I’ve been talking to him for 7 months and I don’t want to lead him on or hurt him if it’s not going to work out.

    • It’s a common story, Vb. I encourage you to consider one of my courses – Open Your Heart or Break Free From Relationship Anxiety – so that you can get to the root of your resistance.

  • KT

    When I start feeling anxious why do I reflect it on my partner?

  • Jane

    Thank you so much for your work, Sheryl. Reading your posts give me such peace. I wonder about the intrusive thoughts. In my relationship of 9 months, I am constantly asking my boyfriend “will we be together forever?” and “Will you definitely marry me?”. I know these are unfair questions, but I don’t know how to feel safe and secure without an affirmative yes to both. He tells me he “thinks so” but that “nothing is for sure” in life. This hits on my insecurities and I go into a tailspin. Any ideas what I can do to not constantly feel like crippling relationship anxiety?

    • It’s true that there are no certainties, but it sounds like your insecurities are coming from attachment fears. I encourage you to read Attached and also Hold Me Tight. They will help you understand your anxiety from an attachment perspective.

  • K

    You are a Godsend Sheryl. I have always been a worrier all my life and I have always tried to rationalize my way out of fear. Arguing with the thoughts, trying to prove them wrong and trying to hide, suppress and do whatever possible to make them go. Only recently do I realize, I had been unwittingly fueling the fire and made it worse. After having a torrid year with panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, relationship anxiety, I was indeed in bad shape till a few months ago. That’s when I stumbled upon here. Since then, it’s gotten better. The fears still come, but I’m able to deal with them in a much more compassionate and direct way than I ever did. And ever since, I have seen vast improvements in myself and my perceptions. I’m much more relaxed even in the face of mind crushing fear and intrusive thoughts. Thanks a lot Sheryl. I can’t put it in words how much your words have healed me. The journey is far from over and there’s loads more to learn and heal. But I don’t fear that anymore. Sending you loads of positive vibes. Please keep doing what you do.

  • Madeleine

    Hi Sheryl!

    I’m writing all the way from Sweden. I found my way to your site a few months ago when I felt more crippled by anxiety than ever before. I have been in a relationship since 2011 and two years ago I found out that my boyfriend had cheated on me with a mutual friend. We have since worked through it and for the most part it does not trouble me. I have dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember but in the last year it has been much worse. I think the trigger was when I began to think that there is a possibility we won’t be together forever, and I also found myself thinking things like “what if I’m falling out of love” everytime I felt irritated with my boyfriend. I feel so afraid of being hurt again or being the one who hurts him. I find your writings so helpful, but I would also like to know more about your views on how to handle infidelity. It breaks my heart that it happened because we have such a strong and wonderful relationship yet I can’t seem to move on even though I want to. I know his infidelity was not my fault, that it happened because he was going through some personal problems and hurting, and I know and can see how much he regrets it and wishes he could undo it. I can’t shake thoughts like “should I have left him? Do my friends think he’s no good for me? How do I know he will never do it again? What if I can never forgive him no matter how much I want to?” Do you have any thoughts or advice?

  • KT

    Recently we have been talking about getting engaged and I’ve been thrilled the whole time and now I think it’s about to happen soon and I’m so nervous is that a bad sign ? I can feel the anxiety starting to come back and I’ve been so excited about getting engaged, I don’t want this to ruin everything.
    I love my boyfriend, it’s not fair to him that I go through this, he’s so supportive and I love him for that! I just feel guilty

  • KT

    Recently me and my boyfriend have been talking about getting engaged and I’ve been thrilled the whole time and now I think it’s about to happen soon and I’m so nervous is that a bad sign ? I can feel the anxiety starting to come back and I’ve been so excited about getting engaged, I don’t want this to ruin everything.
    I love my boyfriend, it’s not fair to him that I go through this, he’s so supportive and I love him for that! I just feel guilty

  • Bashley

    Would “feelings” be this way too? Im latching onto “i don’t feel anything for him so I don’t love him” story again

  • Lee

    Hi Sheryl – I re-read your post and realized that one of the things I am struggling with is a fear of Facebook. I recently moved to a new state and I really want to nurture the relationships I had while living in my old state as I am very homesick and miss my friends. Everyone is on Facebook but I so afraid of posting on my page and commenting on other people’s. I feel like everything I put up could be picked apart, criticized etc. It feels very exposed somehow – but it seems as if people will forget about me if I don’t use it. I’m a grown woman. Why am I so scared of something that people use multiple times a day without thinking about it? Thank you so much.

  • Sonakshi

    Why can’t I trust my bf..is it because I have seen my father cheat on my mother..I..am so confused..

  • growinglove

    Hi sheryl,

    I’ve been reading your posts for a few weeks now and they’ve been really helpful in me trying to access more information about relationship anxiety. Mine began with an intrusive thought of whether I found my boyfriend attractive though at the time we weren’t together. I’ve known him for around 9 months now and we have been together for around two months… It’s been hell, in terms of the anxiety. When the anxiety dies down I’m still left with doubt and feelings of detachment. There are moments we feel closer, but in those moments I feel fear is quite prominent. But I worry I do not care enough for him, I find that I am constantly expecting so much of him and take out my frustration on him a lot. Before we go out I wonder if it feels right to go out, and that’s usually if I feel better. But if I don’t feel okay and we go out then I predict that the night won’t go well and I’ll continue feeling detached. I’m so controlled by these emotions and struggle with things like self compassion / compassion. It’s his first relationship, he’s 19. This is my second relationship I’m 21. He is very mature and I love him a lot.. But I have been hurt before, and issues of sexual harassment also, so maybe that does tie into it I guess. My therapy may not be for another 6-8 months depending on the waiting list and I’m trying to save up for your course, any advice? I don’t want to lose him yet sometimes that seems like the easiest thing to do. I cannot remember the last time I was genuinely happy… And I constantly test my feelings. One thing I know is though I usually test my feelings for everything, if I feel something “enough”.. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety in the past, namely OCD. But I’m not a fan of labels.

    • agnes

      Hi growinglove

      You say: ‘When the anxiety dies down I’m still left with doubt and feelings of detachment. There are moments we feel closer, but in those moments I feel fear is quite prominent. But I worry I do not care enough for him…’

      Not to put ideas in your head but I’m wondering if you mean specifically when the physical sensations of anxiety have died down, you’re still left with doubt/detachment? Don’t forget, detachment (or perhaps you might describe it as numbness/apathy?) still comes under the umbrella of Fear – fear being ‘anything that closes the heart’.

      I can completely and utterly relate to this mental torture of checking and testing. This sounds to me like you are still very much in a state of anxiety and stuck in a head-space. Remember that when the mind is very chattery and active we need to ask ourselves what these thoughts are protecting us from (see all Sheryl’s posts on Intrusive Thoughts, also The Voices in Your Head and that quote from Michael Singer). Those thoughts of ‘enough’ are a clue that the Wounded Self/Fear is talking.

      I hope that helps. Keep reading through the site. I find making short-hand notes as reminders helps. If you keep at it, your mind will quieten. Mine has, and it used to be so hellish I thought I couldn’t go on. Good luck xxx

      • agnes

        You also need to determine whether there are any red-flag issues (Sheryl outlines them quite often in posts…) in your relationship as a way to ground yourself and identify whether Fear is being needlessly overactive or not.

  • Mr. G

    I have been following these posts for a while now, and would like to share my story with relationship anxiety. I have been with my girlfriend for a year now, and the last 9 months have been torturous. I have known this girl and have been friends with her for about 5 years now; we have been around each other multiple times a week for this entire time.
    I had a crush on her multiple times over the years, but she was not interested in dating me (although I never actually asked her). About two years ago, I finally asked her out. We went on a date, but something seemed kind of “off”, and we didn’t go on another one. I had some extreme anxiety following that date, while deciding whether to ask her out again; I couldn’t eat or concentrate for over a week – that was all I could think about. I pinned the anxiety on me idealizing her while living in my fantasy land, but realizing on our date that in reality, she wasn’t exactly how I “pictured” her in my mind and I wished she was a little different.
    Fast forward to a year later, there was mutual interest in going on a date again, which we did. We had a blast and started officially dating after a few weeks. This is my first relationship (I am 24). I had a blast for about 2 months, when I all of a sudden got hit with major anxiety again. This anxiety has been with me on and off for 9 months. Every time I think it gets better, it destroys me again. I cannot stop thinking about the relationship, and I feel like my thoughts about her mostly revolve around things that she does poorly, despite the fact that there are no red flags in our relationship. She is a wonderful girl; she has a very warm personality and loves other people/her friends. She is also extremely loyal – almost to a fault. We have similar senses of humor, and when I’m not a mess (which is rarely), I enjoy my time with her. I know that she loves me, but sometimes I just wonder whether or not she is the right fit for me.
    I have thought about breaking up with her multiple times, but I feel like deep down that is not something that I actually want to do – even though this is what I feel like my mind is telling me to do. Yesterday, while going to visit her for Christmas, I literally started trembling on my way to her front door. This is the main characteristic of my anxiety – frequently, when I am around her, there is a physiological reaction in my body where I tense up, and literally feel like my brain is going to explode from my racing thoughts. A common thought is “you are just friends, you don’t love her.” It is not a momentary thing – it lasts the entire date – sometimes for days. When this happens, I feel like I am unable to control my thoughts, and all I can do is think about her negatively. Just the other day, I was feeling very excited about her, but the next day, it turned into this mental mess. Sometimes I even just get anxious and all I can see in my mind’s eye is her making a not-so-attractive face. It is all very strange to me, but I feel like I will never see any progress here, and my life has fallen apart around me as I deal with this. I feel like these fears control me, and are totally destroying this relationship, but at the same time I feel like my concerns could be/are valid. I don’t know if anyone else has had similar physiological reactions, but I am really having a hard time and I am getting really sick of this roller coaster of emotions and stress.

  • Rachel

    Sheryl,

    My mom found your website and mentioned it to me, as I am going through a rough decision making time. Throughout my life, I got into bed with fear and broke off relationships and made impulsive decisions. I’ve since worked on these fears and have maintained a 4.5 year relationship. We just recently got engaged and at first, I was so excited that he finally committed, that I was enough for him, and that I could plan a wedding. But then, the reality (OR MAYBE THE FEAR) hit me. This is where I’m stuck-is it fear or truth? I felt like I thought getting engaged would solve our problems, and sadly, I got caught up in wanting a wedding. And here I am, so torn.
    He smokes weed everyday; I am an athlete and don’t believe in habitual marijuana use. He’s a bit pessimistic; I’m overly excited and optimistic.I want to live abroad (I’m an ESL teacher) and then maybe have a small farm one day when I’m older; he wants to have an urban garden and is bad with languages. But he loves me, he’s committed, and I trust him. Isn’t that enough? Am I lacking in values here? Or just living in fear? Is it ‘being the bully’ and scaring me out of a marriage I thought I wanted, or have I been blindly walking through this for four years…not being honest with myself and my partner about my feelings. This post helps…but I’m afraid to call my situation ‘fear.’ What if its more?

    • Hi Rachel: Being pessimistic and bad at languages are not deal-breakers, but daily pot use raises a red flag for me. It’s essential that you get very quiet inside and sit with whether or not this is a red flag for you.