Intrusive Thoughts

IMG_4981As much as I talk about intrusive thoughts on this site and in my courses, I’ve never formally defined them. And, truthfully, in all of my training over the years I’ve never come across a precise definition of intrusive thoughts. Furthermore, despite the fact that I’ve never met someone on the anxious-sensitive-creative spectrum who hasn’t suffered from intrusive thoughts at some point in their life (usually starting in childhood or adolescence), most therapists have never heard of intrusive thoughts, so when they encounter them in their therapy office they either try to dismiss them by telling their poor clients to stop thinking those thoughts (as if that’s possible) or they take them at face value: “Oh, you’re wondering if you’re with the wrong partner? That probably means you’re with the wrong partner [because everyone knows that doubt means don’t].” Or: “Oh, you think you might be gay? Well, then maybe you’re gay.” Ack! There’s no faster way to send the anxious mind into obsessive, self-hatred overdrive then to confirm that an intrusive thought is categorically true.

So what exactly is an intrusive thought? Here’s my definition:

A repetitive thought that causes suffering and prevents you from being present for your life.

We all have thousands of thoughts that dart into our minds all day long. But unlike most of these thoughts, an intrusive thought sends its talons into consciousness and doesn’t let go. It convinces you that it’s true and causes inner torment. Here are the most common intrusive thoughts I come across (and even if your thought-du-jour isn’t listed here, believe me when I say that there isn’t an intrusive thought on the planet that would surprise me):

  • What if I’m gay?
  • What if I’m straight?
  • What if I’m with the wrong partner?
  • What if I don’t love my partner enough?
  • What if I was sexually molested and I don’t remember?
  • What if I had an affair and I don’t remember?
  • What if I hurt someone?
  • What if I kill someone?
  • What if my child gets hurt in some way (kidnapped, abused, killed)?
  • What if I have a terminal illness?
  • What if I die in my sleep?

And please don’t let the ego-mind, who wants to tear down any theory that undermines its growth-defying tactics, try to convince that because your thoughts don’t start with the words “what if” they’re not intrusive thoughts but true thoughts. That’s the oldest trick in the book, ego-mind ;).

Here are some other truths about intrusive thoughts:

  • Suffering from intrusive thoughts is a high-level, mental addiction. In other words, it’s not a substance addiction (drugs, alcohol, coffee, food) and it’s not a process addiction (porn, gaming, screens, shopping), but it does function in a similar way in that serves as a protection against being fully present for one’s life.
  • Intrusive thoughts are brilliant defense mechanisms in that they protect you from more vulnerable feelings.
  • You have a hard time distinguishing between the thoughts and the truths. In other words, you start to believe that the thoughts are true, and from that point forward, you’re stuck on spin cycle.
  • Intrusive thoughts often point toward perfection. They whisper in your ear a story that carries as its subtext the belief that if you could achieve the perfect partner, job, house, etc, you would be lifted out of the suffering of being human.

One of the keys to breaking free from an intrusive thought is calling its bluff. And calling the bluff always means taking responsibility for yourself which, in this case, includes recognizing that the underlying pain would exist irregardless of the external circumstances.

I’ll give you an example of a client who was struggling with an intrusive thought about her work for many years (story shared with permission). This client had worked for fifteen years in corporate America at a job at which she excelled and helped her achieve financial success and stability. However, after the birth of her kids, she longed for a change that would help her create more autonomy and flexibility. So she left her job and quickly established her own business. At first she thrived, but quite soon she started to notice a niggling doubt: Is this really my life’s work? Is this new job my calling? Shouldn’t I be doing something more meaningful? I must be settling. These thoughts sent her on a wild goose chase for many years as she was 100% convinced that the thoughts were coming from her “truth”. As long as she believed the thoughts, she couldn’t challenge them. But believing the thoughts brought her more and more suffering. It was time to break free.

In one defining session I said to her, “For the fifteen years that you were at your corporate job did you ever have this thought?”

“Not once.”

“So here you were at a job that you knew wasn’t “your calling”, yet this intrusive thought that you’re settling never came up once.”

“That’s right.”

“What does that tell you?”

“That it’s not about my career. It’s something that lives inside of me that I would take with me no matter what career I’m in.”

“That’s right.”

“But why didn’t it come up in that other job?”

“Because you were focused on relationships at that time. And the job gave you enough stability to quell the ego, who thrives on the illusions of stability, like a consistent paycheck, meeting externally defined goals, getting praise from managers. All of the things that corporate life offers.”

“Yes. So really I just swapped one intrusive thought out for another one. I swapped focusing on relationships for focusing in work.”

“That’s exactly right. And now it’s time to tend to what’s embedded inside the intrusive thought. What is needed? What pain are you avoiding by focusing on the thought?”

“My core issues around inadequacy and unworthiness. The need for a definite identity.”

“Yes, exactly. And also, I suspect, the spiritual need to move toward our fundamental groundlessness.”

Intrusive thoughts cover over many core needs and feelings, but at the root is the need for certainty. As human beings that are not guided to develop an acceptance of the changeable reality that defines our existence – an existence that ends in one certain way for all of us  – we have a very hard time accepting uncertainty, which is another way of saying that we have a hard time accepting death in all forms. We resist grieving the emotional deaths that occur when we transition to new places in life. We’re not guided on how to grieve the pain and loss that punctuate a regular day. We’re not mentored on how to live life fully, which means feeling all of our feelings. And when we don’t live life fully we actually fear life, which then creates a fear of death.

Healing from intrusive thoughts is a multi-layered, complicated topic that extends beyond the scope of a single blog post (for a comprehensive training on healing from intrusive thoughts, please consider my Break Free course). But following these basic steps will help you break free from their hold:

  1. Name the Thought: For many people, just naming and normalizing what’s happening inside their minds – knowing that the thoughts are not indications that there’s something wrong with them but are actually coming in the service of health and healing – is half the battle toward recovery.
  2. Expose the Lie: Again, if you believe the thought as true you will go down the rabbit hole of anxiety and depression. If you can say, “This is my familiar intrusive thought, and even if I think it’s true I know it’s not true,” you will take an essential step toward de-fusing your attachment to it.
  3. Sit with the Underlying Feeling: Once you remove the addiction by naming the thought and exposing it as a lie, you will be left with that the thought is covering up: a sense of inadequacy, insecurity, sadness, groundlessness of our human experience. Breathe into those feelings, and remind yourself that being human – with all of its vulnerability – isn’t something that you can get over. It can’t be fixed. The best we can do is be with ourselves with love and compassion. And in the loving, we find freedom.

111 comments to Intrusive Thoughts

  • R

    I am constantly amazed at the beautiful insight and healing words your single blogs can bring. I am reluctant to call intrusive thoughts a disorder in the clinical sense, but having dealt/deal with them it is a total disorder of your life, soul, heart, focus and ability to be present in the moment. I had them so bad 10 years ago that I thought I was going crazy. I had the gamut of intrusive thoughts listed in the blog. I tried to control it, while listening to every word the thoughts would say. Just believing all the horrible things would eventually come true. (They obviously never did and never will). I broke down one night crying to my mother on the phone about how I was losing my mind. As an adult male in my 20’s at the time, I couldn’t have felt lower. But being honest with myself and seeking help was the single greatest move I have made in my adult life and set me up for a new journey to live life fully. I cannot say all my intrusive thoughts are gone. I cannot say all my fears that drive them are gone. I cannot say I will not have good days and bad days, but therapy gave me the tools to deal with it all. I still seek truth from blogs like this, from sources I trust, and rely on trusting myself more and more that I am in control of my life and decisions. Relationship anxiety has been the biggest intrusive thought, but I should have expected it when it sunk its’ claws in. Being a highly sensitive person, I should expect fear and questions at every turn in life, big and small. Daily even! There’s no quick fix. There is healing, but it is ongoing. There is always fear and pain, but learning the tools to confront and engage with them is what the “trick” is. Not running, not blocking, not masking, not numbing, not ignoring. The more I did that, the worse it got until I literally could not take it anymore and had to heal.

  • MissJ

    This was so well timed Sheryl! I left a message on your last post which is still being moderated, but I’ve been suffering with depression for about a year now and I find that it manifests most in the form of questioning my relationship. Firstly, I wanted to ask if you do believe there’s a connection between depression and ‘not feeling love’, and secondly- is it normal for it to become the focus point of the situation if realistically your relationship is the most important thing to you?

    I live with my partner, and as such- it’s always a constant thing I’m thinking of. When we hug, I expect to feel something, when we kiss I expect to feel something, but I’m just not able to and in turn I think that causes me to question the relationship with ideas such as “do I love him?”

    I understand realistically that my partner isn’t my only limitation- and that when I’m around friends, family or I’m trying to do course work for study that I struggle just as much. I’m unable to feel much at all, and even for hobbies that I once enjoyed- the positive feelings are just absent. However, this is where I find that my intrusive thoughts come in. I get thoughts like “maybe this is just what you’re like now- emotionless and numb”and even as bad as “your relationship caused your depression”, even though I truly believe this isn’t true.

    I injured my back quite badly a while back, and on top of university stress I believe this all contributed to my depression. I went through a point where I just didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t do anything because I just felt exhausted. Doing the dishes was too big of a task, as was any other household chore and at this point I feel like I started manifesting my feelings onto my partner. I dragged us out on a ton of dates, thinking that we weren’t doing enough ‘couple’ things- and even then I still couldn’t feel anything positive.

    I guess, at the end of it all I’m just wondering if this truly is normal of depression? I’ve always understood that it makes doing things you love hard- but I’ve struggled so much with the idea that it can ‘cover’ your love behind so much suffering. I’m at the point now that sometimes I think if I could ‘feel’ the love again- then maybe I could be ‘better’ from the illness (which I then have to remind myself this is only one factor of the depression and that while I do focus on it the most, it’s not the only thing that’s wrong).

    Sorry to ramble but this article just got me thinking!

    • MissJ

      I did just want to add, that before the depression- everything was perfect with my partner. I loved him more then anything, and to have the feelings just disappear has been such a scary experience. I’m truly worried that what if the feelings really are gone, and with that idea in mind- what if they can’t come back? I like to think I still have the love for my partner there- otherwise why else would I be so worried? There were no red flag issues at all.

      • Charlotte

        MissJ, I can completely empathise with your post as I have been in your exact shoes. My depression, which has also been around for a year now manifested itself as relationship anxiety which was severely debilitating. I am now still seeing a counsellor I started seeing when I was first signed off work a year ago and this has helped enormously. Do you see anyone? If not, I urge you to see someone privately. I have also followed this blog but not takena course although have been tempted on many occasions. I would not say I’m recovered but I am much better than I was. My partner still gets the brunt of it but I am a lot more able to recognise when it’s the depression talking. I still get relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts but they are no longer debilitating most of the time. X

    • I cannot recommend the Break Free course to you strongly enough. Truly, it will address every single thing you’re struggling with. And yes, depression and relationship anxiety are closely linked. I urge you to continue to read through my site, then consider giving yourself the gift of the full course so that you can address the underlying root causes of your depression and begin to heal:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/break-free-from-relationship-anxiety-e-course/

  • Bec

    How do you know if it is an intrusive thought or really a red flag issue. Before I experienced depression and anxiety last year I was aware of my partner’s flaws but basically thought he was perfect. Now we are engaged and I see his flaws all the time. These can be joking much, being sarcastic sometimes, occasionally putting me down with his joking and his being judgemental of others at times. There are so many wonderful charactistics to him but I am not sure if maybe we are just not compatible anymore or if it is my issues.

    • It’s important to see someone’s flaws, and better to see them now rather then go into marriage in denial. Every relationship has issues that need attention, and it sounds like it’s time to address the ways in which your partner’s communication style is hurtful to you. What happens when you bring this to his attention? Is he open to hearing you? It’s not someone’s issues that make or break a relationship. Rather, it’s our willingness to look at ourselves with honesty and vulnerability.

      • Bec

        Thank you so much Sheryl for responding to my comment. I have been learning from your wisdom for months and finally took the risk of commenting. I have brought it to his attention that when he puts me down it hurts me he apologises and says he will try not to do it. He also says he loves me very much and would never try to intentionally hurt me. Regarding the sarcasm and judging others he is less reflective, I have not communicated it as clearly. He says he has always been like that since the beginning of the relationship which on reflection is kind of true. I do believe I am emotionally immatur due to struggles with mental health issues and an eating disorder during my teenage/adult transition time and think that this relationship is the first where I have taken up the challenge to look into my own issues of perfectionism, black and white thinking, fear of growing up etc…

  • SameBoat

    MissJ, that is exactly how I feel. 🙁

  • Cheryl

    Sheryl, I love this. I read most of your posts but have certainly bookmarked this. Thanks for the beautiful summary on intrusive thoughts. I can use this as a tool when my brain circulates around certain intrusive thoughts I get. 🙂

  • Carebear167

    Beautiful Sheryl. Thank you again and again. A few years ago I never would have thought I’d find my intrusive thought listed here. I thought I was the only one in the world. And that was terrifying. Thank you so much for writing and creating this blog, for normalizing my experience. It has made all the difference to know I’m not alone. Others have been through this. Others have healed. So I know I can too.

    • Yes, absolutely. In fact, intrusive thoughts are one of the easier spokes of anxiety to heal from because as soon as you realize that they’re a brilliant defensive mechanism you can break through their lies and arrive at the deeper needs.

  • Newly Married

    Wonderful Sheryl thank you so much, I have suffered from intrusive thoughts my whole life since I was little and I feel so relieved to know that its not my truth but a deeper need.
    Thank you so much and God Bless you

    • So many people suffer from intrusive thoughts since childhood, and because nobody talks about them there’s so much shame associated with them. Time to break this taboo!

  • Meggan

    Thank you for this post, Sheryl! I greatly appreciate your work. It’s comforting to know that there are others who are going through the same thing I am and feel the same way I do.

    The thoughts are scary but I am learning not to take them at face value. There is always an underlying issue that I am hiding from.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • Black/White/Right/Wrong/Perfect/Imperfect

    I just want to send you a virtual hug and a mighty heartfelt thank you. This post spoke volumes (and I always find comfort and wisdom in your posts). Thank you. We are so much more wise, powerful, and loving than we give ourselves credit for.

  • This is an amazing post. I always read your posts, and finally felt compelled to comment. Thank you so much for this wonderful, life affirming resource.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I can absolutely relate to intrusive thoughts. I have gotten bizzare intrusive thoughts when Im under stress with anxiety which is not often. Its extremely hard not to believe these crazy thoughts, I do believe them and I do tell myself these are only thoughts,, Im not going to die from them. I just run with it. I feel ashamed for feeling this way. When i keep myself busy the intrusive thoughts disappear. At night i struggle to get to sleep because my mind keeps thinking and thinking.

    • You can’t run from the thoughts, Angela, and when you push them away during the day through distraction they will find you at night. You have the Break Free course, yes? Please go through Section Three on intrusive thoughts in detail.

  • Lindsay

    That is surprising to me that you have encountered so many therapists who are not familiar with intrusive thoughts. But also, I guess, not surprising. When I was speaking to my family doctor about going back on medication for my anxiety/depression, I mentioned having intrusive thoughts, and she asked me “have you ever been committed?” Not the most helpful response at this particular time in my life! Luckily I knew that they are not uncommon so I was able to let that comment go without spiraling into anxiety ABOUT my anxiety!

    • That response is exactly why most people don’t dare to share their intrusive thoughts with their doctor or therapist. I’m so glad you were able to soothe yourself and not let it spiral out!

  • Angela

    Sheryl, what I meant to say is i sit with it, not run from the thoughts. Yes, I have the break free course 🙂 I normally go back to the courses when i get stuck again. Thanks so much for your reply, sending you a kiss and a big hug XO

  • FinallyGettingThere

    I love this post. I have had intrusive thoughts since I was a child. And it went throughout my teenage years and into my relationship. As a child I used to have intrusive thoughts when someone wasn’t feeling well and the thought would be ‘you are ill. You are gong to die.’ I always had that one. Now I realise I was scared, I don’t like people being ill. If only I realised that as a child.

    My newest intrusive thought is ‘I’m not ready to get married’ and I just thought ‘oh whatever, I’ve heard this a million times. Yes I’m scared but it doesn’t mean I’m not ready. So go away.’ And that has actually helped. Can an intrusive thought bring the feelings of anxiety too? I know this thought has popped up because I have been feeling scared & vunerable recently. My boyfriend will be working weekends soon aswell as his 9-5 job, this has made me nervous because we won’t be spending as much time together. This staryed to worry me because I thought we may grow apart. But then I realised I was being negative, he is doing this for us! So we can save more money to buy a house and finally start a family. He is doing it with loving intention, and I was seeing it negative. I also had a passing thought about what my last love interest might be doing and if he’s still with his girlfriend. I kinda want to be the ‘winner’ and say ‘ha! My relationship lasted longer than yours, you aren’t even together anymore. And you were the one who treated me awfully and tried breaking up my relationship, so you are the loser!’ I know it’s immature but I guess I still haven’t 100% gotten over it, I’m still angry. I also have been having intrusive thoughts saying that ‘you haven’t even been together 3 years and you desperately want to marry him. That’s too quick’ this put me down and made me deflated then I had thoughts of ‘I don’t love him’. Kinda strange how instrusive thoughts work! You can be sure you love that person, and then a thought will come and you will fall down the rabbit hole of anxiety. It’s very strange!

  • Laura

    Hi Sheryl,
    I am someone who has been a worrier all my life and if I am not worried, I am worried why I am not worried!

    I am always worried that I’m not attracted enough to my partner which sends me into a panic and depression and then today I hear that his friend has left his wife for a younger woman at work and the thoughts are going round and round in my head that my partner could leave me for someone younger as well and I am constantly going over the possibilities in my mind. Are these a form of intrusive thoughts or are they just worrying?

    • FinallyGettingThere

      Laura,i could of written what you just said!

      Once my anxiety went away, I started to worry why I wasnt worrying. It is a vicious circle! For a long time I was worried I wasn’t attracted to my partner. For ages I was concerned. And although people would tell me that attraction isn’t the base of a partnership, I knew that but I WANTED to be attracted to him. But let me tell you, that is FEAR! There have been times where I have felt like I am SOOOO attracted to my partner but then other times I think ‘omg you are so ugly’ (I know it sounds harsh), I then begin to become anxious because I think I shouldn’t be feeling that way, I then can’t feel any love because I’m anxious and then the intrusive thoughts turn into ‘I don’t love him.’ So this shows that it is complete fear trying to protect you. So the thought of not being attracted are definitely a defence mechanism:)

  • EJ

    Sheryl, a thousand thank you’s for this and many other posts. After 18 months with a person-centered psychotherapist who was recommended by a friend for anxiety, my intrusive thoughts started like a smack in the face, having never featured before. Instead of noting that I had mentioned previous signs of OCD (unknown to me at time) when younger, she told me my thoughts were my fears and asked me to go deep into them, to see what they told me of myself and my view of myself…..but did not say they were normal, ok, common or were NOT me. After a couple of months of this approach, I was a complete physical and mental mess. Worst moment came when she told me to leave her office to seek help with emergency psych team as I was so upset and scared I would hurt my fiancé (now husband), never once stopping to say “slow down, feel what’s going on right now, you are scared as these are new to you but, you are NOT these thoughts, they have passed before, they will pass again, you are a good person”. 5 minutes with doctor at A&E reassured me more than her 18 months service that this is a difficult and horrible life experience but with time and love for myself (which believe me is hard) it’s possible to be on top of my world. I am so much better thanks to appropriate levels of reading of blogs like yours, some CBT techniques, books like Rick Hanson’s and The Untethered Soul and meditation. Sounds like a lot of work right? It is, but life is! This unraveled over the year I got engaged and married and I am still only beginning my journey in that respect but I am hopeful and happy for the future. Finally….if you can, try to exercise yoru body as well as mind, even in the cold Irish winter, I mustered new found strength and energy from somewhere and overcome my fear of water and also started running again. For anyone who may read this, if you are having a bad day right now, read my words again, I was literally on my knees…believe me I’ve been there thinking “I don’t think I can get there, I don’t think I can do this”. Stop, breath, sit with yourself for a moment and repeat, sometimes over and over. Some days that’s still the secret to my progress.

  • Mr B

    Hi Sheryl, amazing post covers so many questions and provides theory and practical love it.
    One clarification – are all intrusive thoughts ‘what ifs’ or can it be any statement one thinks up? Admittedly mine are what ifs but from what you wrote if convincing yourself that something is real (even if not a what if) is also the ego at its fine work?
    Thanks Sheryl love your work! It’s good soul reading 🙂
    Mr B

  • L.B.

    What a marvellous and well written post! Love your work Sheryl. As someone mentioned above, this one is bookmarked.

    Also – have you read any of Pema Chodron’s work? She talks in great length about uncertainty, fears, change etc. Would recommend her writings/audio books for all who visit this blog 🙂

  • L.B.

    Oh! I just saw that you have Pema Chodron’s work on your list of ‘Reads that have changed your life’. So wonderful! I also recently finished Untethered Soul. A lovely book (thanks for the recommendation). Once again, a resounding post. Looking forward to the next one.

    All the best!

    *Also, if possible would it be a problem, if my post is approved, to have my name show L.B. instead? I hesitate to write my full name 🙂

  • Kate

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for this. Having read the article and the comments with your replies, what comes to me is that i just feel so alone to deal with the underlying emotions all on my own. I am single, i don’t feel comfortable sharing this with my parents, i saw a counsellor but i am ploughing alot of money into my business at the moment and just can’t afford to see one at the moment. I have some close friends i can share my feelings with but i feel as though it doesn’t really change anything, and then of course i worry i’m always dumping my negative feelings or dramas on those particular friends.
    I know the answer is within me, and perhaps you would say i’m abandoning myself?

    But i feel as though i’ve been looking after myself for so bloody long, before i was supposed to fully looking out for myself that I am fed up of doing this on my own. I just want to share my life with someone and have someone help me out a bit. I am a but of a perfectionist so yes, my life could perhaps be easier if i weren’t so type A – but when you have to support yourself in a big city that is expensive, working a FT job and setting up a business, trying to stay fit and healthy, maintain a social life – date – Jeeeez i just feel like, someone help me out a bit! I’m 36 and have chosen the wrong guys over and over – narcissist types, and having learnt about the whole Cluster B personality disorder subject i now realise many people in my life were that way inclined – all my exes, my Dad, my stepdad, some close ‘friends’. I’m now distancing myself from those people and working on my assertiveness as i see i’ve not had strong boundaries, but right now i feel like i’m going through this massive growth phase, but it’s so hard all on your own!
    Does anyone else feel this – is this a HSP thing or am i just weird?!?!
    I will admit there’s a part of me that feels like i’ve been resisting growing up – or maybe i was waiting for a man to kind of ‘save’ me – even though i’m very responsible and independent.
    I don’t know….something right now is saying that i’m still kind of waiting for something i didn’t get from my parents and it’s like i need to settle that so that i can then be free of this weird energy…

    Would love to hear your thoughts Sheryl or anyone else who may resonate?

    K

    • We’re not meant to go through life alone, Kate, so please allow yourself to feel the natural longing to share your life with someone and also receive some of the comfort and security that you didn’t receive from your parents. At the same time time it’s not a partner’s job to save us, so my guess is that there’s some combination of natural longing and also a “fix me, save me” mindset happening. While you’re looking for a partner, other kinds of support are essential. Have you considered the e-course? It would give you boatloads of support (albeit virtually) both through the course itself and the forum, and would teach you how to show up for yourself in a new and sustainable way:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/break-free-from-relationship-anxiety-e-course/

  • Doris

    Wonderful, comforting, applicable to everyday life. Thank you!

  • Kate

    Oh and wanted to add; The irony is that most people who meet me seem to think i really have my $hit together, look and sound really accomplished and think i’ve got everything going for me!!! Meanwhile i feel like i’m not doing half of what i want to be doing or where i would want to be at 36 and actually worse, for the most part i feel like i’m stuck in the cycle of self sabotage.

    Kate

  • GraspingChange

    This post came at the right time. I am going through an episode of anxiety presently. It started when I began a new job back in November. Everything was going fine until my awesome manager decided to resign two months into me starting there. Then my director resigning since she was recruited out. That sent me into a spiraling of thoughts of worry. More so due to my past experience of escaping a very toxic work environment with a bully boss I was in the last five years. The fear of great it’s happening all over again began. When in fact this time I had a great manager but she was leaving. So what’s going to happen next…thoughts of worry flowing in. I was also trying to conceive and the worry of an unknown new work place was causing me to wonder will the overload of work and unknown future not allow me to conceive. I had also lost my beloved dog back in October and sadly my family was not supportive and was rushing me to move on and let the sadness go, it was just a dog they’d keep saying. So with all this stress, I decided to quit my job and focus on trying for a baby. But since being home I feel lost without a purpose other than trying for a baby. I know my job would gladly take me back but that’s more so because they are severely understaffed and I have this fear now of returning to an unknown territory and also fearing the overwhelming stress of this job will not allow me to conceive. It’s a challenging time for me. I have struggled with change in my life few times before and I am usually fine but this time it was due to many changes at once. Loss of previous job, loss of dog, new job going bad, trying to conceive and managing my immediate family who doesn’t seem to know how to provide the right support and makes me feel worse.

  • Laura

    Dear Finallygettingthere,

    Thank you very much for replying to me. It is such a relief to read your reply and hear that you too have had the same feelings as me. It’s almost like when I am attracted to him, then my brain doesn’t have that to pick on any more so then it will start worrying about who he is attracted to and whether or not he will leave me for a younger woman. It is such a vicious cycle! I too have been exactly like you: having periods of time where I am sooo attracted to him (but worried about him cheating) and then times of repulse where he looks ugly (and that hurts me to say that!).
    I just want to be happy with the man I have got and not worry about anything! Why is it so hard??

    • FinallyGettingThere

      Hey Laura,

      The anxious mind will pick out ANYTHING! Sometimes when I get a thought I don’t really get anxious anymore, I don’t really feel anything. I kind of just know in the back of my mind that it is not true and I’ve had these thoughts a thousand times! I have also had OCD cycles in my lifetime from a child but about loads of different things. Have there been times where you’ve felt like this? If so it could all be linked with your anxiety.

      You CAN be happy with him Laura. It will just take a lot of work. That is the reality of relationships. But it is so rewarding at the end of it. Have you joined a course at all? It took me ages to because I was skeptical, now I’m SO glad I did! If you haven’t, I think you should!!

  • Nina

    Such a lovely breakdown of something that has plagued me, and many people I know, for our lives. I found a way to overcome this many years ago. I had always wanted children but being raised by abusive parents made me very afraid I would be one. I told my oldest sister (who is the person I go to with everything knowing she will listen and not judge) that I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t hurt a child I had especially if they were a baby and cried incessantly. She said matter of factly – you would just put the child in their crib after doing everything to help (feed, change, comfort) and you’d call me and I’d come watch them for you for awhile. I was like “what if I needed you to take them?” She said “then I would.” And it made it okay. I was a nanny and the baby cried for THREE DAYS STRAIGHT. And at one point I had done everything I could and then I put him in his crib and told the mom to call the dr, something was wrong (he had an ear infection). And the mom was bugged I had put him in the crib and I explained, he is fine there…but I need a break (I watched him from his awakening to going to bed) but you can go get him if you’d like (she didn’t). When I was an attorney representing abused and neglected children I understood people feeling like they might hurt their child but I never understood them actually hurting their child, because I had planned out how to deal with the frustration before it happened. And when I was a single parent working FT and living away from family, with a child with colic I sometimes had to lay him in his room and walk away and take a shower.

    I think one of the biggest problems is people don’t talk about it. people act like you are crazy or bad for saying you imagine doing some terribly heinous things. But I think more people think about it than ever say. I’ve tried to help my son see that we can all think bad things but we don’t act on them. And if we are afraid we might, we work through a plan to NOT act on it when the situation arises that makes us think we might.

    • This is so helpful, Nina, and you are a saint for staying with a baby who was crying incessantly for THREE days, and wasn’t even yours! Yes, one of the greatest gifts we can give to our kids is that they’re thoughts are not truths, and that everyone has “bad” thoughts.

  • alison

    I’ve battled nearly every single intrusive thought on this list. Another thing I have noticed worsens these thoughts is taking others’ stories on as my own, which I’m willing to bet 99.9% of people who visit this site also do. If I read about another terrorist attack or hear a story about someone dying of a rare illness, I immediately internalize that fear and obsess over the possibility (no matter how remote) of that same thing happening to me. It just reinforces this deeply rooted feeling of being unsafe in the world and it only reminds me that I have no control over anything, which is the ultimate root of my suffering. The news is a big instigator for me. There’s nothing wrong with being informed of current events, but I think as a general rule we HSPs just need to stay away from the 24-hour news outlets who rely on “click-bait” and sensationalist headlines to grab viewers/readers. I also have suffered from a fear of repressed memories of abuse due to the fact that I learned by accident at a very young age that my mother suffered horrific childhood sexual abuse. I’ve simply lived in absolute dread of memories coming up, especially as I neared (and now have passed) the age she was when she remembered these events. This knowledge alone of what’s at the root of these thoughts–thanks in no small part to work like yours, Sheryl–has been very empowering. I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely on top of these thoughts but I have had longer and longer periods where I don’t struggle with them and I can just feel present and grateful for life at this very moment instead of fighting my ego for control 🙂

  • Kate

    Thank you Sheryl – i suppose I have been thinking through all the info out there these days we should be aiming to feel ‘complete’ with or without someone. But it’s heartwarming to know, we are not meant to go through life alone. x

  • Cami

    I feel so blessed to have come into your work, Sheryl. I love how your words soothe my fears and make me feel that I’m not alone (and crazy). Thank you.

  • RP

    Wow, to see the intrusive thought ‘what if I was sexually molested and don’t remember’ on this list is absolutely huge for me.

    This thought developed for me after about 12 months into my work as a social worker, having been exposed to a number of situations I may or may not have been emotionally ready or supported for. It’s also the triggering thought I believe that brought on my descent into relationship anxiety and ruminating hell. As I eventually found comfort in talking through my anxious thoughts and doubts to do with my relationship, I never really found relief or a feeling that I could safely name this other intrusive thought out-loud, for fear that someone would tell me it was true. Plus, the more I looked into treating my relationship anxiety, the more treatment seemed to reaffirm that it had developed due to some trauma in childhood.

    To this day (after 7+ years, marrying my partner and expecting a baby in a few short weeks) I still find this intrusive thought pattern (what if I’ve been molested) reappears from time to time, and still feels so real. However instead of it bringing me to my knees, I’m now able (mostly) to let it play in the background, after realising that if I accepted the thought could be a possibility, it didn’t have such a strong hold over me.

  • As ulways Sheryl Grether post ver y CLEAR and actionable and I am sending to many of my clients with whom we have been working on what’s behind those thoughts, the underlying core painful feelings we have learnt to svoid…
    Only recently while walking in the beach towards a water slide (in one of this BIG spaces in my life with my kids) my 7 year old told me ” mom my mind is always telling me lies which make me anxious, I just don’t seem to know if they are try or not” … At first I was prone to help her check her feelings to discern true from false but as I saw her troubled face and being she 7 I added ” you can always come to me and ask me if they are true” … It reminded me that when we are in the anxiety – lower frequency mode it might be difficult to assess ourselves or be present as we need to. We may just need help from another person to act as the loving adult… This has been (is still) an incredible summer of connect ion with her and I have been able to be for her with all her deep feelings which were just stocked up somewhere … Probably as a result of not so much space during school/work … I come back to your advise to make space in everyday life to access ourselves and those around us. It is vital for our wellbeing

    Thanks again, with love,
    Denise

  • Hi

    Hey Sheryl, just wondering if my situation is normal. I’ve been in a relationship and lately I can’t get someone else out of my head. They were just my friend then all of a sudden I started over analyzing everything and made myself believe I have feeling for them. Now idk what to do with my current partner. I was so happy in the beginning and now I can’t stop thinking about someone else. Then I start thinking all these what ifs. What if I’m only with my partner for security? What if I’d be happier with someone else? What if they’re not the one? And it’s so annoying, I just want to be present in my current relationship but it’s hard when I’m overwhelmed with these thoughts.

  • Kath

    Sheryl, why do we have an ego, it doesn’t seem to do us much good?! Best wishes, Kath

  • Alexandra

    Dear Sheryl,
    Does relationship anxiety can block your mind so much that when you are with your partner you can’t truly enjoy him? I’ve been obsessed with this thoughts for one month now and although I have some amazing days with my boyfriend I can’t truly enjoy it as I did the first month.
    It’s horrible and I really don’t know what to do, I don’t want to leave my boyfriend.. I don’t know why I have this ideal of love in my mind and since I don’t feel that “love” for him I start thinking I’m with the wrong person.

  • ann

    I suffered with intrusive thoughts about my career for many years, and when I got engaged I completely forgot about my career and focused in on my partner. So your article helped me figure out why I went from one anxiety to another.

    Question – can regret be an intrusive thought? When Im not having relationship or career anxiety, I usually am thinking of all the mistakes I made. Mistakes I made with my wedding, mistakes before the wedding, career mistakes. It turns into this vortex of self hatred that I can’t get past and I repeat the mistakes over and over. The only time I forget about it is when Im either having relationship or career anxiety, which temporarily mask the regret

  • ann

    also reliving embaressing moments?

  • N

    I cannot express how grateful that I am to have found your website, and purchase your e-course! It boggled my mind to learn that our thoughts are JUST thoughts and that you do NOT need to hold them at face value.. I NEVER knew that growing up! I completely agree with you, Sheryl, if only we were taught at a young age about this, then we may not ever have to experience anxiety the way we do!

    I am going into week four of the course and it is a night and day difference as to how I was a few weeks back (constantly crying, my mind asking a million questions, fidgeting, loss of appetite, sleepless nights.. you name it)… I go about my day now and it is as if it almost never happened. There are brief moments throughout the day that a thought will pop into my mind, but I am able to breathe into it and douse it with some truth water!

    There is a part of me that is a bit scared that I am going to wake up tomorrow and get anxious again and question everything, I understand that this healing is spiral and not linear, but it’s always at the back of my mind!! I also realize I need to continue to realize that the anxiety is within ME and not about my relationship!

    • Excellent, N! And when that fear arises you can calm it by trusting that you’re now learning the skills and practicing the tools to handle the anxiety when/if it resurfaces.

  • Anxious

    Hi Sheryl, thank you so much for your amazing blog and your kind replies to these people. I have been a highly sensitive person since as long as I can remember, but only in my recent relationship have I come to realize these issues I have are intrusive thoughts and obsessive ruminations. I think it started when I found out my boyfriend was sick (he has Crohn’s disease, but we didn’t figure this out until a year later), and I worried over whether we would be able to stay together and if I could handle it. Every once in a while I’ll get upset over the fact that I’m the breadwinner, but he tries so hard to take care of the house, find freelance work and try to do things to make me comfortable/happy. He is a wonderful person, but these intrusive thoughts can be so frustrating and difficult to deal with. It’s really difficult for me to find people in a similar situation, and when I do try to reach out I kind of feel like people are judging my situation or just don’t know how to help. I can’t afford a therapist, and at the moment I can’t afford your courses, but if I were able to, which course would you recommend?

    I’ll worry I don’t love him enough, I deal with insecurity and low self-esteem, sometimes I’ll just have this nagging voice that doesn’t really say anything but causes a lot of anxiety and I worry I’m in denial. I also deal with depression and I find that I project that onto my partner which turns into the anxiety and fear. Normally I’m able to turn to mindfulness to quell the fears but I really am unsure how to dig deeper, grow and go forward. I find I do a lot of reassurance seeking when I’m having these bad days. Thank you for reading, and for all the work and help you provide to all of us highly sensitives. <3 Much love.

    • When you’re ready for it, I would highly recommend the Break Free course. It will address everything you’re struggling with (and so much more). Blessings to you –

  • S

    About 6 months ago I started dating the most amazing guy in the world. He’s the first person I’ve ever loved and cared so much for. When we first started dating, I would start to overthink and have anxiety when I would hear people talk about divorce or break ups. Then it started getting worse to the point that I would think about it when I was with him and constantly kiss him or hug him for reassurance of my feelings. Last week was so bad that I was so close to ending the relationship even though I knew there was nothing wrong with my relationship, but I couldn’t let him go. I know it’s my anxiety and a little bit of the fact that this is my first relationship, I question everything that I feel because I don’t know what it’s like for the initial bliss to disappear and then I’m left confused if these are normal feelings or not. I’m starting to see a therapist for my anxiety in the next week but I’m just worried I’ll never get over these feelings and get to enjoy my relationship.

  • Anna

    Firstly, I just found your blog and I am so happy I did! As a highly sensitive young woman who has struggled with (relationship) anxiety (still do sometimes) and one major depression, this blog is completely spot-on for me.

    Intrusive thoughts are a very important topic, but not widely known as you say, so I am especially happy to read this post! Less than a year ago, I had some awful intrusive thoughts brought on by heightened anxiety. These days, I still have some intrusive thoughts related to relationship anxiety and hypochondriac intrusive thoughts whenever I am more tense, but now it is easier to deal with, because I roughly figured out what works and what doesn’t (which was a looooong process of trial and error). One thing that definitely doesn’t work for me is reassurance – it feels like a fix, but it’s not. The only way to make it better is to deal with it yourself, instead of looking for temporary reassurance from someone or something else. That was my first step, but I think there’s much more to learn. I think your advice is really helpful and I’ll definitely take it to heart 🙂

  • D.A.

    Sheryl,

    Let me just say how incredibly helpful this post was. I’m currently in a very loving relationship and it’s very steady and strong. I’ve had a lot of anxiety, especially in the past six months, pertaining to my relationship for really no reason. I love my partner, he loves me, and things are great. However, I’ve had almost every intrusive thought, from “what if I am a sociopath?” to “what if I am of a different sexual orientation?” without any kind of evidence surrounding these thoughts. All lead back to the fear of me losing my partner or having to “give up” my partner because of these circumstances. I will say, at times, it has been like my brain was able to convince me of the worst case scenario. Your blogs keep my mental health in check, truly. Thank you for your wise words.

    D.A.

  • Rachael

    I am only getting more frightened. Me and my partner have hit a terrifying stage inour relationship where I will panic and break us up. Is that a sign we shouldn’t be together? Is it really meant to be this hard? I mean, the main thought I really am panicking about is that I am ‘in love with the idea of being in love’… I don’t know how to escape because he if that’s true…

  • Rachael

    I’m so scared that I’m in love with love, I haven’t even said I love you to my partner yet. I enjoy spending time with him and we both feel happy. I really want to be able to practice self love before I concern myself with love for another person.

  • Newly Married

    Hi Sheryl….. It all started with intrusive thoughts and obsessive thinking about my husbands past that it trigger so much pain and anger, we had dated before and we were very inmmature and all those pictures of him with is ex came to my mind and I started with so much jelousy and anger thinking that he never loved me, to then lying about my past and now I feel so horrible that I feel like if he knew about me lying he would not want to be with me and that I dont deserve this wonderful man or relationship because I was not honest and I dont deserve his amazing unconditional love, I really feel horrible, when I was little I was molested and so much shame came from that, I could never tell my dad because I thought he would not love me anymore because he always accused woman of being “””””” and I thought I was that too, then of course I grew up and had relationships and now that I am with my wondeful partner I lied about my sexual past and it makes me feel so horrible, I know he would of accepted me with that past but I still felt ashamed of it because I think my fathers voice is always there, but now its turned into I know he would not accept me lying about it and now I feel like I dont deserve his love because he would not accepted me or accept me now.

    God Bless you Sheryl, I wish I could had find you before because I have suffered from this all my life and its horrible.

  • AL

    Hello Sheryl!
    Your posts are very helpful. After reading your posts and many of your articles I concluded that I think I have relationship anxiety. It’s so hard. It makes me want to give up. I just wanna go somewhere and just be alone and single for the rest of my life. But I love my boyfriend. Well, I say that now but in a moment my mind will tell me that I don’t love him enough or that I just stay with him because he loves me so much and doesn’t want to give up on me so I am just using him. My mind is so crazy. I overthink and overanalyze everything. I make worst case scenarios in my head. And lately I just want to give up on our relationship. I don’t want to but I can’t stand it anymore. I feel stuck.

    You said something about journaling. It would help. What do you exactly mean? I should keep a journal of the thoughts that come in my mind? I feel like I have many intrusive thoughts. And when I think I resolved one..there comes another old one that I thought I was through with it. And it bothers me for a while until another old one comes back. It’s a vicous cycle. I just want to give up.

    In the beginning I kept dreaming that one day we’ll get married and now that we are very close to getting married I just think that I can’t do it. Only the thought of being on my wedding day creeps me out. I keep thinking I can’t be with someone for the rest of my life. And i keep thinking how hard marriage is and how we will not be happy. I always wanted to find a good man and get married and have kids and have a beautiful life together. But now that this is so close I am just so overwhelmed that I don’t think I can do it. You know I just want to be normal and not overthink everything. I never thought this would happen to me. I always thought i would find the one and I will be very in love and very excited about getting married. But truth is I am scared to death. And I don’t really want to get married anymore. But I don’t want to give up. I know I contradict myself. I do and I don’t wanna give up. I am weird.
    Do you have any advice? I would appreciate. Thank you and God bless!

  • finding gracefulness

    What a wonderful post. I have been doing so much better with my relationship anxiety recently due to a lot of self care and reading this blog! I am engaged and finally able to enjoy my lovely partner. In the last 2 weeks I have been feeling the urge to share all of the intrusive thoughts I’ve had in the past with my partner. My head has been telling me I need to share these things before marriage or I would be keeping things from him. How much do other people share their ‘fear thoughts’ with their partners? Even just from writing this note I’m sensing this might be my ego making this request. I don’t know how helpful it would be to share- I used to fear that all of the sudden I was gay, etc. Maybe I’m hearing my own answer and that I need to continue to avoid the fear thoughts and let my partner enjoy the calm, authentic version of me.

  • Lea

    Why can’t I just be happy? That’s all I want!! To be happy the way I was before…I’ve always had something to worry about, I’ve always been a worrier but this is different. Relationship anxiety is by far the worst thing I’ve experienced and I’m almost convinced that the only way out of it is to leave. I know that I won’t be happy that way either but at least I wouldn’t have to go trough the same stuff every day…We’re engaged and the worst part is that I can’t even see myself walking through the isle as I used to…I can’t go through with it. Isn’t that a sign? I should be happy, I should want this! Everybody around me is happier than me and I’ve been stuck in the same spot fora a year and a half since my fiance proposed…. It is tiring and exhausting.. I just wanna feel sure about this and start living my life again.Happy, as I used to be 🙁 Please, has anyone ever felt that they wouldn’t be able to go through the wedding ?

  • AL

    I feel the same, Lea! Exaclty the same but I don’t want to give up. My wedding is in a few weeks. Oh my..even writing this makes me wanna run!! I don’t see myself really being there on that day. When somebody asks me how are preparations going I almost get panick attacks. I get angry when people ask me these things. I am so afraid I won’t enjoy the wedding day!!!

    Recently I have another thought that keeps annoying me: it tells me that maybe I don’t really want to get married, it’s better to stay single and I shouldn’t do it. It makes me want to give up and just be single again. I am afraid I will have this anxiety all my life. There are days I feel good and other days when I just want to run away cause I can’t get those stupid thoughts out of my mind. I am just thinking I should leave because I don’t want to live with this anxiety all my life. We won’t be happy if I continue doing this 🙁 Today was a good day. My boyfriend told me he likes it when I am in a good mood and he wants me to be this way all the time (I’ve shared with him most of the thoughts and my anxiety so he kind of know everything but doesn’t want to give up on me and he encourages me all the time). You see…I keep thinking he won’t be happy with me because of my anxiety.
    Oh God, help us!

  • Lea

    Dear Al,
    I feel so much better just reading your comment. And no, you’re not the only one who thinks that maybe it’s better to stay alone all their life. I’ve been there. Sometimes I just feel that I’m not meant to be with anyone and the only way to go through life is stay single. But then again, I know that I’ve always wanted to get married one day and have children. So what happened? Fear took over. I’ve lost faith in love, I see all the people around me and wonder why is it so easy for them? Maybe I’m just with the wrong partner. I feel guilty all the time. I feel “dirty” after being intimate,I started thinking that LOVE, as presented in movies,poems and stories, doesn’t exist. Or, it does, but just for a little while. I’ve had those in-love feelings, but since the proposal everything has changed.Now I’m only scared. So hang in there…I hope that we’ll find inner peace one day…before it’s too late 🙁

  • N

    Lea and Al, have you purchased the ecourse? If no, I highly highly recommend it!! I was (am) in the same boat, except I am not engaged… But the thought of getting engaged or getting married gets me anxious…. When it never bothered me before!

    I am going into week five of the course (although this week I feel like I didn’t do any inner work…. Which explains why today I have been getting intrusive thoughts)… But it’s honestly been a lifesaver. Not only is it reassuring to read her blogs, articles and watch her videos, but it’s reassuring when you see that everyone else is going through it too. She gives you in depth tools and practices to use to help you combat your relationship anxiety… And I can honestly say that I am completely on a different state than I am from a month ago….. I completely see how getting married would be getting more anxious for the both of you, it’s a BIG moment, buts it’s a transition and there is an underlying core need, feeling or fear that is hidden beneath .. Maybe the fact that you are becoming a wife and are losing out on being single .. There is always something. I never realized how my eating disorder (I have been battling for the last year) or how I feel guilty when I eat really affected me.. It’s what caused my relationship anxiety.. I finally realized that it was my inner self crying for help to turn inward… So really your intrusive thoughts are calling you to turn inward.. Journal, practice mindfulness, meditate.. Do yoga… Do what you need to do to fight the anxiety.. Just know that you are making a LOVING choice being with your partners…. I really believe if you didn’t , then you wouldn’t have found her website and wouldn’t be so invested in finding out what’s going on!

  • Tiffany

    Finally! I found something that perfectly describes my feelings. I’m a highly sensitive person and I deal with emotions internally and it can be very difficult sometimes. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a year now and we’ve had this issue come up repeatedly. It’s really taken a toll. This last year I’ve also been through hard life changes and I’ve discovered I have depression because of it. I opened up to my boyfriend recently and he’s upset and confused about my doubts and fears. I’m worried I won’t be able to convince him they’re apart of my depression and anxiety. Our relationship is perfect and I’m always worried about one thing or the next. I don’t want him to wonder if my feelings are true everytime I tell him I love him. And we’re exhausted of the drama this brings us. We need stability. I don’t want the relationship to end. That’s the last thing I want. So these thoughts can’t continue. Thank you!

  • AL

    Dear Lea and N,
    I would purchase the e course but sadly I can’t afford it. It’s been very helpful reading this blog and to know that there are other people like me. It’s selfish to say that but i guess it’s true when they say misery loves company.
    These days media, movies, people around us make us believe that love is somehow easy, it doesn’t cost anything, you just fall in love and everything will be fine. You just feel it.

    Lea, I, like you too, look at people and when I see them so in love and everything looks perfect in their life it makes me think I am with the wrong person or maybe I don’t really know what love is.
    The thing is that this is my first real relationship. I always doubted if he was the one or not. I always was a doubter and worrier, I don’t like making decisions, I don’t like difficult situations and try to avoid them. I tend to see the negative stuff in people and situations. I’m more pessimistic than optimistic. Truth is, in my selfishness, I want life to be easy. I want everything to work just fine. But that’s not the reality. Life is hard and will be hard even if I am single or married.

    I too dreamed of getting married and having kids and I somehow got scared of all this marriage thing after I found this good man. In the beginning I was so excited, so patient with him..everything was good even though in the back of my mind i had this question if he was the one or not. We argue and fight sometimes, just like anybody else. But in my mind love had to be perfect…you always feel in love and have patience if you really love somebody. I always had very high expectations from guys. And my boyfriend is so good to me, patient and so respectful. After we got used to each other and time passed..i started having less patience, i started getting upset very fast. So in my mind i started wondering if I love him enough. I know he loves me so much and I kept thinking maybe I don’t love him enough if I do these things.
    But then I remember what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is. Love is more of a choice, a decision, a commitment. Even when you don’t feel it, you show love in action! Just like Jesus who always loves us even when we don’t deserve it.
    I think my fear comes from the fact that I have never had a father. He left us before i was born and doesn’t even care about me. I have never lived with a man in the house so it will be a big change for me. Also, I am always scared of making a bad decision. Maybe that’s why I am so freaked out.
    All I know is that I don’t want to be fake, I want to love him and just be happy together.

    Lea, what other thoughts are annoying you? I have had and still have so many stupid ones. Things that i have never thought about before. They are so annoying.

    My only hope is in God now. Only He can help me 🙂 He can help me overcome my anxiety, my fear and help me be a good wife and mom. I refuse to give up, I refuse to think that meeting him was without a reason. I refuse to be a quitter, I refuse to let anxiety make me miss something beautiful.
    Listen to these songs: Oh fear and Brave by Moriah Peters. Vertical church – Only Jesus Can. So encouraging 🙂

    • finding gracefulness

      If you can’t afford the course; have you considered reading Sheryl’s book the conscious bride? I am engaged also and it was so helpful for me! There is so much to grieve preparing for such a big transition and the book walks you through it so you can arrive much more present on the wedding day. You guys aren’t alone sometimes it seems helpful to look at things from an objective point of view. If you were a friend what your you say/think about your relationship? You would be able to see its helpful, kind, supportive, real, and safe. You would encourage them to get married and be excited they found such a healthy relationship. When we are in the throws of anxiety are ego makes us so critical and ready to run!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I did something stupid i accidentally deleted all my courses can you resend them to me,
    Many thanks xx

  • Lea

    Dear Al,
    It’s strange how similar our situation is. First of all, I also doubted if my partner was the one however, it was just something that would cross my mind in the beginning of the relationship but it’s totally different now. I had the in love feelings in the beginning and that was all that mattered. As you said, love had to be perfect because that’s what I’ve been told all my life. Nobody has told me that it can be scary and requires such a work. And again, as you said, I too have become less patient and tolerant toward my wonderful man who is respectful and amazing. I became totally different and cold and reserved towards him. He noticed that and I got scared that we’ll grow apart and I will realize that I was just infatuated, that I’m not IN LOVE with him as real love is unconditional. Real love means loving everything about your partner and not being irritated my his habits and concentrating on his flaws….I mean it’s terrible. Yesterday, a friend of mine got engaged and she was so happy that I immediately started to panic thinking : Oh my God, I’m totally with the wrong guy here…I should be as happy as everybody else…what’s wrong with me..is it possible that I will never feel and have what she has with him…and you know how the story goes. That’s all I think about, my mind is preoccupied with this problem and I’m unable to do anything…Thanks for the songs, I’ll definitely listen to them…God help us!

  • Newly Married

    I wanted to ask, if we are in a loving relationship me and my husband and we both are working on healing and helping each other for our childhood traumas and or issues and we are working on loving ourselves more because we need to, does that mean that we are both being coodependant? we are both willing to grow and also I support my husband and hear him and so does he do that with me. He feels really good and able to open up and cry when he feels like it because thats how we support each other and we are both kind of attached. I am afraid I dont want us to be coodependant .
    Thank you

  • Newly Married

    I forgot to say we are also both in healthy relationship, we are just both able to open up and talk about our sadness or pains and allow each other feel emotions and support each other.

  • Megan

    Hi Sheryl,

    I just want to say that you have truly changed my life. I’m so thankful to have found you, and at the perfect time (as so many have said). I have just finished working through for open your heart program, I’m glad I took the time go do it at my own pace. .I’m looking at my doubts and intrusive thoughts as challenges to make me stronger. I feel like I have been doing so much inner healing and dream work, I’m going back and taking care of my inner child. I’m starting to think back to where I was when I actually started my relationship with my boyfriend and I definitely wasn’t in a place of loving myself – so its no wonder I had a hard time opening up and not having those ‘in love’ feelings of an infatuation stage. I was very protective of my heart. I’m so glad to be working through this anxiety, because I do have such an amazing partner. I love him so much but I know how scary the intrusive thoughts can be.

  • Hope

    Hi. Sheryl.

    I hope you’re well. For the past six years of been with my partner I’ve had these feelings and thoughts at time. Recently they are continuously on my mind with no stop. I’ve suffered from.intrusive thoughts for the past number of years that get bad at time with severe anxiety .
    We have a beautiful four years old child who is such a blessing .We are in the process of buy-in a new home .We have just weeks to go before we sign contract. We’ve been living with my mam the past two years which has given us a chance to save for our future. The very thought of this house is sending me into orbit. I can’t handle the anxiety and had to go on medication recommended by the doctor. Every time I look at my partner I see him completely different. I see intense fear in his eyes. I can’t see him how I used to .When we went to sleep together other night I had to stop cause my mind said no n then I knew it would be in my head as rape.. now I can’t bring mysejf to let him really touch me. If we’re in house alone I feel scared. This is the last thing he would ever do but I knew if I went ahead with it I would have a serious mind fight on my hands. I feel am I just stay in for our son because we dint want a broken home for him. There’s no red flags a couple of annoying ways and sometimes I feel he dampens my spirit a bit but I can’t imagine life without him or with him it’s such a head mess … To picture myself in the new house we picked makes me want to die .I also check am iattracted to him. But I feel nothing .It even stems to our son now that I can’t have him without partner , I wonder am I with him because I pity him and feel bad for him but is that my head or me not been honest with myself. I have an aged in me and I want to take it out on him but then I fear that I will resent my son because what if stay in for him. I go to counselling and my partner came n that spikes it more incase I’m leading him along and he supports me but then I’m like nope sorry not for me and I just made him wait like a mouse in a trap waiting to die.

  • Silver

    Thanks for this post Sheryl! Now I understand more about intrusive thoughts. However this thoughts are very painful and I tend to distract myself and run away from it all the time. It’s really hard to distinguish whether the thoughts are real or not because it is accompanied by lack of feelings and intense worrying. I found out that I am also a very HSP one and I get easily affected by alot of fears and words that always put me into the dark. My partner is a very insecure one which always triggers my anxiety. I have no friends left and desires to have new ones or meet the old ones(however they disrespected her so I can’t go back). I’m stuck of not wanting to talk to her always, but meeting her in person like 3-4 times a week. I always wonder this time that It feels forced and I’m keeping her in such a distance that I wouldn’t lose her. I also found out that the more I get vulnerable and more intimate the more my feelings lessen and more of thinking about it and my anxiety. I feel flooded by her that I need alot of space instead of not resisting and just letting it flow. Now it feels that I’m just a red flag for her that I keep her because she is pretty and our intimate moments that I’m just lusting for her and not afraid to let her go because of my anxiety.

    • Silver

      I’m not happy it’s like there is someone out there that will make me crumble head over heels. It feels that love isn’t enough to make me stay

      • Rachael

        Hi Silver!

        I am in almost the same situation, I have been with my partner for a few months and we started dating almost immediately after I left my ex boyfriend
        I have the same necessary needs of worry, because I feel as if I need to find out whether I’m doing the right thing. I believe that this anxiousness is sometimes a curse, however, it can be viewed as a gift. We are blessed with sensitive minds and sensitive hearts.

        • silver

          Wait doesn’t it count as a rebound relationship? Did you let yourself grieve and accept your situation first before heading to a new one? I know it’s really hard that we have this gift, but I keep wishing that I don’t. I wish that I can love as my partner does and not overthinking everything. I’m going to start on a journey this time, I’m going to accept that I am a highly sensitive person and I was given the gift of anxiety and not a curse. Just keep reading and do internal work like sheryl says. Let’s hope for the best and keep praying to our higher inner selves that we heal from the gatekeeper who prevents us!

          • Rachael

            For a moment there, your rebound comment set off some anxiety.

            I started to like my current partner whilst on a break from my ex boyfriend. I took this relationship slowly as I didn’t want it to be a rebound. Me and my ex boyfriend had been over for about a month technically, as we were long distance and on a break and rarely spoke. I am completely happy with my current partner, and it does count as one of the calmest and happiest relationships (albeit with some arguments here and there, but that comes with the territory). I mainly go with the fact that I enjoy being with my partner, and he enjoys being with me. It’s all going great!

            I love how you say ‘heal from the gatekeeper’, I believe that our path includes the gatekeeper in all his/her forms. In my understanding, the gatekeeper is more of a safety code. It is there as a protection, a seal against the love we could potentially feel. Acceptance of our sensitivity is a brilliant way to start!

          • silver

            I’m sorry that I triggered your anxiety 🙁 Well this gatekeeper is the one who prevents us from fully become vulnerable even though it gives us the ability to recognize what we are doing. I believe that everyone has it regardless of them experiencing relationship anxiety or not. It’s just they can easily break their walls that’s why.

            Anxiety really sets me off every time. It makes me see my partners flaws harder, how sometimes boring and her physical appearance however that’s not just the case why we are currently with them. It’s really difficult to recognize the truth if our minds are speaking so loud and unpredictable so much as telling us the future.
            I wish you all the best for your relationship. I hope that we both set ourselves free from this!

          • silver

            I feel that I don’t want to be talking with my partner anymore argghhh it’s like I’m settling and she’s an option for me though I’m not looking at other people or someone is getting my interest.

  • Rachael

    Hi,

    I have been struggling with intrusive thoughts for years, since I was 19. I have been struggling with thoughts such as ‘I don’t love him’, ‘I’m not attracted to him’, ‘We do (insert typical negative trait here) so it must mean (insert societies constructs here)’

    Recently, I have come to the realisation/conclusion that I must love myself BEFORE I love someone else. But, I’m already in a happy, healthy, stable, loving relationship. A relationship I entered into VERY quickly after ending a negative and destructive 18month long one. I tried to start my new relationship slowly, however, the ‘honeymoon period’ started and the feelings of butterflies etc swept me away.

    I am petrified of telling my partner I love them, it’s only been 4 months but there have been times where I catch myself thinking it. I can catch myself saying it in my head, however, sometimes I contradict these thoughts. I do realise that I am used to saying I love you as a response reaction to kindness or care. For example, when he comforts me, my brain says ‘I love him, he’s so kind’; but instead I say ‘You’re so loving, thank you for being there for me.’

    I am completely petrified by these thoughts:
    Too soon after last partner, break up and be alone.
    You can’t love someone until you love yourself, you need to leave him.
    You’re only with him because you don’t want to be alone.
    You’re settling.

    I’m so petrified, what am I going to do?

  • Anonymous

    I hate thinking the what if I’m straight intrusive thought. It gets to the point where I believe that I’d be happier with men and having a family picture with them. But I don’t want that. Then once I say that my mind tells me yes you do. It’s so annoying. I don’t want to live with these thoughts forever. Sometimes the thoughts don’t even cause me anxiety and that makes me more anxious.

    • Yes, that’s the classic arc of an intrusive thought. There’s a fantastic interview with a woman named Clara in the e-course who struggled with the same thought and was able to break free.

  • Hi

    I also feel like sometimes I’m pretending to be happy. I’ll have days of full on happiness and no worries then boom, I get hit with sadness for no reason.

  • Engaged and scared

    Please Sheryl answer this, or anyone else for that matter.

    My fiancé hurt me a long time ago with a red flag. About 2 years ago now but he was young and stupid. I don’t think he would hurt me again as he regrets it all the time. do you think my intrusive thoughts of “I’m not happy with him” or “I don’t love him” are just anxiety stemmed from knowing the past? And do you think he’s changed even though he hurt me in the past? We broke up over a silly fight the other day and I was sobbing my heart out and knew I loved him. But then now we’re back together I think “I was probably only upset because he owns the kittens and I wouldn’t see them”… Which of course was part of me being upset, but I hope not all!

    • The way you’re describing your thought process is typical of the anxious mind, so I’m quite sure that you’re suffering from relationship anxiety. Yes, we can hurt each other deeply in relationships and trust will inevitably be broken in some way at some point. The healing work lies in how we heal from hurts: how we hold each other and how we work to repair trust. If your fiancé shows appropriate regret and has taken action toward earning your trust then it sounds like he has, indeed, changed and that your intrusive thoughts are trying to protect you from the possibility of being hurt again – especially since you already know what it feels like to be hurt once.

  • silver

    Is there a way that we’re just covering ourselves with excuses such as relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts that tells us that we don’t really love the person anymore? Even though our partners are loving us and giving everything that they can to try and make us love them fully?

  • Lea

    Silver,
    I was wondering the same thing. I know that I’ve always struggled with intrusive thoughts and I’ve always been an anxious person but when it comes to relationships and decisions such as marriage I can’t stop thinking that I’m just using relation anxiety as an excuse. That’s what I’m afraid of. What if we’re just not for each other and what if there’s someone out there with whom I wouldn’t be so scared of commitment. Nobody else seems to have doubts around engagement as me.

    • Silver

      Yeah I think so, because people sometimes does know that they love hard enough and willing to put everything on the line however it maybe the case of pursuer-distancer relationship. Those people know how to open to love as much as possible they don’t have confusion, but to us who has one can willingly leave the relationship due to anxiety, lack of feelings, unpredictable decisions, loud thoughts, fear of being alone, fear of starting over or hurting our partner worse we could be just lusting for our partner and confusing intimacy as longing

  • Ruth

    I love this article and all of Sheryl’s work, I’ve followed it closely over the last 18 months since my relationship anxiety reared it’s ugly head but this time much worse and in the form of ‘what if I don’t love my partner anymore?’. I’ve had counselling and been on medication which helped so much and I got so much better, I’ve always known it’s nothing to do with my partner because I love him so much and I wouldn’t be feeling this anxiety if I didn’t love him, even writing I don’t love him makes me feel horrible because I know I do.
    I’ve noticed recently anxiety is creeping back in because we bought a house, I didn’t have any anxiety throughout the whole process then as soon as we got the keys I panicked we’d bought the wrong house, we’d be happier in a different one, I wouldn’t have anxiety there, we have to make this work now we’re tied to each other with a mortgage. I love that house and I love him, I hope I can deal with these intrusive thoughts again. I understand I’m going through a new life transition and I keep remembering that I just get scared that I now have to make this relationship work forever and that’s so much pressure to deal with. I don’t feel good enough to make it work, I’m scared of being a grown up and I’m 28 because it’s so real and I’m scared of failing but all I want is our little home together. I can see I’ve sort of talked down my intrusive thoughts but I just wanted to share.

  • S

    Hi Sheryl,

    It’s been a while since I chimed in.
    Firstly just wanted to say I love this blog. You explain the feelings of intrusive thoughts so well.
    I am still very slowly moving through the break free course. I guess in some ways I avoid it because I try to keep myself busy and distracted from my thoughts even though they are always around. I know this is the wrong thing to do because I need to heal whatever is causing the thoughts. I sometimes find it hard to put the healing into practise. It’s one thing to say I’m going to put my focus into something else and another to actually do it..

    I’m writing because I was recently feeling a lot better, granted I was busy, I got a new job and also moved out with my partner and another friend of ours. I was feeling good!
    Last week I went to my therapist and kind of felt like I didn’t have much to talk about because I felt better but still went because I know it’s important to keep up the therapy.
    After the session my thoughts and anxiety came back raging in full swing. I felt helpless and emotional again and couldn’t seem to focus on what I had been focusing on in the week before my session when I was feeling good.
    The other day I had a split second thought about harming my partner. It was devastating and I felt like I couldn’t breathe but I managed to tell myself it’s just a thought and it’s okay. In all of my time having relationship anxiety I have not once had a thought about harming my partner or anyone for that matter.
    Since that thought it’s like my mind will make it pop up a few times a day now and it has been so crippling! I would never want to hurt my partner but for some reason when I have these thoughts of imagine myself hurting her it’s almost like I don’t feel anything bad.. I imagine it and it’s like I’m not even guilty but after I’ve imagined it I feel anxious and terrified that it’s come to this..
    I am so sad that it’s become this serious and although I would never do anything to hurt anyone it’s like I find myself thinking about how in one second anything can change.
    With this intrusive thought I’ve also been very afraid of being around knives.. It seems weird for me to even be saying this but I had to turn somewhere. I don’t know why this is happening and I don’t know how to heal anymore..

    • I urge you to go through Section Three of the Break Free course as it will walk you through exactly how to handle the intrusive thoughts. I understand the resistance to doing the work, but sustainable change will only happen through consistent action. Time to break through that resistance!

  • Engaged and scared

    Thank you so much for answering my question Sheryl (don’t know how to comment directly under the comment on my phone) but I really needed your wise words, thank you so much! xx

  • Jenna

    Hi Sheryl,

    First of all thank you so so much for all your amazing work and information that you share. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that that I found my way to your website!! I am working my way over and over the break free course which has made a huge difference in the way I look at fear and the way I deal with with things. It’s also made me start to really appreciate my partner for all the beautiful things that he is rather than his flaws/ what I can get from the relationship. I’m still suffering from anxiety but it’s become a lot more manageable and even though sometimes I crumble I can now always find the strength to pick myself up and keep going! I accept that this is going to be a long hard journey for me and I’m committed to doing my inner work and becoming a fear/love warrior! 😉 because he’s worth it and so am I :-)…
    The course has also helped me realise that I am not my thoughts but the one who hears them which is amazing to me.. All my life I’ve thought that my ego/fear was me and that was it! mindfulness/mediation is helping me strengthen my true self and it brings me so much comfort to know I really am this loving place inside of me and not my negative/unloving thoughts! ….

    Just one question I’d like to ask that has confused me slightly.. I have been journaling which I find helps sometimes but sometimes I can find it spikes me a little although it’s good to get it all out. When learning about intrusive thoughts on the E course you say ” journaling with the intrusive thought is giving it to much attention” and while I’m journaling that’s all I seem to be doing as the intrusive thought is coming from my fear based self and that’s who I constantly journaling with.. So does this suggest that I stop doing that and bat the thought away, change the subject etc? Or maybe should I be journaling with my false beliefs? Or call out to other parts of myself to get to know them? I hope you don’t mind me asking you or writing here I’m just a but confused I don’t know how to contact you any other way. I’d like to keep journalling as well as meditation but I just don’t want to do any more damage if you understand me? And just want to know if I’m doing the right thing?

    I would be so grateful if you could find the time to answer my question :-).
    Thank you again!
    Lots of love x