Intrusive Thought: "What if I Harm a Child?" (POCD)

When the same thought, image, dream, or motif shows up across cultures and crosses all of our lines of classification (age, gender, geography, race, religion), we call it an archetype. For example, the dreams where you show up at school without your pants on or have forgotten to study for a test are archetypal dreams. The character of the wicked witch or the evil stepmother are archetypal symbols. And the thought, “What if I’m a pedophile?” is one of many archetypal thoughts – alongside “What if I don’t love my partner?” and “What if I have a terminal illness?” – that clients and course members have shared with me over the past two decades. It’s also one of the most highly misunderstood intrusive thoughts and the one that often causes the most anguish. As the Louisville OCD clinic writes:

Although all the many ways that obsessive-compulsive fears manifest themselves can … Click here to continue reading...

The One Essential Question that Lives Inside Relationship Anxiety

One of the most challenging elements of relationship anxiety to understand is that, if you’re in a healthy, loving relationship with no red flags, the anxiety is projection. This means that the parade of intrusive thoughts that tortures the anxious mind and sensitive soul are actually pointing to areas inside of you that are crying out for your attention. This is such a reversal of our literal, read-everything-at-face-value culture that it can take a while for the shift of mindset to sink in.

There are many areas that need our attention: old pain from early abandonments, loss of loved ones, faulty beliefs that form as a result of being the child of a narcissist or suffering from bullying or teasing, unrealistic expectations about love and relationships that we absorb from the mainstream culture, fissures of psyche that were created because we didn’t receive the guidance, tending, and rituals necessary to … Click here to continue reading...

It's Hard Being Human

At least once a day the phrase “it’s hard being human” enters my brain. It usually arrives on the heels of my sons arguing with each other and me trying to teach them how to communicate more effectively. As a result of feeling hurt, one will lash out at the other, and before we know it the great domino effect of anger feeds off each other until they’re both in a rage. When we’ve slowed them back down to somewhere near neutral, I’ll say something like, “Next time he hurts your feelings, can you try saying, ‘That hurt my feelings’ or ‘Let’s take some space’ instead of lashing out?” It’s a conversation I’ve had a hundred times with them, and only recently has it begun to take hold so that once a while one of them will resist the impulse to lash out and instead say, “That hurt my feelings.” … Click here to continue reading...

If I'm Calm Now Is It Still Relationship Anxiety?

There is often a predictable arc to relationship anxiety that includes three stages.*

The first stage is characterized by typical symptoms of anxiety and panic:

Can’t sleep Can’t eat Tearful Depressed Bolting awake in the middle of the night Difficulty functioning at work Fluttering stomach Racing heart

On a purely physiological level, we can’t maintain this state of high anxiety for very long. Eventually the alarm will simmer down to something that feels like calm. This isn’t the true calm that arrives after working long and hard facing our fears. Rather, it’s the calm that follows the dramatic and intense storm of the first stage. It’s where psyche and soma settle into a manageable state that might be characterized more by numbness or indifference than true calm. You can sleep now. You can eat. You can function. But you’re just not that excited about your relationship. At least when you … Click here to continue reading...

Relationship Anxiety: Intuition or Fear?

A subset topic of the million-dollar question –  is my anxiety/doubt evidence that my truth is that I’m with the wrong partner or does it mean something else? – is the issue of intuition versus anxiety. In other words, embedded inside every question of the mind suffering from relationship anxiety is, “Isn’t this anxiety really my intuition telling me to leave?”

That’s certainly what the culture says. That’s what most of your well-meaning friends and relatives will say. That’s even what many therapists will say. The mainstream message about anxiety in a relationship clearly reads, “Doubt means don’t.”

But that’s not what people say who are well-versed in the language of fear, those who know how it can sneakily show up in relationships through the back door and masquerade as doubt, anxiety, and numbness. That’s not what people say when they’ve traveled the dusty back roads of relationships, the ones … Click here to continue reading...