The Antidote to Fear

IMG_4981I’ll always remember when my younger son broke through one of his major fears. The year before, after a fateful trip to Disneyland, he developed a severe case of separation anxiety. If my husband or I left him alone for even a minute to take out the trash or get the mail he would panic. Babysitters were out of the question. Our world became very small.

We honored the fear for a while hoping that, with time, it would dissipate. But month after month he continued to show the same level of panic surrounding separation, and we knew it wasn’t healthy for him or anyone else in our family to allow it to continue. We employed several tools and sought help, and soon he was ready to try to stay at our close friends’ house so my husband and I could have a much-needed date. We all rallied around him, including his big brother who made him a special toy for the occasion. We drove there, dropped him off, and left a happy boy to play with his brother and their closest friend. When I picked him up he said, “What was I so scared of?!” It was a victory for everyone.

On the way home, my older son said to his little brother, “You see, the more power you give to fear, the bigger it grows.” We talked in detail about how fear works, and we could all see clearly from this experience the deep truth of my son’s statement. We could have talked about his fear until the cows came home but ultimately we needed to look fear in the eye and say, “I’m bigger than you are”, which meant taking the action of staying at a safe place without us present. And that’s exactly what he courageously did.

This same principle applies to our love relationships, for when it comes to love, we all have fear-walls. We construct barricades around our hearts because we’ve been hurt by love somewhere along the paths of this vulnerable life: by parents, siblings, peers, teachers, religious leaders, lovers. We have fear-walls because we’re born with a part of ourselves called an ego, and it seems to be the ego’s role to live from a small-minded place of fear, control, and self-protection. We have fear-walls because we’re human, and it’s part of our task as humans to learn how to work effectively with fear.

While insight into the causes and roots of our fear can be helpful, what ultimately takes the biggest bite out of fear is action.

Here’s my simple geometric love proof:

Love is more powerful than fear.

Real love is loving action.

Therefore, the antidote to fear is action.

Some people seem to know naturally what loving actions shrink fear. They likely were raised by parents who modeled healthy love and consistent attachment, so they learned by osmosis what is required to dismantle and ultimately disintegrate the fear walls. But for those of us who were raised with unhealthy love models that formed a blueprint of fear and separateness, we need concrete skills and actions that will create the roadmap. When practiced consistently, these daily actions act like anti-fear medication and will help dissolve the fear so that love can grow.

There are many spokes to the wheel of this map, and underlying all of them is learning to recognize how fear sounds and feels so that we don’t mistakenly believe it as truth. Using the example that I included in my blog post a few weeks ago, if your partner comes downstairs in the morning and you feel retracted, the habitual mind will assume it means that you’re not attracted to your partner or don’t love him/her enough. Once you move beyond this initial and false interpretation, you will then learn to ask, “What is needed here?” Perhaps you’re feeling disconnected from yourself in some way, or disconnected from your partner. You can then take a loving action toward yourself and toward your partner that will move you closer each other. If you listen to the fear, you will fortify the bricks around your heart and create a wider chasm between the two of you. If you inquire with curiosity and take action, you will sidestep fear and the distance between you will shrink to zero.

For many people, the fear-wall takes the form of, “I’m not attracted to my partner.” Because we culturally hold physical attraction as one the baseline gauges that tell us whether or not we’re really “in love”, when this spoke of the fear-wheel rears its head it’s quickly shushed behind the fortresses of taboo and shame. We simply don’t understand that lack of physical attraction is primary a symptom of disconnection, just like lack of sexual libido. In other words, when we take the actions to shrink fear and grow true connection and intimacy, attraction and sexual desire are more likely to bloom.

There is a clear and simple roadmap that, when followed and practiced, will shrink fear and grow love, attraction, and sexual desire. This is the roadmap I will be offering in my sixth round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which will begin on June 20th, 2015. My 30-day courses are meaningful journeys we walk together as I lead you through daily emails, forum conversations, and weekly phone calls into the labyrinth of the heart, and it’s always a privilege to lead as, inevitably, I learn just as much from you as you do from me. Let’s dive in together as love-warriors as we learn more and more about this ever-deepening dance between fear and love.

44 comments to The Antidote to Fear

  • Karen

    Is this course applicable to a single person who is currently not in a relationship?

    • You would learn a lot about love, fear, and vulnerability – and in some ways the learning is easier to assimilate when you’re not in a relationship – but you wouldn’t be able to put it into practice until you become attached to an intimate other.

  • Pina Pitisano

    Hi Sheryl, you write so well on topics that are so hard to understand and put into words. Thank you for your wonderful skill of articulating what so many of us are feeling but do not have the language and knowledge to express.
    Regards
    Pina (Australia)

  • Anna

    Hi Sheryl,

    I grew up a hopeless romantic, I watched all the movies, Romeo and Juliet etc, and going into my current and first real relationship I thought I knew everything there was to know about love.
    That all changed when the honeymoon stage ended and I began to panic.. This is when my anxiety started and the constant rumination. I’ve progressed far enough with my anxiety to the point that I feel healthy when I’m alone, when it comes to controlling and easing my fears, but they intensify when around my partner. I’m having a hard time “settling in” and being comfortable with the fact that not everything is lovey dovey all the time and that this is an okay thing. I feel discomfort around my partner when this happens which in turn makes me feel distant. Is this normal? And is this something I can get through with loving action? I’m having a hard time easing my mind.

    All the best
    A

    • That’s exactly what the course is about! When you shift your mindset regarding what you’re expecting to feel, everything will shift.

    • Charlotte

      Oh my goodness I feel like I could have written this. I fear that how love is portrayed in films and in the media is just so destructive. I am having to completely change the way I’ve been thinking for the last 2 years which is, as you can probably imagine, not the quick fix I’ve longed for for so long. I hope you get there 🙂

      • Anna

        Thank you Charlotte, it’s great to know I’m not alone! I hope you get there as well 🙂 xx

  • Teri

    Once again your words clarify, validate, and encourage. Thank you.

  • bebby

    Oh my god Sheryl.. this is Beautiful, melt my heart as usual <3

  • Michelle

    Hi Sheryl
    I just wanted to say thank you. I developed relationship anxiety about 9 months into my now 2.5yr relationship with a loving, present man who was everything I wanted (even ticked off all my boxes on my ideals list for my perfect partner) but what I didn’t believe I deserved. It got so bad I became really depressed. I have read almost 100% of your blogs/articles and can’t thank you enough as they helped me so much and now and then I do go back and read some again. I now am renovating our first home together that we have almost owned for a year and we have two lovely animals. All this from the complete wreck I was for a long time who believed I didn’t love him and was so scared of that.
    So to everyone else reading these, there is hope, you can work through your fears but it takes time and hard work to always remember that is all they are in the first place. All the best for your journeys and as usual I look forward to the next of your writings Sheryl.

    • Thank you, Michelle. It’s always a joy to hear from my readers who have successfully worked through their particular manifestation of relationship anxiety. Blessings to you.

  • Helen

    Fantastic article! I have a wonderful partner of six years and we have recently become engaged. In the last few years I have struggled with this very issue. I hace certainly found that the media and my own parents relationship has caused me to have very unrealistic expectations of real love and relationships. My mum is very black and white in the way she views things. Her and my father spend every moment of their time together, preferring to remain quiet insular. In my 36 years of knowing them they have never socialised with other couples, or done anything for themselves separately. My mum always reiterates that my dad proposed after only six weeks of knowing her and that she never had a moment of doubt about marrying him, she also maintains that she has never had a moment of doubt in the 40 years that have followed. She believes very clearly that doubt means don’t. These seeds that have been planted in my head over and over have caused me a lot of confusion and fear. I was so glad when I came across your work Sheryl! I can now believe that my mum’s life does not have to be a blueprint for my own and I am a very different creature to herself. I have learnt so much from your work and feel much healthier and balanced in my thinking. Thanks so much!

    • Wonderful, Helena! Yes, for many people a spoke of the anxiety wheel includes separating from their parents’ story and beliefs and recognizing that there are many healthy ways to function and partner. It sounds like you’re doing great work on yourself.

  • Stella

    Hi Sheryl,
    As i already took the course but have a lot of work to do, i was wondering wether you would suggest The course again or wether it would be a better choice to do the conscious wedding ecourse. Although i learned a lot from open your heart fear is still very present and i cannot get rid of the ugly thoughts and feelings.

    • Hi Stella,

      Many people have taken my 30-day courses more than once with great benefit. Even though you already have the material, there’s something potent about going through the course alongside a group of dedicated learners, and of course the forum and the weekly phone calls are new each time. So yes, I would encourage you to join Open Your Heart again.

      By the way, the work isn’t really about “getting rid of the ugly thoughts and feelings.” It’s about making room for them, moving toward them, and recognizing that embedded inside their “ugliness” are great wells of wisdom. If we approach our painful spots with resentment and judgement it only entrenches them further. When we approach with compassion and curiosity, everything shifts.

      Love,
      Sheryl

      • Stella

        Thans you Sheryl, i will sign up again. I will also try to accept those feelings, the problem is that they are attached to my partner, which makes it difficult. Looking forward to the much needed course. 🙂

  • Meg Sylvia

    Sheryl, I hope you know how powerful your writing is. Your words are so comforting when I am feeling disconnected and anxious. I have come a long way, in a large part thanks to you – but posts like this serve as an excellent refresher to keep me on track. THANK YOU so much for doing this work!

  • Helen

    Sheryl,

    I have been struggling with everything you speak of for over 10 months now; I have been engaged for a year and a half.
    I will be getting married in 33 days and I finally gave in and purchased your course and I have only seen a couple things yet just from your welcome video I already feel 10% better. That’s never happened since the beginning of all of this torture. I am so confident that I will make it through and have my dream marriage all because of you. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you <3

  • Thanks for sharing and writing this post. Fear is something we should embrace and love and act as you say. I kind of merged the feelings of fear and love… I learned to register the fear, not only emotionally… I notice physical signs that it comes with. Read them with full acceptance and ask what are they showing me. Believe it or not- answers appear. But yes, loving action is done. Love and accept myself first. And then it is comes easy… When we radiate love we attract the same… Acceptance is my loving action:)
    Thank you Sheryl! You shine

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, thank you so much for such an honest article!!it touched my heart. I am still reading and learning open your heart course. I prefer to do the inner work slowly. Rather than squeeze every bit of information into my small brain all at once.. Which is impossible to do anyway’ as you also advised. If we become friends with fear it will sigh and vanish into thin air. It has been my experience, i say this with excitement and cheer. I was scared of fear before but now I dont indulge into its fantasy of lies. Thanks to you Sheryl. Xx

  • Carmen

    Hey Sheryl,

    Thank you for the article! I am still working very hard to deal with my fears and it’s becoming easier! I recently got a new job though and I will be moving in with my boyfriend! At first this news made me very excited but Now the fears are coming back. This is the first serious relationship I’ve ever been in and I definitely don’t want to let him go. I don’t know why my excitement went away so quickly. I want it back

  • Lauren

    Are thoughts like “I need to break up with him,” or “just get away from him – you don’t really love him,” fear-based thoughts? This is where my anxiety focuses and it’s so frustrating. This is the first relationship I’ve been in in my life that’s healthy, and with a partner who is good to and good for me. How do I take loving action against these thoughts? Breaking up is the opposite of what I want.

    • Yes, those are common fear-based, intrusive thoughts. The work is to steer away from focusing on those thoughts as much as possible and then ask yourself what the thoughts are protecting you from feeling or helping you avoid dealing with. There’s no reason to leave a loving relationship that you don’t want to leave!

      • Carmen

        Lauren I have had these thoughts before as well. They will slowly go away. Sheryl, is it normal to have these fears at the onset of each transition? Right now I am going through a career change and am planning on moving in with my loving boyfriend but I do have fear

        • Lauren

          Thank you, Carmen! It’s nice to know I’m not alone! I’ve been struggling for about 8 months now, so I hope these thoughts go away soon.

  • Melissa

    Hi Sheryl,

    I have just purchased the Wedding E-course… I am nowhere near getting engaged, and I have seen from the first lesson that it talks a lot about being engaged and going through the stage of getting married. Does it talk about engagement transition throughout the e-course?
    Sheryl, I feel like for the past 7 months I have been trying to hold on to this relationship because he is everything I have ever wanted. The depression and anxiety that I have suffered since January, because I had decided to stop taking medication has been projected into my partner. Thoughts like ‘I don’t think I love him’, ‘Why am I having such anxiety thoughts all the time? Why can’t I enjoy the moment..
    For the past 7 months I have been checking every moment that I spend with him, sometimes looking at him while he sleeps, checking whether I have love feelings towards him, checking with friends over their relationships, whether or not they are having sex enough or whether or not they are having doubts about their partner. I have also had two of my friends who are no longer with their partner, and this fueled my anxiety A LOT!
    I asked one of my friends, and told her how come you guys decided to part? She said that although he was a good guy, they were not meant for each other. and that she’s happier now that they are over. That knowledge turned me into a complete mess.. I was anxious, crying, thinking that maybe i don’t want to leave him because I have built my life now with him, building a future together, and we own two cats together too. .. Thinking that maybe I don’t want to leave him because I don’t want to be alone, thinking that I am only being with him because it’s easy, or that I don’t want to hurt him…

    Sheryl, are these thoughts and obsessions normal to think? I am thinking like this 24/7.. I’ve never had OCD in my life as far as I know.. and it’s scaring me to death to think that I can be like this forever. 🙁

    I would really appreciate if u can respond Sheryl…
    I really hope this course would help me… because i’m really scared that it won’t.. 🙁

    • The course will help you enormously, Melissa. You may want to skip lessons one and six for now and focus on the rest of the lessons. I do talk about engagement and transitions throughout the course, but about 80% of the material will apply directly to your situation. Hang on! You’re in the right place and, if you work through the material and practice the tools, you will be able to decipher the message of the anxiety (which has nothing to do with your loving partner) and connect to more and more serenity.

      • Melissa

        Thank you so much Sheryl for such a fast reply! I will skip lesson 1 for now then and focus on the second one. I have also joined the forum, which is really comforting, there are a lot like me!
        Do you think these obsessions and thoughts that I am having, and the asking of questions to people is normal and is relationship anxiety and not out of love feelings Sheryl?

        Thank you for all that you do Sheryl.. you are a marvelous human being who is helping so many who are struggling. I thank you from the bottom of my heart

        • All classic symptoms of relationship anxiety, Melissa, as you will soon see the more you work through the material and read through the forum.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, do u see dissociation linked with anxiety?

  • Lexy

    Hi Sheryl. Thank you for everything that you do. I’ve had really bad anxiety, I would spend every single minute questining everything and over-analysing. Your work helped me a lot (especially when I was at my worst) and now I rarely experience that anxious feeling.
    But now I feel dull… Don’t know how to explain it. I still have intrusive thoughts, but I’m not anxious about them like I used to be (mostly because I know they are stupid, and I don’t believe them)… I don’t know if this is good or bad. Sometimes I still google irrational stuff, and question my feelings, but in a “dull way”. Does this mean I’m “getting better” or that I’m over this relationship? I know you can’t know what’s exactly in my head, but what do you think?
    And part of my is still scared he is not what I want, so I’ll have to break up.
    Thank you for reading, and it’s okay if you can’t answer. I know you are very busy with helping everyone who needs you. Cheers!

  • Hannah

    Wow, you are so amazing! Everything you write just soothes me so much! I have learnt so much about my self from reading your blog posts.
    A few things I find that help me when I’m worrying is to think or tell myself the following things:

    What evidence is there for this thought or feeling?
    It is normal to feel scared sometimes, but do not turn normal scared feelings into doubts. It is okay to feel scared of love, everyone is to some extent, they just don’t let it take over their lives.
    It’s normal to sometimes feel attracted and then sometimes not really bothered. Nobody is perfect.
    It is normal to feel annoyed or irritated with him sometimes, you are only human.
    Don’t over think situations just live in the moment and be grateful for what you have because what you are thinking may not actually happen.
    Not everything you think is real.
    Relationships are up and down all the time just the same as life.
    Don’t let fear rule you or make decisions for you. Tell it to f*ck off and walk into the fear like a warrior.

    I am currently gearing myself to moving in my with partner. We have been long distance so there will be big changes, and like everyone on here I hate change! So I have been reading over those things to help me relax.

    I’m not sure if that will help everyone but it does for me! Sorry for the essay 🙂

    • Maria

      Hannah, can you tell me a little about your experience with fear and long distance? My boyfriend and I will be going long distance for about a year after having failed miserably the first time. I now recognize that purely my fears drove me to break up with him 6 months ago and I am so fortunate to have him back in my life. I don’t want to lead my thoughts down the same path as they did last time. What helped you and your partner cope and stay positive?

      • Hannah

        Hi Maria,

        Sorry for the late reply! We have been long distance the whole relationship and its my first relationship so it’s been quite different for me to not be single and learn that not only are relationships hard work, but long distance Can be more challenging sometimes. I have struggled with the distance a lot due to missing him and instrusive thoughts. But it seems that he has found it a breeze. He’s quite a busy guy so always has other things to do and lots of hobbies to keep him busy so he doesn’t miss me as much as I miss him sometimes. Where as I don’t really have any hobbies, I literally go to work,come home, eat dinner and go to bed or sometimes see my friends in the week, so naturally I have more time to think and worry about things when it’s not needed. So I would strongly advise you to get some hobbies (if you don’t have any already) and also talking is the main thing. I’m not talking about texting, I mean phone calls everyday and skyping or face timing. It does become repetitive because there is only so much you can talk about on the phone everday, but it’s normal to run out of things to say sometimes! We usually talk on the phone about 2-3 times a day. I usually only feel scared or worried or anxious when I am away from him. I notice that I tend to panic and think too much when I’m not with him. Or when I’m not feeling massively in love or loving towards him when I haven’t seen him in a while, which is understandable if you haven’t seen them for a while. You just have to keep reminding yourself why you chose to be with this person in the first place. And no relationship is perfect. I have had doubts int he past but if you try to get to the bottom of why you are thinking or feeling that way it usually is something that has happened but is totally normally and have had it blown out of proportion in our heads!

        • Hannah

          I hope that helps you! I’m sure you will get through this time! You have to be strong and accept the fact that relationshipa are up and down all the time, and if you are worried its because you are scared. Reading over sheryls posts over and over again has helped me loads! So I keep reading over them. Also,maybe talking to a close friend or a family member? But only choose someone who you think will understand because some people don’t and will only plant negative things in your head. I speak to my family a lot because they know what I’m like and know that I am a worrier with everything in life and have been from a young age. So if you’ve been a worrier before this relationship then it’s probably not the relationship. 🙂

  • Cassie

    Hello Sheryl,

    I think your work is super helpful to many people struggling! I’ve been dealing with this since January! Some days are better than others! I’m so confused, my boyfriend and I have been dating for 2 years now and he wants to get married but I’m terrified! My parents have an amazing relationship and many of my friends say that they hope to be in a relationship that resembles my parents one day! I’m contemplating signing up for the Wedding E-Course, I’m just nervous that there is just something wrong with me and that maybe I’m just meant to be alone and that the course won’t work

    • Cassie: Those are probably the two top reasons why people are scared to sign up for the course: 1. They’re scared they will find out that there’s something wrong with them or their relationship and 2. They’re scared it won’t work. I encourage you to dive in anyway ;).

  • Rosie

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’ve noticed that you and many commenters say that despite having relationship anxiety, you all knew deep down that their partner was “everything they ever wanted”. I’m not sure why, but this really spikes my anxiety! My partner is nothing like how I envisaged my “ideal man”, who would have been charismatic, intelligent, philosophical, funny, always on my “wavelength”, AND introduce me to interesting people and places.

    In reality, my current boyfriend is VERY different to my “ideal man”. He’s calm, only has a handful of good friends and doesn’t have lofty career ambitions. He likes sport more than going to the theatre. We didn’t have “love at first sight” and I don’t always feel on the same wavelength as him. He is however a genuinely lovely person, has a high EQ and never plays games with me. I feel very emotionally attached to him and often find myself crying at how much it hurts to grow attached and love someone.

    I suppose I was wondering whether this was my fear based mind just trying to convince me that my situation was different from everybody else’s (something you said was common – but I still find hard to believe applies to me!)? Or perhaps me and my boyfriend just really aren’t suited enough for each other…?

  • Rosie

    Also thank you Sheryl for all the work you do!!! You’ve been an amazing source of comfort and hope.

  • Lea

    Rosie, you’re not alone, this is exactly what I’m struggling with. I’d love to read Sheryl’s opinion on this.