The Cracks are How the Light Comes In

When discussing the concept that a root cause of relationship anxiety is the fear of being hurt by love, course members and coaching clients will often say, “I had a good childhood with loving parents. Why would I be so scared of love?” I’ve written other posts about how essential it is to peel the veil of perfection or idealism off of our parents or childhood if we’re going to heal, for there can be no doubt that, because we’re imperfect humans, there will always be places where our parents missed the mark, times when they didn’t attune, and incidences where they failed to honor our sensitivity or teach us how to feel our feelings. Very few parents of older generations possessed the emotional intelligence to raise emotionally intelligent children. It wasn’t their fault; they simply didn’t have the healing tools at their disposal that we do today. The fact is that most of us – and perhaps all of us – were raised by parents who had significant emotional deficits, who, even if they were loving and attentive to us didn’t have the faintest idea how to show up for themselves in a loving way. We learn more by what we see than what we’re told.

But this isn’t a post about lifting the veil of a parent-illusion. For even if by some rare circumstance you were blessed with the most loving parents in the world who had the most loving marriage in the world you would still likely be afraid of love. Why? Because from the moment you’re thrust from your first perfect home of the womb where all of your needs are instantly met and you float in a state of warm, perfect union to the state of instant separateness that defines being born where the needs of the body are paramount, painful, and immediate, you experience grief and loss. We’re not born laughing; we’re born crying, and sometimes screaming. Where you never knew cold, now you shiver. Where you never knew hunger, now you scream from an empty belly, and sometimes your mother doesn’t know what it is you need. Where you never knew pain, now you cry. Where you never knew loneliness, now you’re separate. As much as today’s parents try to attend to the newborn baby’s every need, it’s simply not possible. We miss cues. We misunderstand. We can’t prevent our babies from feeling discomfort and pain.

It hurts to be born. It’s hard to be a tiny, helpless baby in a huge world. And it’s scary to experience the separateness that defines being human. Alain de Botton describes this experience beautifully here:

It’s the middle of the night, let’s imagine, and we’ve been on the earth for about three months. A lot is still very unclear. We are profoundly helpless, barely able to move our own head and utterly at the mercy of others. The sources of our suffering and joy lie far outside our understanding. Hugely powerful needs pass through us at regular intervals and we have no way of making sense of them to ourselves – let alone of communicating them reliably to others.

A minute ago, we were asleep in a dark enveloping warmth. Now we’re awake, bereft, isolated and very uncomfortable. There seems to be a pain somewhere in our stomach, but the agony is more general; we are lonely and profoundly sad. The room is dark and there’s a mysterious set of shadows on the wall that appear and vanish at random.

In a rising panic, we start to scream out in the darkness. Nothing happens. We pause to recover our breath – and then scream even louder. Our lungs strain with the effort. Still nothing and the darkness and loneliness grow ever more threatening. Now true desperation sets in; this feels like the end of everything good and true – and we scream as if to ward off death.

At last, just when it seems we could not go on any further, the door opens. A warm orange light is turned on. It is a familiar face. They smile at us, say the name they often use around us, pick us up and put us against their shoulder. We can hear a familiar heart beating next to ours and a warm hand caressing the top of our head. They gently move us to and fro, and sing a tender, sweet song. Our sobs start to abate, we pull a weak smile; it feels like the vicious demons and merciless goblins have been sent packing – and that life could be bearable after all.

For every single person on this planet, this is part of the fear of loving. For we know from the moment we’re born that we will never attain the perfect union that we experienced in the womb again. Some people try to reclaim it through the fantasy of romantic love. Some try to find it through drugs or alcohol, food or shopping. There are many ways to anesthetize against the fundamental loneliness of being human and try to find the oneness and perfect union that we cellularly remember is possible.

To be human is to be wounded. To be alive is to know fear. To love is to know pain. Sometimes it’s helpful to know the roots of the pain as the mind likes to attach context to its suffering, but sometimes we don’t know why we’re afraid of love. If you’re suffering from relationship anxiety and you’re having difficulty identifying root causes, it can be enough to say, “I’m scared of love because I’m human. I’m scared of love because love is a risk and I know that I have been hurt before and I might be hurt again. I’m scared because my first unconscious memory of being human included loss.”

Does this mean that we’re doomed to a life of pain and misery marked by separateness and loneliness? No. It means we’re all broken and we’re all whole, and this is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Artists and mystics understand this; “We’re Wounded in All the Right Places,” sings K.T. Lang in the beautiful film “What About Me?”, and Leonard Cohen, referencing the line from Rumi (“the wound is where the light enters”) reminds us of this truth as well as he sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

How does this help us when it comes to healing our hurt places, especially when they show up in love? Because if you buy into the ego’s or ignorant self’s argument that relationship anxiety couldn’t possibly apply to you because you had a healthy childhood and, therefore, have never been hurt by love, you need to understand that we have all been hurt by love. To be born is to be hurt by love. To cry without someone attending is to be hurt by love. To be left alone in a strange place is to be hurt by love. To be teased or made fun of, even if only once, is to be hurt by love. Once we understand this then accept it deeply into our bones, we can get on with the task of addressing the fearful part of us with our own loving hands so that we don’t have to sabotage and possibly walk away from the person standing before us who, while capable of  hurting us again, also has the capacity to help us heal and learn, over years and possibly decades, that love with a safe and loving partner is the reparative cove and safe haven that we’ve been longing for since the moment we were born.

36 comments to The Cracks Are How the Light Comes In

  • agnes-pea

    That last sentence is beautiful. I’ve been saying for ages now that RA isn’t an issue for me, but I suppose it’s just flipped, really. I’m much more focused on how it’s me that’s the not good enough one . Lovebug also highlighted to me last week that RA can show up in any relationship, and I’m not experiencing that with my friends and family.

  • Caitlin

    This is a lovely article, Sheryl.

  • Ashley

    I have a 6 month old who I refuse to let cry it out or sleep alone. She’s a very independent kid but wants to know she’s loved- and you can see it on her face that she knows!
    People think I’m nuts because I’m not more selfish and don’t take myself or my former life into account more. This post affirms what I’ve been grappling with- I’m doing the right thing (at least for me and my child and the life I’m blessed to lead)
    Relationship anxiety exists between mother and child as well. Am I loving enough? Am I loving too much because I’m not parenting by the books? Going with your heart is the best mothering guidance. Thank you!!

  • K

    One of the most intensely moving and insightful articles. Thank you for continuing to enlighten and soothe our fears, Sheryl.

  • Angela

    Hi my beautiful Sheryl,
    Wow, Aint that the truth. I am going to share something very personal and special here on this safe blog. On the day I was baptised i was only 8 months old, I was in church in the hands of my parents. I vividly remember my dad holding me in his arms and my mum taking a photo of us. I know its difficult to believe but i remember being there as a baby. Is that possible Sheryl ? One of my colleagues also said she remembered her experience on one occasion as a baby. On that day of my baptism I felt love and fear at the same time.

  • Florence

    So profound and beautiful. I love returning to the roots of who we really are and where we come from. Very thought provoking. Thank you.

  • growinglove

    Can someone please advise? I really need it. I don’t know if the light will get into the cracks of my relationship as I really think I’ve messed up big time. My boyfriend and myself have been in a relationship for 1.5 years. We love each other dearly, however my relationship anxiety and the way it has progressed from the beginning of our relationship has taken a toll on him. I’ve become borderline toxic and just very aggressive in my tone and words. I criticise him incessantly, and hate myself for it. It’s bringing out the worse in him too… recently we had an argument about some money he owes me and I made the matter quite public by telling my two close friends and my younger sister. My sister directly messaged him, albeit bluntly to give the money back. This humiliated him and for the first time ever he doesn’t want to be with me, I really hate myself for it and want to fix things and just be a better person to him. I have hated myself all those months for being horrible him and realistically he does deserve better – he’s worried that I have tarnished his image to my family, and that things can’t get better now. But I believe they can and I want to prove it. Is there any hope? I am going back to therapy on Monday but I am so restless and have this gut feeling we won’t work out. 🙁 please just be brutally honest with me if you have to, you all on here are so helpful and honest and I would appreciate you to be honest of my situation too. I don’t want to force him to be with me, but I believe it can be so much better than how it’s been the past few months/ year.

    • ColoradoGirl

      Hi growinglove! I just want to offer you up a story. Something to consider and see if maybe some of it may be true for you as well. I had relationship anxiety with my Husband from (essentially) day 1… like we’re talking sick to your stomach, panic attacks, sleepless nights, incessant ruminating thoughts, gut feelings, etc… and this went on for years until I found Sheryl. For those years, however, I would (often) try to find reasons to be mean, cold, or pick fights with my boyfriend. Really, what I was trying to do was make him WANT to break up with ME… I had myself convinced that it was because I lacked the strength to do it, but that that was what should really happen. I felt horrible for how I often treated him, he didn’t deserve that, but I couldn’t muster the clear heart to give him anything different. I figured if I was mean and cold enough to him, I wouldn’t have to risk our relationship moving to the next level, getting serious, us being so happy that he would want to propose (since I WAS TERRIFIED OF THAT). Could I have clearly communicated to you at that point that that was what I was doing?? Probably not. What I could have told you was that I was scared and I knew I was keeping him at arms length- in whatever way I knew how to do that. Maybe ask yourself if any of that may also be true for you?

      • ColoradoGirl

        Also, I just want to add that it takes time to learn how to be a loving, supportive partner (and relationship anxiety only makes that significantly more difficult). Really, it’s a daily practice and choice. Try to remember that and don’t be so hard on yourself.

        • growinglove

          That sounds exactly like me. When I first met him, I was numb, couldn’t be around him as it gave me difficulty breathing and then it just made me feel even more crappy when I came home. I’m happy to hear from you, your comment has made me feel like there was hope at the end of the tunnel. But I did something really bad, the other day after one of the most intense arguments ever I messaged a guy, an old friend. I had “broken” up (through words) with my boyfriend and said we will never be together, but anyways with this old friend I flirted with him, I didn’t mean for it to escalate but the most I said was “why did me and you never get together? You’re the man I want, you’d let me do anything I want.” I didn’t mean this sexually, I meant it more he wouldn’t be controlling off me but now I’ve told my partner and he’s very upset with me. I don’t see this as cheating and my very honest friends don’t either- he didn’t initially either, and now he does. My friends did however agree that’s it was a hurtful thing to do, I betrayed him and now the trust is broken. I’m worried maybe I have cheated, I’ve never wanted to be that person and I am broken inside because I have caused so much damage. The difference between me and you is, I’m an idiot, you was struggling but dedicated to finding love with your husband. And you did- I just feel like an idiot and unlovable. I just want to know if this was cheating? I always aligned cheating to flirting with sexual advances- never flirting alone but clearly my intentions were wrong. So… I’m a terrible person.

    • CJLover

      Hi Growinglove 🙂
      I just wanted to let you know that my boyfriend almost broke up with me because of my relationship anxiety. I couldn’t explain to him why I was constantly critiquing him (mostly in my mind) but then it would cause me to lash out and be mean to him. Emotionally, I was a mess. I would cry at a drop of a hat and it was hard for me to explain to him what was going on. I finally found YouTube videos explaining relationship anxiety and showed it to him and he was confused at first but then seemed to want to understand. Me explaining this to you was to let you know that you guys could still work out! We got married almost 6 months ago. It hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows and I still get mean because of that fear (from my parents bad marriage), but communication is everything. If you haven’t told him or tried to explain how you’re feeling to him, you should try. And hopefully he’ll be loving, understanding and can work on forgiveness. Also, don’t beat yourself up over the “cheating” thing. I’m so embarrassed but I flirting with someone but it was more of a compulsion from the anxiety. Also, people with relationship anxiety can think they cheated or are afraid of cheating and the anxiety just makes it worse.

  • Anna

    Sheryl, I was looking forward to this post and was a little disappointed by it. I am the exception here, I believe — my parents ARE the most loving, and while they absolutely have their moments of imperfections, not once has this guided my perceptions of love, and I can say that with all honesty.

    I think my fear is more of a fear of settling for safe, not a fear of getting hurt. I recently heard a story about a couple that broke up after three years because she just realized he wasn’t the “one,” and now she’s found a new love better than she ever imagined. This shook me to my core. My current love is all I’ve ever really known when it comes to love — what if it’s not enough?

    • Most people who struggle with relationship anxiety have the fear of “settling”, which I wrote about here (and everyone can cite the story that you heard above; I know how spiky it is for those with this struggle):

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

      A couple of good questions to ask yourself are, “What is enough” and “What’s keeping me in?”

      • Anna

        Thanks, Sheryl — those are great questions, and I’ll think on them. I think my biggest concern is attraction, honestly. I rarely want sex, and there are several days where I simply feel nothing. I’ve heard apathy is the cancer of relationships, and I feel I’m coming to find it’s true. 🙁

        The thought of breaking up literally brings me to tears after all we’ve been through. But I’m afraid with all this anxiety I’ve felt off and on for almost two years (!!!), I don’t deserve this relationship, this great guy anymore that once made me feel like I had everything I could ever need.

    • Lili

      Hi Anna and Sheryl,

      PLEASE help me as I am in deep pain now 🙁

      I think I relate to Anna’s post in some ways. I don’t think I am afraid ofI “being hurt” because I don’t think I am afraid of loving another human being. Why would I be? I embrace love..I want to love! I am not afraid,,,just don’t want to settle (and I always think I have been settling in my married life) which is very sad…you talk about fear of loving…but what if that doesn’t apply to me. In other words what if my RA has nothing to do with getting hurt and more about the ‘idea of settling’…does that mean my case is an exception, that I have settled all these years and therefore cannot love fully? its so sad to think that way..wish I hadn’t married so young..that maybe I would have felt more passionate and happy in another relationship…

      • You’re describing classic relationship anxiety, Lili. If you can love fully that why aren’t you fully loving your husband? Your cognitive distortion says that you would FEEL more passionate in another relationship and then you would LOVE more fully, and this false belief is preventing you from taking full responsibility for your resistance to loving your husband. It’s not his job to “make” you feel in love. It’s your job to soften whatever if preventing you from loving and then take loving action.

  • Mary

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’m sorry that my question is so off topic. My partner of 2.5 years was having an affair with his co worker. He has since ended things with me to be with her. Heartbroken and betrayed doesn’t even come close to how I feel. How/where do I begin to overcome a situation like this? Can you recommend any books or daily practices that I can implement in my life? Thank you

  • Marlene

    Thank you for this insightful post. Does anyone else find themselves feeling a sense of self-violation and anger at having to be loving when deep down you don’t feel like it? Any suggestions for overcoming this?

    • blual

      Yep, i did. It’s normal I guess to feel violated by ANY imposition on yourself (to be loving or this way or that way). I’m looking for my own freedom, get free from impositions and then we’ll see what happens.

      • blual

        I want to add that i think this is because we’re looking for protection. We cannot break free from impositions (and feeling angry) because listening to this means we’re protected too. Otherwise we would be free and dead scared. But i believe this is the way (to be free).

  • Anete

    I feel I have been completely stuck in this victim type of life – not leaving and not able to move forward and fully settle in my life. How do you break out of victim pattern?

    • It’s a great question, Anete; perhaps the most important question you could ask yourself. Based on what you’ve learned through or any other self-healing work, do you want to take a stab at answering it yourself?

  • Cait P

    Sheryl, I wanted to share this with you because a beautiful post like this speaks to me in a way that taps into my Self that wants to be more spiritual.

    This past weekend I believe I touched down into my pain of my fear of loss. I laid on my back with my boyfriend’s hand in mine and went through an early childhood memory of when I found out my grandfather died. I must have been 5-6 and my dad sat behind me and said, “Caity, grandpa isn’t with us anymore.” I was broken, my grandfather was my light, my friend, and my world. I invited my boyfriend into this memory and told him to just be there as I talked to my inner child. I was my age now and went over to my inner child: consoled her, scooped her up, and let her sob into my arms, letting her know it was okay to cry and that I was here for her. She then took me to our heaven which I believe is a golden hour meadow. I asked her how I could see my grandfather again and my 26 year old Self said I must have to die, and I kid you not, the five year old said, no you must live. It was so incredible to witness that if only for a moment. I kept trying to see my grandfather but I remained skeptical and I know the only way to see him is to move towards pain, continually and consistently heal, choosing love. And then another incredible moment happened: I saw F in this heaven and he said I love you and I said out loud I love you too, F. When we both opened our eyes and talked about it, I asked him if he said in his head that he loved me, he said yes. It tears me up thinking about this, how we must really all be connected after all.

    Right now I have a goal that I want to keep up and work on myself before F and I move in together. Part of me fears that’s a way to not risk the possibility of losing him and then when I dig deeper I know that I am a huge resister and I want to learn how to follow through. I’m trying to keep moving towards the resistance which is a clear wall in this golden hour and keep reaching out to touch it. When I do, I feel mixed emotions: numb, anxious, then open, then closed. I know I will get there, time, effort, patience, and kindness to self and to others.

    • This is absolutely beautiful, Cait. It’s these moments of clear-awareness that help us to keep moving forward. There is so much wisdom, truth, and beauty in this experience, and I hear your commitment to touch into that place more often. There is nothing more healing then when we have a direct experience of love in all dimensions. Keep going!

    • Brittany

      Wow, Cait. That was so beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Brittany

    In this time I suffer,
    Like no other

    The feelings they murder my spirit,
    As the thoughts I hear, tear

    The emptiness is unbearable,
    I really must be careful

    If I continue into despair,
    The outcome may not fair

    The fear that drives my mind,
    Is so unkind

    I cannot sleep peacefully,
    I cannot eat normally,
    I cannot function properly

    Its an illness this emptiness,
    How can I fill such barenness

    Undeniable grief and guilt,
    Swirl around my mind and make me sick

    Help me, I cry to myself,
    I dont want to loose this love we built.

    -Written by myself about 5 minutes ago.. This is what RA feels like to me in a poem.

    • I’m so sorry you’re suffering, Brittany, and I know that most people who suffer from relationship anxiety know exactly what you’re feeling. I know you just started the course and asked about recommendations for local therapists, but I want to make sure that you’re getting the support you need. Have you started therapy yet?

    • Brittany

      Thank you for your concern.

      My first session is today at 3. I asked her the things you said to ask. About being familiar with Relationship anxiety and depression and she said she specializes in these areas. I also said to her “I have alot of fear coming to a therapist. As I know alot of people believe that -doubt means dont. I personally dont believe that and am hoping to find someone who shares that same view. I want to focus on healing myself and working with my perfectionsim mindset as well as getting past my feeling of not being good enough for the things I have in my life.”

      She responded sweetly and said “I completely understand and finding a therapist is part of being courageous in your life and not letting those fears of not being good enough hold you back from achieving your destiny”

  • Loving

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you so much for your blog. Countless posts have resonated with me and helped through some of my most anxious moments. I am so relieved to hear that just being alive can be the root of relationship anxiety – I have been desperately searching for a root cause to my anxiety and reading this gave me a deeper understanding of the pain of just being human.

    I have a feeling this is the ego seeking reassurance right now, but I have a question regarding how my relationship anxiety has manifested. My relationship anxiety spikes are the opposite of what others have experienced, where instead of my thoughts circulating around “I think he is the wrong partner, etc.” my anxieties circulate around “he doesn’t love me anymore.” I have noticed some of his actions that my ego uses to confirm these feelings, but even the rational me can see this connection. Is this still relationship anxiety? Even though my spikes are about my perception of HIS doubts, not MY doubts? I am so thankful for your guidance.

  • LovinglyOvercoming

    Hi, friends. I have a question about recognizing trauma responses vs. knowing healthy fear. I’ve reached out in the forum, but haven’t gotten much help, and this blog post touches on some of what I’m going through as far as fears and childhood trauma (bad experiences with an abusive father and boyfriends who partied and drank and treated me badly).

    I’ve been with my partner now for a little over a year. I’ve had anxiety about it almost the entire time (which is normal for me in relationships), because he is a drinker, as are his family and friends, and I have made intentional steps to move away from drinking as much over the last few years, because I can tell clearly that drinking too often causes me to have increased generalized anxiety and depression. He is nearly perfect. He is literally the best man I’ve ever met. Gentle, loving, compassionate, patient, everything you could dream of in a man.

    I have no question about whether or not I love him. We live together and are extremely happy together and get along better than I get along with anyone!
    But, I am triggered into extreme fear and anxiety by his friends who like to party and sometimes even his very loving, very peaceful, caring family because they like to drink and get a little drunk some times (so does he). More recently (over the last couple weeks since starting the e-course). I’ve been working on identifying trauma points in my body and why these energies come up. But, the nagging question remains: is being with him causing me to go further away from what is best for me, because he and his whole world like to drink and party some times? Is this fear because of trauma, or is this fear telling me it’s not good for me, even thought EVERYTHING else about the relationship is almost perfect!!?

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