Where Anxiety Hangs Its Hat

Anxiety can hang its hat on almost any hook. It can focus on relationships, fertility, parenting, health, the world, money, career, death. Within each of these topics, there are endless sub-topics that lure anxiety into its lair. If we’re talking about relationship anxiety, for example, the hook can be: lack of physical attraction, lack of sexual attraction, focusing in any area of perceived lack (education, intelligence, social fluency, humor, wit, height, ambition), religious differences, we never had an infatuation stage, or just a pervasive sense that the relationship is “wrong”.

But what if I haven’t listed your particular hook? Does that means this work doesn’t apply to you? That’s the classic response from the anxious mind!

So when I receive emails like the following…

Have you written anything on being in a relationship with significant age gaps, socioeconomic differences or previous marriage and kids in the picture? I’m curious about whether all these differences add up to a red flag and I would love to read anything you have on the topic!

…my response is always some version of the following: None of these differences are red flags. Just different hooks that anxiety can hang its hat on. Apply everything I’ve written on anxiety to these stories and you’ll eventually find clarity and freedom. In the end, it has nothing to do with the story, and the more you energy you give the story, the more that story will grow. Turn your attention to what’s embedded inside the story and you’ll move the energy. 

One of the reasons why I’m underwhelmed by many mainstream models for managing with anxiety is that they deal with each hook individually instead of understanding that the hook is merely the current story that anxiety is hanging its hat on. As such, a hook like “What if I’m with the wrong partner?” is handled at the level of the story instead of the level of soul. For if we understand that anxiety is a messenger from our souls inviting us to move toward more wholeness, we shift our perspective and cease to seek short-term solutions. Instead, we become curious about this invitation from within. What is my soul wanting me to know? If I listen closely, what might I hear?

I’ve written about the phenomena of story-hopping in my post, “Anxiety is a Game of Whack-a-Mole“, but as it comes up so regularly, I feel compelled to expand on it. One of anxiety’s secret tools is that it looks for the loophole, the one topic or bit of information that will prove to the ego that you’re the exception, that you’re the worst-case scenario, that while-this-work-may-sound-great-it-doesn’t-apply-to-you-as-you’re-not-actually-suffering-from-relationship-anxiety-you’re-just-in-the-wrong-relationship. Sound familiar? Ego is masterful at undoing any information or experience that threatens its existence, which means anything that invites you to grow beyond your comfort zone and take a risk. And there is nothing more risky than loving, nothing more risky than exposing your heart and soul to an available, willing, honest, present partner.

The more we name ego’s tactics for keeping us stuck, the easier we can break free from its stronghold. So when the mind pipes up and says something like, “The fact that Sheryl has never written about age differences must mean that this work doesn’t apply to me and it’s a real red flag,” it’s easy to take the bait. And if you do a Google search on “success of relationships with age differences” you’ll likely find a spectrum of opinions ranging from the best to the worst outcomes. Ego will then scan the articles to seek out confirmation for its fear, which is why Googling your hook is never, ever a good idea.

One of my long-term clients who struggled with relationship anxiety years ago is now, after two years and two miscarriages, in her second trimester of pregnancy and struggling with anxiety. Like many women, she thought she just had to get through the first trimester for her anxiety would dissipate but, no, anxiety keeps rearing its head until we learn the lessons – and we tend to learn the same lessons at deeper layers of the spiral over and over again. The lessons for her – as for most of us when it comes down to it – are about learning how to make room for natural fear while also practicing surrender and letting go of control, reeling in her fear-mind so that it doesn’t take center stage and growing her cognitive truth-telling abilities. Different story, same lessons, deeper layers.

The difference this time around is that, with the skills and tools she gained through working diligently to break through her relationship anxiety, she’s able to witness her process without getting sucked into it, and when she does fall into the muddy morass of fear she’s able to pull herself out more quickly. As she shared in our last session:

“My second trimester fear-story is that my baby isn’t developing normally. But this time I’m watching the story building, I can see the process happening, and I’m like, ‘Oh, right, here’s my mind doing this fear thing again.'”

“Right, like it’s spinning all of the evidence to support this new story and weaving it together until it’s like a tightly spun web.”

“Yes, exactly. So I’m watching it and then I have moments when I can break through it and connect to my deeper faith that the baby is fine. When I really tune in, I know that everything is fine. But when I’m in fear I see everything differently. When fear is at the helm, I could swear to you that my stomach hasn’t grown at all. But then I break through the fear and I look like a beach ball!”

“Isn’t it amazing how fear distorts perception!”

“Yes. It’s like with relationship anxiety: He could go from looking like a beast to Prince Charming in a single day. And because I’m aware of how fear works, I can work with it more effectively now.”

This is why I often say that anxiety is a gift. When we grab it by the horns and delve into its center, we emerge with consciousness, tools, and practices that will serve us for the rest of our lives. When people find me in the throes of their relationship anxiety and bemoan their horrible fate of being pulled into the underworld of fear around their relationship, they often ask, “Why me? Why now? Why doesn’t anyone around me struggle in this way?” To which I respond, “I can answer those questions, but what I really want to impart to you is that anxiety is a gift, and it’s an ever bigger gift when it hits early in your life or in the early months or years of your relationship because what you will learn now will serve you during every transition of your life. You can’t see it now, but one day you will.” Invariably, they come back to me months or years later and say, “You were right. I couldn’t see it at the time but now that I’m [pregnant, moving, in a career change, losing a loved one] I can see how much I’ve learned. I’m walking through the changes and challenges of life with more ease, grace, and joy.”

What are your hooks/stories and what are the best ways you’ve found for handling them effectively and breaking through to the root cause?

77 comments to Where Anxiety Hangs Its Hat

  • Julie

    Hi Sheryl. Thank you for this post. I have been reading your blog for some time now and have thought the same thing you stated…that because you have not mentioned my specific situation, it’s likely not relationship anxiety. Although I found this post interesting and somewhat relative, I am still not sure if it is the case with my situation. Although I may have a low-level of anxiety in other areas of life, relationships and commitment never seemed to be a real cause of anxiety for me in the past. My previous relationship was almost a decade long and I never had doubts. He did, which was why it ended. But now I am in a relationship with a man that is certain of his feelings and loves me very much, but I am very anxious and unsure. Our situation is quite complicated, as we met while I was traveling in a third world country where he lives. So our relationship has been long-distance since we met late last year. I have visited a few times since and we communicate daily, but there is a significant language barrier, which seems to be a big part of the anxiety for me. The language as well as lack of money, education, etc. Due to political issues, it’s not possible for him to travel here at all and only possible for me to visit every few months for a short period of time. Being that I am 40 years old and still hope to have a family, I don’t think it’s smart to continue this relationship long-distance for much longer. I am at the point where I need to make a decision, which seems to be either ending it (which terrifies me) or commit to marriage so we can be together (which also terrifies me). Again, I did not have a fear of marriage/commitment in my past relationship, so I don’t believe it’s a general fear for me, but more likely relative to not having enough every day life experiences with him, in addition to the fears I have about language, money, etc. I imagine that my situation is somewhat unique compared to your average reader, so I can’t determine if it is just anxiety that I need to work through on my own? Or if it is just the complicated situation that is causing it?

    • Rosiew

      I think it’s really tricky when you are an anxious sort to distinguish red flags from nonsense chatter that your ego tells you, but for what it’s worth I see/feel red flags aplenty in your story. Your partner isn’t exactly practically available and you want to find someone willing and available to have a kid with and pretty pronto. I truly think you need to end this fantasy relationship (I’m in one myself but for different reasons so I recognise one when I see it) and try and find a real partner who can legally share your life without multiple barriers. Best of luck to you, I know how hard it is to find a suitable partner in your 40s, particularity if you still have dreams of become a mother (I’m 45 next month and has to let that dream go a couple of years ago so I know that is really tough. ) xx

    • Your anxiety is valid, Julie, as there’s simply no way to know if you’re well-matched without spending more time together. Can you spend more time with him in his country without getting married?

  • Julie

    Thanks for responding. I am able to visit every few months, but it would be difficult to do so for more than 1-2 works, due to work. It’s difficult to imagine ending a relationship with someone who I really love and enjoy being with so much, but I also have many doubts due to the language barrier and lack of time together. Very torn on what to do.

  • RC

    Great timing! I was thinking about this earlier today. I used to struggle with anxiety around horrible catastrophes happening to me or people I loved (car accidents, fires etc) and managed to overcome that a few years ago (finally realised how much time I was wasting on thinking about scenarios that never happened and I truly *believed* it wasn’t helpful to worry anymore). It took a few months before I could not engage with the thoughts. Occasionally they still come up, but I can let them go in a few seconds now (before it would be 30+ minutes of worry and thoughts coming up nonstop).

    I now have relationship anxiety (hanging it’s hat on something else!) and i’m finding it much more difficult to let go of…I think because my relationship is something tangible and real with real implications (as oppose to imaginary catastrophes)…

    • I tend to believe that anxiety often begins with more unrealistic scenarios then works its way inward toward the places that are more personal and where we are most vulnerable. It’s like fear grooms us to be able to handle more risky situations!

  • RBPal

    This post came at such a perfect time! I finally had a couple of days last week where my relationship anxiety diminished and I felt the emptiness that you have so accurately described on previous posts. Then my anxiety came back in a big way, this time regarding our new pet. Even though I’ve felt the resistance very strongly the last few days, I was able to recognize that this is just another way for fear to make me avoid taking the risk of loving this being with an open heart. It’s so calming to know this, even when my ego is trying to convince me that I’m the exception.

    Your course has been life-changing. Thank you so much Sheryl! Cheers from Argentina.

  • junedee

    My main hook, besides “What if I don’t love him” and “This relationship is wrong” was “What if I wake up one day and there is no love in my heart and I have to break up with him?”
    The way I got out of that hook was by saying it aloud. When I heard myself say it I realized it was the equivalent of asking, “What if I one day get struck by lightning?” There is literally no way of being able to tell what will happen in the future (I know TERRIFYING) and asking myself a question about feelings I didn’t yet have/may never have was literally impossible. When I figured that out I was able to rationalize that that anxiety hook had nothing to do with my partner and much more to do with my fear of having no control over the future. It took a while, but after repeating this fear aloud to myself and writing it down (and every manifestation of it) in a journal repeatedly I began to realize how ridiculous it was.
    What helped me get out of this hook was learning about the truth of love. It took a while to let the truth seep through my muddled idea of love/loving, but the real answer to this question is, “You will wake up one day and feel no love in your heart, and in that moment you will CHOOSE to continue loving.” When I accepted the fact that love was not a feeling, but an action/choice the anxiety began to dissipate.
    Now I do not get caught in this hook, because I have been set free by the knowledge that even on the days when I feel closed and unloving and judgmental I can still choose to be open and loving and accepting. When I figured out that my life no longer had to be controlled by my feelings, I was set free.
    Sometimes I feel incredible love for my partner (it took a full year to be able to feel ANY love at all, because it is impossible to feel love when you are anxious) but once my anxiety cleared up a bit it allowed me to feel the smoldering glow of affection I was so worried wasn’t there. Sometimes I don’t feel any love for my partner and I am finally learning to allow room for those feelings as well, in fact those feelings are HEALTHY.
    I can’t believe I am saying this, because this very thought tormented me for SO long, but I actually look forward to the days that I feel a little disconnected from my partner. It gives me a chance to focus on me and spend a little time alone.
    I was really under the impression that love was a sparkles and confetti feeling. So it made sense, that I was scared that I never felt that feeling or that I would one day wake up and feeling nothing at all. Living your life by the whim of how you feel in unpredictable and unsustainable. Once I allowed myself the truth of love as action, I was able to take comfort in the fact that even if one day I DO wake up and feel nothing, I can still roll over and embrace my amazing partner. Because my feelings will not dictate who deserves my affection! And I choose to love the brilliant man in my life every day. WHAT JOY!

    • YES! You stared the fear in the eyes and addressed it on all levels until it loosened its grip. EXCELLENT WORK! And yes, the gift of doing the work is the true joy of loving freely.

    • Arlene

      Thanks so much for posting this. So inspiring and I can identify with it so closely after months of struggling with relationship anxiety. The realization that love is an action instead of a feeling that you cannot control is very liberating. I am so happy that I found this out at 23 because it takes a lot of maturity and strength to overcome the outside forces that fuel the anxiety, whether it be the media and society at general or people’s judgements or anything else. Thank you for your post.

    • NikkiH

      Yes. Thank you so much for posting this, this is my exact current state right now. My boyfriend and I are currently taking space because my anxiety and panic attacks got so bad and reached a point where all I feel is fear and lack of love around him. It’s terrible though because I miss him terribly. How do you reach this point of acceptance?

  • -C

    Perfect timing as usual, dear Sheryl. It’s like you can read our minds. I don’t know if this is a hook/story but I’ve been very anxious about dating lately. My first relationship (3 yrs) was with a man and I was very much in love with him at the time, and after breaking up it was very hard to move on. However, over time in my early 20’s I found myself also being attracted to girls and my latest relationship was with a woman (4 1/2 yrs, the only one I’ve had with a girl). We broke up a little over a year ago and as time goes by, I feel that I don’t really connect with men, nor do I feel physically I feel attracted to them. However, there is this guy at work who cares about me and has nice gestures, he gives me space and isn’t too basic like the other guys,and that catches my attention as it is rare to find (in both men and women). Something inside me says “if I once loved a man so much, maybe it can happen again?”. However, when I think of being with him I feel emotionally trapped, cornered and avoidant because in the end, I dont really feel a strong connection/attraction towards him. I feel like if I happened to meet a girl, I would be much more attracted to her and possibly have a stronger connection -emotionally and mentally speaking- so it makes me feel dishonest towards him and myself. But I do know he is a good person and possibly a good catch. Is this a story I’m telling myself to protect myself? Or is this my intuition/higher self speaking to me clearly?

    • I’m not sure you’ll know if it’s protection-mechanism relationship anxiety or if it’s your higher self unless you get to know him a bit more.

      • -C

        Thank you Sheryl. One more question arises. You’ve talked about couples who never had that spark of attraction but still can love each other but might struggle with anxiety if the spark was never there. In her inner bonding courses, Margaret has mentioned that feeling attraction of some kind towards the person is essential. Do you consider a red flag not feeling attracted physically/sexually to a person even though you might connect on other levels?

        • “Attraction” can mean many things, yet we always assume it means physical/sexual attraction. When we see through clear eyes unclouded by fear, our perception changes, and someone who we didn’t find physically attractive suddenly becomes cute – much like I talked about in the article. So, no, not having physical or sexual attraction off the bat is NOT a red flag, but yes, there does need to be a draw of some sort: some curiosity or interest to spend time with the person, something that makes you say yes to this person and no to others, something that moves you forward.

  • Jen

    Perfect timing, as always! I just told a friend on Friday how great my husband and I are doing and how our arguments tend to end in laughter these days, which is so nice! Then Friday night we get into a huge weekend-long fight about religious differences, something that has never been an issue for us before. I felt panicked like the person I chose to spend my life with was the wrong person. How could he not care about something that can sometimes seem so big and important? I felt my stomach turning and fought back tears through his apologies. I spent all last night as two versions of myself. One wanted to be angry and hurt him the way I felt hurt. I wanted to leave. The other part of me resisted the urge to google questions that raced through my mind. I felt the pain in my stomach and called this by it’s name: fear. That part of me remembered what you teach us and that part of me made me proud of my progress. You are so right, Sheryl. This work is cyclical and each round reveals a layer that we didn’t know was there. I smiled reading this week’s post because it was one of those moments where I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. With so much gratitude, Jen

    • There’s nothing like marriage or long-term committed relationships to bring out the deeper layers that need our attention, and it often happens that just when we declare what a great place we’re in we’re taken down by a doozy of a fight! But what matters is that the work that you’ve been doing on yourself has penetrated and you were able to call on your wisdom when you needed it. Good work ;).

  • E

    My biggest hooks right now are pregnancy and birth related. I am pregnant and due in one week, and my anxiety has ramped up considerably in the last month of pregnancy. I lost my first pregnancy last summer, and each step of the way I feel how my ego tries to construct walls to protect me from feeling the intense pain I felt last time. My thoughts now are filled with worries about delivery and whether I can trust doctors, about my ability to attach, whether I will be a good mom, whether I really am ready or want to be a mom or if I got pregnant for the ‘wrong reasons’ (to undo the pain of my loss, appear successful to my family and community). And then I judge myself for having any ambivalence, instead of being 100% grateful for this baby after my previous devastating loss. It is hard to know how to stay open to future happiness without getting sucked in by sadness and anger from the past.

    • It sounds like this post came at exactly the right time. I don’t know a single impending mother who doesn’t experience ambivalence, so I urge you to let go of the guilt that you’re feeling right now. And every fear that you listed – “worries about delivery and whether I can trust doctors, about my ability to attach, whether I will be a good mom, whether I really am ready or want to be a mom or if I got pregnant for the ‘wrong reasons’” – are textbook as well. Of course, you won’t find those fears listed in most pregnancy books that focus on physical symptoms and baby’s growth and car seats, but I have the privilege of peering into the psyche of women who are willing to be honest, and this is what they share. I urge you to let in your grief, your fear, your terror, your uncertainty, your anger. Make room for all of it instead of placing the expectation of 100% gratitude on your shoulders. You’re on the threshold of the biggest transition of your life and it’s not humanly possible to stare into this next abyss and not feel everything that you’re feeling. You will get through labor (and of course you’re terrified!). You will bond with your baby. You will be a wonderful mother. For now, please let in your pain and fear. It would be the biggest gift you could give to yourself.

  • John

    Thank you Sheryl for another well timed post. I have one question. Can you say more about what you mean about leaving room for Natural Fear? I am taking anxiety to fear about a medical test I am going to have….a test value that may mean nothing, or may mean something more serious. The fear takes over. So leaving room for natural fear is???
    Thank you so much.
    John

    • I don’t think there’s any way to have a medical test without experiencing fear. We make room for the fear, walk through the fear, then rely on our tools – meditating, journaling, breathing – for managing the fear and hopefully arriving at some sense of serenity.

  • Jazzmin

    I often find that my anxiety will honestly hang its hat on literally anything. At first it was careers, places, or generally any big life change in my life. Recently, it’s hung it’s hat on my relationship. My amazing 6- year long relationship that is full of so much joy, love and support. My boyfriend and I met my senior year in high school. We survived long distance in college, living with parents and moving out on our own, and are now about to move away from our small home town in pursuit of bigger better things for my career. (Bless his heart for letting me follow my dreams and supporting me!!) My hook lately has been the idea that I’m too young to make a decision this serious, or to “settle down”. I “haven’t played the field” since all my other relationships were when i was much younger. Something about the way our culture looks at being in a relationship as not being “free” still confuses me. I’ve talked a little with my therapist about why people usually have this viewpoint (usually unhealthy relationships) but sometimes the noise is just so loud. My relationship is the most freeing thing, it’s my anxiety that makes me feel trapped. I have googled time and time again, and even asked friends about what to do or what their experiences are. I continue to fall back on one of your blog posts a few weeks back about how we always expect others, others that are older, wiser, smarter etc to be able to tell us what’s best for us. We expect them to be able to tell us what is the wrong decision to make that way we can make sure we made it. It really is all about trusting your own path and trusting what feels right for you. While I know I’ve got a tough road ahead of me, I’m really refusing to give up. Also really looking forward to the next self trust course!

    • I’m so glad you’ll be taking the Trust Yourself course, Jazzmin, as it sounds like it’s exactly what you’re needing at this juncture. I’ll be opening it for registration next week, and I’ll look forward to meeting you on the course!

  • Kristen87

    I just love you, Sheryl! Taking yet another breath, sitting with the discomfort, breathing more, and feeling my pain. It eventually passes and the anxiety loses its strength. This is the most important thing I have ever learned and you taught it to me. Eternally grateful. Xox

  • Yvonne

    This is very off topic but I’m wondering if someone could just help. This is about just a simple intrusive thought which I’m finding very distressing. I had my 8 year old niece come and stay with me for the weekend & I was getting her ready for bed and as I was putting her dirty clothes away I had a thought like “you want to smell her pants” now lately I’ve been able to accept thoughts and let them in, however this one I have found very distressing, it’s been bothering me for the last 2 days and I feel like I have to tell someone, I feel like I have to tell my sister about it but I don’t think she would understand about intrusive thoughts & I think she would be very angry/upset with me and not speak to me for a while & I don’t want that. Of course I didn’t smell her pants but this thought is bothering me a hell of a lot.

  • Angela

    My dear Sheryl,
    Fear is very clever and in the past I always thought it was the guy I just met, or i dated. From doing your brilliant and true to the core work I kicked fear out the door, and kept coming back. Now its occassional especially when I havent done the daily tools. It shocked me in a instant. Not a great feeling, I did feel am i being punished it was of course fear rearing its ugly head. I felt embarrassed when I am in this anxiety mode in front my husband. But he is so supportive he knows about your work Sheryl and he understands my anxiety. I have felt like a victim, but not anymore. This work is confusing for alot of people but when u keep moving forward you will get it and feel better not worse. I love you Sheryl for supporting us highly senistive people. Your the real deal. and i feel lucky your in my life.

  • Katy

    This post was needed! The anxiety i have in relationships is so distinct that i concluded it meant the guys were wrong for me. I also had it in past relationships too (all of them) but those guys really weren’t right! I saw a freind i hadn’t seen in awhile recently and my ex came up and he’s like he was such a loser. Just made me feel validated in thinking that way beause that guy was wrong for me and i can’t believe i dated him. That dull sense that something(s) missing is what plagues me. Also that i wasn’t that into him for the first few weeks we dated and liked someone else better. All of those work against me trying to buy into this work.

  • Ellie

    Sheryl,

    I’ve been reading your blog for years and am so very thankful for all of the work you do. I found you a couple months into my engagement when I woke up one day in a PANIC which led to weeks of engagement anxiety. I did what I wasn’t supposed to do… google my fears. But thankfully it led me to your site! I’ve been happily married for two years, and even though I’ve experienced anxiety since then, I’ve been much better equipped in managing it. Recently, my husband and I moved to a new state, he started law school, I stared a new job, and we are trying to figure out when to start trying for a baby. As I should have anticipated, all of this change threw me into a tailspin and my anxiety began hanging it’s hat on lots of things. However, I’m following your guidance and my anxiety is getting more manageable every day and my relationship with my husband has grown even deeper.

    Thank you for all that you do! ❤️

  • HopefulForHope

    My anxiety seems to be hanging it’s hat on the fact that I can’t get rid of these thoughts I have of a guy I used to be obsessed with/infatuated with and I am engaged and about to be married. I spent 3.5 years obsessing over a guy I told myself was my “dream man” despite the fact that we only had a few conversations in all of those years, I never really knew him at all, all my friends told me “no way, he is no good for you” and he was never really kind to me/he was never a friend. I obsessed from afar (something I have always done for YEARS – it was a pattern I had until my current boyfriend – who was the first guy to be available to me) but with that old crush, he was the first person I thought I actually had a chance with and so I created that fantasy and was waiting for it to play out. now I am engaged to the most special and wonderful man I have ever met and best friend. He’s not my “dream man type/fantasy” and for a long time, my anxiety was hooked on that. but I seem to have worked through that but now I wake up with thoughts and can’t get rid of the thoughts throughout the day of this person from my past and I hate it. I have had such limited interactions with this person and keep thinking “how can he take up so much of my thoughts and energy in my mind.” I can say I don’t want him – I want to move forward with my life with my wonderful fiancé and never see this old crush again/think of him again. but some thoughts my anxiety tells me are “what if you really want to be with him and that’s why you can’t stop thinking of him.” “you’re a fake – you’re lying to everyone and no one knows.”
    I know I have some grieving to work through with family dynamics and I do think I used this fantasy as an escape in the past to help me escape the pain I was going through as my family was falling apart. but I just don’t understand how I could have obsessive thoughts of someone I don’t want to think about when I am about to be married to someone else and I don’t know exactly what to do.

  • Heidi

    Hi Sheryl, this is off topic from what you posted but while I was reading it I thought of something…
    Do you think MBTI personality type (I’m an INFJ), mixed with growing up around parents with a “loveless” marriage, mixed with a traumatic break up from a “first love” (or first infatuation, I can’t decipher what it was) because of my first bout with extreme relationship anxiety, has anything to do with how I deal with relationships now? It’s very hard for me to trust, & I feel like I don’t want to trust. I Have anxiety the entire time I’m dating someone, & I have a hard time accepting that “love is not a feeling, it’s an action”. I’m always questioning & sometimes convince myself that I should feel more. Like I should be happier. My current partner & I bump heads a LOT as we are polar opposites(he’s an ISTJ) & we see things in a completely different way. I just wanna know why I can’t just let go & allow myself to learn how to love someone the way they are without comparing them to my ex & give myself the grace I need to do it. I’m so curious as to how I came to be this way because everyone else seems to be able to do it. Even people who are in horrible relationships don’t have this problem! I’m so frustrated.

    • Yes, personality type, parents’ marriage, and early heartbreak are all contributing factors to having a difficult time trusting in relationships. HOWEVER… becoming stuck on the story of trying to figure out “why” can be another way that the ego tries to distract you from doing the work of softening fear-walls and learning how to love.

      • Heidi

        Yea I feel like I’m always like “why do I feel so disconnected sometimes?” “Why does that couple look so much more happy?” “Why do I have to have relationship anxiety?” “Why does my mind constantly just have to KNOW how I feel?” “Why do I always question how I feel?” The list goes on & on. Not to mention my thoughts are always the same ones. Then I try to make myself “fell” how I’d feel if THIS were to happen with him & if THAT were to happen with him & “are you sure in you’re in love? Cause with your ex you felt this & that & it goes on & on & on Sheryl 🙁 I feel so helpless sometimes like I will never come out of this. Some days are better than others but I always revert back to the same things over & over

        • If you don’t have the Break Free course, I highly recommend it. And if you do have it, I recommend that you practice that daily tools as much as possible so that you can work toward shifting out of your head and into your body. Being stuck in your head is one of the most challenging by-products of being in an anxious state.

          • Heidi

            Yes I have it. But it’s getting past the “it won’t work” thoughts that honestly keep me from reading & practicing the material. But I guess I just need to do it anyways even though I have doubts it’ll work. Thank you for responding. It makes me feel like someone hears me through all the noise.

          • I hear you, and you’re far from alone. If you practice the tools they will “work”, but it does require a real commitment to changing lifelong habits and mental patterns that are no longer serving you.

  • CT

    Thank you so much for that post Sheryl ! i feel it was really needed for me. I feel that my anxiety has hooked to everything you can think of. Especially for me its been,when ever i have a read someones else worry or fear or about red flags about their partner my mind straight away latched to my own relationship or partner. So of course i have but my partner and relationship under a massive microscope bc of that (and of course i havent found anything alarming or any red flags. SO but there is one thing what comes up for me every once in a while and we have talked about it so much w my partner also. The theme is SEX. It was roughly 2 y into our relationship when first time ever i just felt no desire for sex,i wasnt even thinking about,i just didn’t want have sex like 0 desire. So then we had our first time ever in our relationship going without sex about 2 months. And i have not still figured it out why it happened. So of course when it happened my partner got worried, he asked me is everything alright,or am i not attracted to him anymore, ANd i just couldnt give any answers bc i truly didn know what happend with my desire. Back then of course i started googling and so on, but i never got like super anxious about it. I feel we kinda moved on after that, but i think the worry was always there for m after that, always something back in my head was questioning is that something bad, does that means something is wrong in our relationship and so on. We still had sex but i would say our sex life was really poor comparing to how it was in the beginning.So there were of course still times where we didn’t have sex for long period of time and it always made me worry big time and of course now when my RA kicked in last January i guess its normal to for sex life slow down. But again i feel like this last year our sex life has been way much better then 2 y ago. But of course there still been couple of times we dont have sex longer period of time. SO i feel thats my really big hook now. And i really dont know how to work with that or what is going on ? Does that actually means there is something wrong with us 🙁 ?

  • Cece

    Thank you! Because this article was so helpful and had such great perspective. Personally, in my relationship, I’ve been dealing with my anxious mind for almost 2 years now. And my boyfriend of 4 years has put up with it since. However recently, it’s becoming more and more of a problem. I was nitpicking him to such a bad extent that he almost broke up with me and ever since, it feels like I’m hurting him. I project a lot of my feelings on to him. After reading a lot of your articles, it still feels like sometimes I’m the exception. I know I have an extremely hard time accepting things like “its not going to feel like rainbows and butterflies” after 4 years of being together. And I think along with trying to learn to accept things, I have a hard time with change and what the future holds. The thoughts that my anxiety hooks on to recently come in the form of “you don’t want this anymore” or “you don’t even want to try” or “if you’re not willing, then this is doomed” and when I think back at all these thoughts, it gives me a gut wrenching feeling of me just not being into my bf anymore. And many times, like now, idk if that’s the anxiety talking or if the right thing to do is to let him go. He is an amazing guy, and I do love him (and I think I still have a hard time feeling that love for him because I’m always checking how I’m feeling) but I question incessantly if do I want this and it really makes me upset and it feels like if I’m questioning the “wanting” or “willingness to make it work part” then idk what to believe. I feel like I’m so conflicted and exhausted from not hving peace of mind. I question our compatibility (his dreams of working in the music industry-specifically the hip hop industry, make me anxious because sometimes it feels like I don’t support that as much as I really want to because it seems immature or not a viable profession to me but it’s his dream and careers in my opinion should not be a deal breaker but it’s almost like alot of times it feels like it is). But he supports everything I do. And he is almost done with college, but it seems I can’t let it go. So it makes me feel like somethings wrong with us. I know I have a lot of work on myself to do, but I’m scared of working on myself and then figuring out that I actually don’t want him later on. It’s just so scary to me and it immobilizes me to move forward. This “it doesn’t feel right” feeling is driving me insane and I just want to know if I should listen to those thoughts that say that “i don’t want this or him anymore” because it scares me to answer or think that it’s true and that I just don’t want to admit it. I have been going through many changes like graduating college a year ago and not having a job for a year that has caused me stress not just physically and emotionally but financially. And I’ve also been questioning what I really want to do career-wise. I also want to know if your courses will benefit someone like me?

  • Sandra

    I have had literally every hook / story in the book it seems. From “what if I’m gay?”, to “what if he leaves me?” to “what if I leave him?”, “what if he has a personality disorder?” (I literally just laughed out loud that that used to be a hook for me – it could not be further from the truth), to “what if HE’S gay?”, the list goes on and on, and does not stop at my relationship.
    Oh, and one that’s been popping up a lot more lately as I work with my thoughts and find this joy and inner peace inside of me – “what if I become so happy that I don’t need him anymore?”

    I also have convinced myself I’m the exception because my anxiety often hangs its hat on things that happened in the past – convincing myself events that happened are CATASTROPHIC mistakes I made that mean I’m a horrible person, or I’m doomed, or everything I love is doomed. I’d love to see more written on that – it’s a huge loophole my anxiety has found and every few days it’s a new story.

    In the moment I can never seem to realize that the thoughts flare up during a transition – right now I’m in the process of moving somewhere entirely unknown – but right now I’m trying to stay conscious of that.

    This and working with my thoughts and finding the lie in them has been very helpful. I am a very creative person with a very creative mind and left on its own it is VERY good at spinning stories and finding loopholes and reasons why I am the exception and need to panic.

  • K

    What about relationships where there was prior neglect, breach of trust on both sides due to multiple transitions, miscommunications and misunderstanding? Both of us grew apart, messed up and failed to communicate our needs in an effective way. Since then, Both of us have put in a lot of effort and really hung tight. Neither of us ever wanted to let go because deep down underneath all the pain and anxiety, I know I am with a great person and we are so good for each other. She knows that too. I KNOW that if we can sustain our most loving states, we can create something truly wonderful. I can see that. I am the anxious type and have had every single spike in the book, ever since childhood and adolescence(“Am I Gay”, “Will I harm my loved ones”). The most soul crushing of them all has been “You had a red flag, so your relationship is doomed.”. I have no answer to that spike. I say its a “spike” and not a real issue because all issues have been resolved, commitment renewed and the “red flags” are a thing of the past and we are working hard on being present in relationship and not take it for granted. It taught us what our needs are and how we both want to be loved. We both want nothing more than wanting to be with each other(although I do have the usual spikes “Do I love her enough”, “This shouldn’t be so hard”). But whenever I get the “red flag” spike I just feel like crying out, because I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t want to leave what has been a great relationship for most part and what can potentially be something great. I keep thinking I am the only person with this spike and that makes me feel more alone and left out.

    • You’re not the only one with this spike by any means. Prior neglect and breach of trust are NOT red flags as long as they’ve been addressed and resolved. Every relationship has issues. Every partnership will undergo challenges, and it’s often around trust. Trust will be broken, and as long as it’s repaired, the relationship can survive and thrive.

  • MLoves

    What if you got relationship anxiety almost 4 years in the relationship, but never before that?

  • Ana

    Sheryl, thank you so much for this post. Anxiety has certainly chosen to hang its hat on my wonderful relationship of over two years, and it’s been sitting there since January.

    Ever since then, I’ve been going through a constant cycle of feeling wonderful and “rosy” for two weeks at a time, and the next two weeks (sometimes longer) I question everything. Half the time I’m thrilled, want sex, and feel overall happy that I’m in the relationship, but the other half I feel depressed and have no desire to see him, yet alone be intimate. I regularly feel unhappy because I’m dealing with the classic case of feeling like my relationship is “wrong.”

    I am moving in with my boyfriend this weekend, and my relationship anxiety (if that’s what this actually is) is completely ruining the joyous time this is *supposed* to be. We’ve been talking about it for nearly a year now, and I’ve always been weary, but I also just don’t think I adjust well to change in serious situations, and moving in together is pretty darn serious. The first time I briefly experienced this kind of anxiety is when my boyfriend moved to my city (we were long distance for over a year) last October. The minute he arrived, I literally felt sick to my stomach and questioned every single thing for no reason. Then a month later, I felt better, especially after he helped me through a major life event. It was so odd. Is he just someone who saves me from harm, someone to lean on and that’s it?

    I’ve been seeing a therapist and she’s informed me that this is all anxiety-induced. I’ve had a few other downfalls in my personal life this year, especially with friends, and I’m sure that plays a role. I also often find myself reminiscent of our past — when we were first dating, I was so confident and happy. I had a solid group of friends, was living in a new city, etc. Now, I’m so down about my present (friends have split up, new city is getting old, etc) that I feel like my relationship is boring and not fulfilling me the way it used to. Did I only like it for the excitement, and is the stability unappealing? Is that wrong? Am I just not having fun?

    In general, my anxiety is really taking me away from being able to connect emotionally and physically with my boyfriend. I cry for no reason with him and feel *in my gut* it’s not right when he’s all I’ve ever wanted. Then, out of nowhere, I feel happy and content, especially when I’m off visiting my family back home with him or feeling secure outside my relationship in general (with friends, etc).

    I feel that relationships should overall bring joy to your life, so why do I only feel this complete *joy* half the time? I do wonder if/think it’s related to the upcoming move. I’m so afraid to give up my independence and be the first of my friends in the city to move in with a guy. Things have already been shaky with them all year (I’m the only one in a relationship) and in moving in with my boyfriend, I feel like I’m sealing the deal and closing myself off from them in an unexplainable way. But is this just an excuse? Would I really care if I was *in love*? I think I pictured myself moving in with my boyfriend/future husband when everything else in my life felt settled, but I’m feeling voids.

    I’m going to ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to me if I don’t get it together. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds right now to take your course, but if you could provide any words of wisdom here, I’d be more than appreciative. 🙂

  • Angela

    Thank you Sheryl ?. There is one thing i would like to ask you, by doing this work do you change as a person

  • Talulah2019

    Hi Sheryl,
    I’m a longtime reader. I always find your posts at moments where I need them the most. After many years with ever-shifting anxiety (much of it focusing on my relationship), I was diagnosed with OCD. Many of my obsessions have fixated on my relationship (I don’t love my partner enough/in the right way), that I’m “actually” gay (though history have always fallen in love with the opposite sex), that I have an ominous/terminal health problem, or that I have violent impulses I can’t control (I have no history of violent behavior). By doing my own work (meditation, affirmations, journaling) and receiving psychiatric care/therapy, I’ve come to understand that the content of my obsessions is never really the issue, instead it’s the deeply ingrained and counterproductive ways I learned to view the world from a young age — i.e. a lot of all-or-nothing thinking, not feeling safe or grounded unless I had “absolute” certainty that everything would be okay, and not seeing models of respect and love in my own family. My anxiety tends to “spike” during moments of transition and stress, like getting engaged, getting married, starting graduate school, or being too busy. I find that if I let myself get away from self-care and doing the work of dismantling my fear, I gradually become more susceptible to the narratives that my anxiety weaves around me. It’s really astounding how much anxiety can cloud your perception when it’s at it’s peak. It’s constant work to manage it, but I feel grateful for having found some lifelong tools to do actually do the work. Thank you for all of your dedication, empathy, and wisdom over the years!

  • Alexis

    Sheryl- is it common to be both terrified of “losing feelings” for your partner but also terrified that my partner, who also has relationship anxiety, will lose feelings for me? It’s a very odd paradigm and I am struggling with how to deal with the fear of my partner walking away. It’s much easier to work on my own anxiety because it lives in me but it’s harder to realize that in someone else

  • Frances

    Checking this blog on a Sunday night is one of the highlights of my week. I love wondering what you’ll write about next 🙂 thanks, Sheryl.

    I’m feeling fine lately and haven’t been doing as much inner work, but focusing on what I’d like to achieve creatively in my evenings after work. Is this okay? It feels funny to not be quite as engaged here, but I suppose there are other positive things to put my energy into right now.

    • How would you answer that question? 😉

      • Frances

        Hmmmmmm…haha

        I guess I would say that it’s wise to keep doing inner work in some small way; which I do as I am quite naturally more connected to myself now. However, I know I can also be quite addicted to it so it’s important to reflect on how I’m doing and choose how much or little to engage in actual WORK (like journaling, reading this site, reading your book recommendations, watching course videos). I’d also remind myself that any nourishing activity is inner work.

  • MLoves

    But I feel really unhappy in my relationship at the moment…but there aren’t any red flags….

  • Shelby

    It has been years since I have been on your blog! A few years ago my husband (boyfriend) at that time had just had surgery. A couple weeks after my life spiraled and I became depressed and filled with anxiety. It took me months to be able to handle it and get out of the funk I was in. My anxiety when it creeps in makes me think about my ex (I think I have a lot of unresolved things with him) and I think about others I have dated, friends I have lost, basically it takes me back to my past and sends me on a whirlwind of all of my mistakes. When my anxiety makes me overthink those things I then worry and feel bad wondering why I am even thinking about any of it in the first place because it’s not fair to my husband. Well for the past couple of years the only anxiety I have experienced has been social, until last week. One morning I just woke up with anxiety and have had it for the past week every single day just thinking on my past. A few weeks ago we had to move in with my mother to pay off debt and save for a house of our own. So I’m not sure if it’s just this hard situation we are in that has triggered it? I’m in love and adore my husband and never want to be without him. But it’s so weird how anxiety creeps in and tells me I’m not worthy of him, and that I only deserve how my ex treated me. We are also trying to get pregnant and have been unsuccessful and so that might be playing a part as well. I love all of your insight and it helps me to realize I’m not actually crazy!

  • growinglove

    Hi Sheryl.

    I have an issue.. so I feel like I do want to do the work etc to feel better about my relationship. However feel this is difficult because of the family that I come from. I and British born, but my parents aren’t. We have a barrier in the sense that they are less willing to understand things where as I am more open. A lot of my life they have used south Asian culture as a way to define my life, one being that because I’m a girl I cannot be out late. I am 22, and have lived in fear of the what if with them for very long. I make sure I am home by 9pm latest, and if I am out with my partner, then I am panicking around 7.30/8pm about getting home on time because of the harsh words I will hear from my parents if I come home any later (even though I should be allowed. But even 9pm is a problem for them, if anything I have pushed my curfew times little by little but can’t seem to get past 9 lol). I don’t trust anyone in my family due to betrayal etc. And all these things affect my relationship with my partner a lot. We can’t do things a normal couple would do, I can’t hold his hand in public due to fear of someone reporting it back to my parents (it’s hidden from them as relationships aren’t allowed unless you’re getting married). So they don’t even know I have someone who I love… but I feel so trapped because of the fear, tension and arguments in the house. I cannot make the harder choice of leaving my family, that is too much to bear because they will abandon me and never look back at me again (my Dad has a similar situation of cutting ties with one of his family members who has now passed). But these things are stopping me from growing and learning… and making my own mistakes. The world has been painted out to be such a scary place to me.. I grew up with an incredibly emotionally distant father, and a mother who would copy his actions due to fear of him. But I do love them, it just seems I cannot feel happy at all anymore and it’s bothering me and my progress with the Break Free (ironic) course. Sigh. Sorry to ramble. X

    • growinglove

      I am British*.

      What makes this even harder is the jealousy I am beginning to feel when my friends and partner, are able to be out as late as they want and still come home to fairly happy parents. I start to distance from my friends if I realise they’ve been out late, especially my best friend because she never used to and now this year she has been coming home 11pm or later. Even 1am. To me this sounds like a luxury. I once came home at 10pm and heard my dad saying “it’s like they want me to commit suicide!”, a lot of harsh things that seemed so unreasonable for me just innocently having dinner with my boyfriend. I feel as if the restrictions are getting worse the more I try and push them, but I just can’t live like this anymore. I’ve had an honest conversation with my Mum, about how I feel. And she seemed sympathetic until an argument the other day where she used it against me. Needless to say, I know I have been emotionally abused by my parents from a young age. I just don’t know what decision I can make that keeps me happy and comfortable- because the options that arise in my head seem rather complex and consequential.

  • cam

    I have been seeing some one for the last 8 week. It is complicated because i know he still has feelings for his ex. But i have been trying to build a friendship as such because i really value him as a person. We had an argument via text (a terrible way to discuss anything) but it basically ended with me in tears over him saying “You need ..constant.. validation. Its exhausting”. It really hit me in a very sensitive spot because naturally being anxious i am scared that i do constantly ask for validation. Since the fight even though he said he had behaved badly and was sorry i haven’t been able to discuss this statement because i feel like its me needing validation again. I see him differently now and i can’t tell if its because im focusing in on what he said or that what he said is a red flag?

  • Sandra

    Hi Sheryl, I have nearly completed relationship anxiety course for first time. Just wondering if guilt and regret re previous long term marriage and your adult children not accepting new partner are hooks for anxiety? How should I deal with them? I haven’t found these words mentioned.

  • Ishani

    MY RELATIONSHIP ANXIETY HAS BEEN SINCE LAST 2 YRS CONTINUOUSLY.IS THIS NORMAL?

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