Who Sits at the Head of Your Table?

In last week’s post, I wrote about the essential task of attending to our four realms of Self in order to find wellness and equanimity, and that in order to do this we need to have a loving, competent and clear inner parent at the helm of psyche. Just as kids feel safe when there’s an attuned parent sitting at the head of the metaphoric dinner table, so our inner characters – our Anxiety, Judgement, Fear, Jealousy, Critic, Taskmaster, Good Girl/Boy – feel safe when there’s a loving, clear, attuned parent at the head of the table of psyche.

Just as a loving outer parent listens to and honors a child’s needs yet pushes them past their comfort zone when necessary, so a loving inner parent brings compassion and intense curiosity to our inner world while making sure that we don’t fall into the realm of indulgent pain.

Just as a loving outer parent carves out time to drop down into the present moment and connect eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart with their child without distraction, so the inner parent recognizes how essential it is to create long pauses in the otherwise run-on sentence of our increasingly fast and busy days so that she or he can listen with full presence to what’s needed. This means that phones are turned off or placed in another room. It means that we hush the voices – the work, the calls, the emails, the bills – that pull us away from the dropped-down time of presence. We cannot feel safe, loved, or worthy if the parents in our lives – both outer and inner – forget how to listen.

In addition to listening and holding, the loving, wise parent is the part of ourselves that sets boundaries and limits. It’s the part that says “yes” to this (yes, I’m going to exercise now even though I don’t “feel” like it) and “no” to that (no, I’m not going to drink alcohol tonight because I know it will cause me to wake up feeling anxious tomorrow). It’s the part that can make decisions and trust those decisions.

Who sits at the head of your table? Is it Fear? Anxiety? Judgement? The following common statements can indicate that you’re struggling to invite a solid, loving wise parent to sit at the head:

  • What if I start to feel my sadness and pain and I fall into a deep depression? In other words, what if the sadness takes over and I can’t get out of it?
  • What if I take one of Sheryl’s courses and I learn that I have to leave my loving, wonderful partner?
  • I just heard about a couple who separated. What if that’s my story?
  • If I have a thought it must be true. If I have a feeling I have to act on it.
  • What if I have an affair?
  • What if I’m gay?

When you have a loving parent at the head of the table, you can feel your difficult feelings – sadness, jealousy, disappointment, anger, frustration, loneliness, boredom – without being swallowed by them. With a clear parent at the helm, you can learn about relationship anxiety and trust that the ultimate choice about whether you leave or stay is yours and yours alone; in other words, if you don’t want to leave your loving relationship then don’t! Likewise, while there are many things in this life that are beyond our control, having an affair is entirely within your control. If you don’t want to have an affair, don’t have one. When you trust that you have an adult driving the car, you know that your thoughts are simply thoughts and that there’s a cavernous divide between thoughts and actions.

How do you strengthen your Wise Self? As with all inner parts, it’s like a muscle, which means that the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Every time you consciously recognize that you acted from a place of clarity and wisdom, your inner parent becomes stronger. In fact, it’s the recognition itself that strengthens this muscle, for just as kids need their caregivers and mentors to witness and acknowledge their intrinsic gifts and strengths, so do our inner characters need to be acknowledged. Every time you engage in inner work of any kind, you strengthen your inner parent. Every time you exercise even when you don’t “feel” like it or move toward your partner despite the fear-walls that try to keep you separate, the inner parent grows stronger.

A concrete exercise that can grow your inner parent is to begin to regularly and consciously name the other characters in your psyche that vie for the position at the head of a table. I recommend drawing a long rectangle on a piece of paper, write “Loving, wise Self” at the head, and fill in the rest of the seats with the supporting cast members of your inner world, the parts  that make a lot of noise: Fear, Loneliness, Judgement, Arrogance, etc. When you engage with any of these parts, you do so with the resolute commitment to keep your Parent at the head of the conversation. We make room for Judgement, but we don’t let it run the show. We explore the churning waters of Fear while the Parent holds the tether on solid shore.

Many people who find their way to my work believe that they don’t have an inner parent at all, yet when I ask them if they’re able to offer sound advice and a compassionate ear to friends or family members, the answer is unanimously yes. If you can listen to others, you can listen to yourself. If you can access a voice of wisdom and clarity for others, you can find that same place inside yourself. But because you likely learned to externalize your sense of Self and rely on others for reassurance and guidance from an early age, this muscle has grown weak. Now it’s time to strengthen it so that you can sit at the head of your table without fear of the parade of thoughts, feelings, characters, and decisions that define a human life. For it’s not the thoughts or feelings that create the problems; it’s how we respond. It’s the inner parent that chooses how to respond, and it’s that one micro-moment that makes the difference between becoming caught in the undertow of anxiety or finding freedom.

How have you strengthened your Inner Parent? Who are the characters that sit at your table of psyche? I invite you to share in the comments section below.

90 comments to Who Sits at the Head of Your Table?

  • Lisa

    Hi Sheryl,
    Great article, this ties in very nicely with what I’ve learnt in the break free course so far. At the moment, I’m using these tools everyday. When my anxiety kicks in asking ‘what if you’d rather be single’ or ‘what are you missing out on’ I immediately call it out by saying ‘this is my ego needing certainty’ and won’t engage any further. Then I’m thinking to myself ‘it’s ok to think these things and it’s okay to wonder and be scared, but we’re staying regardless because it’ll help us grow’
    I hope this is the right way to go about it 🙂

    • If it breaks the anxiety cycle then it’s “right”. What you’re doing is addressing the cognitive distortion that falsely believes that those thoughts mean that you’re in the wrong relationship as opposed to understanding that they’re linked to our need for certainty. This is an essential piece of inner work.

      • Lisa

        I’ve been trying to see it this way but what still confuses me is that I actually think the relationship is perfectly fine, but the timing isn’t. I guess what my head is trying to make me believe is : if you went to travel or did XYZ and came back into the relationship it’d be different
        Does this qualify as thinking I’m in the wrong relationship?
        When someone thinks they’re in the wrong relationship don’t they just wish for certain things in their partner that aren’t there? I don’t really do any of that, my anxiety is all about ‘not being ready’

        • What’s stopping you from traveling while you’re in the relationship?

          • Lisa

            Nothing really, we’re actually traveling together this summer. I think for the child in me a serious relationship means missing out, growing up and having to be responsible. It doesn’t want to grow up and just go back to the old ways and old single times which were fun. My adult self wants this relationship but part of me wants time to stand still. My mom had me quite young and had to make a lot of sacrifices I guess. When my anxiety is very bad I feel a lot of FOMO as well.

  • agnes

    I have JUST posted about this on the TY forum and I have literally just put down Inner Work by Mr. Johnson in order to type this comment! Sometimes you’re spooky, Sheryl. I’ve realised that while I am very aware of what goes on in my mind, I’m not at all aware of who these images represent in my psyche. I intend to try Active Imagination tonight, so I may post back here with my discoveries. Though I don’t want to fall into the trap of pressuring myself.

    A really succinct quote from the book which helped me to really get your dialogue technique was this – “Active Imagination: to personify an unseen content of the unconscious and bring it to the surface, in image from, so that you can dialogue with it and deal with it.” p.143

    As I have shared some of my deepest concerns with you, I’m sure you understand that I am quite scared of what I might find. I’m worried about the words I may have to type in order to deal with this part of me, and what it might say.

    • Hang tight, agnes. A post on your specific intrusive thought is in the works and I’ll likely publish it next week. And that’s a great quote from Inner Work; I’m so glad you’re reading it ;).

      • agnes

        Oh, bless you, Sheryl 🙁 part of me is glad to read this and another part of me is very apprehensive. I seem to be the only person here that talks about it, so the comments will be interesting. I’m scared about what I might learn about myself. Though the very fact that I am here looking for help perhaps leans on the side of the answer I want.

  • I’m a firm believer that we need models for what a healthy inner parent sounds like, and how it feels to be treated lovingly, especially if we didn’t have that growing up. I had a lot of shame around saying, “I don’t know how to do that.” So I’d say, if you don’t know how, to look outside yourself and identify who in your life could serve as a surrogate as you strengthen your own voice.

    • Fantastic suggestion, Sarah. It is, indeed, very difficult to know what a loving parent looks like if we’ve never seen one yet when we look around we can find role-models in our immediate world.

      • I will also add that if you didn’t have adults in your life growing up that modeled what it looks like to take loving care of oneself (as most people don’t), it can take a long time to grow this part of yourself, so patience and compassion are key. I remember when we first moved into this house and I had the opportunity to grow a real garden for the first time in my life, someone said to me, “It takes seven years to grow a garden.” I had no idea what that meant, but now, nearly nine years later, it makes perfect sense to me. I stumbled and failed and experimented and felt hopeful and then hopeless then hopeful again until finally the pieces started to fall into place and last year, for the first time, we had a beautiful, bountiful garden (and there’s still SO much room for growth). I love gardening, but I didn’t grow up learning about it so it’s taken me a long time to figure this out. It’s the same with growing our inner Loving Parent; you will stumble around and fail and grow and learn until one day you realize that something feels different inside: you feel more solid, more secure, more confident. This doesn’t happen in a literal “one day”, of course (that only happens in Hollywood), but in spirals and layers and fits and starts. But we stay at it because we taste the fruits of our labor and we trust that the more we water these healthy plants, the more they will grow. This is how it goes with all gardens, literal and metaphoric.

  • LovingKindness

    Hi Sheryl!!

    I love reading your weekly blogs. I loved them before but since starting TY and getting to “meet” you I feel like you are speaking directly to me!

    I love the idea of the exercise you suggested – I think to make it more beneficial for me, I might draw each character and tap into my creativity 🙂

    I’m really grateful to finding your work: without it, I would not be procrastinating studying for my Master’s final by exploring my creativity, like today by photographing the wildflowers (weeds, as some might call them) in my yard, or by scrolling through Pinterest getting wedding ideas…. :P. But seriously, I would not be here in this wonderful space without your work. I am excited that I am now able to NOTICE who is at the helm of my Self. I might buy into the anxiety first, but I have a much clearer sense of what is my true Self and what is my Wounded Self. That moment of noticing is feeling more and more natural.

    I have been practicing exercising my Inner Parent since starting Trust Yourself by stopping myself from asking others what I should do about something. Even if it’s something small, I tend to vocalize my doubt on what I should do and look to someone for an answer. Since stopping that, and stopping my reassurance seeking with friends, it’s been really helpful.

    One question – the link for “What if I have an affair?” appears to be broken. Do you have that link?

    Thanks!

    LK

    • It’s been wonderful to “meet” you on the Trust Yourself course as well! Like Sarah’s suggestion above, this is another fantastic, practical suggestion for a way to strengthen your inner parent:

      “I have been practicing exercising my Inner Parent since starting Trust Yourself by stopping myself from asking others what I should do about something. Even if it’s something small, I tend to vocalize my doubt on what I should do and look to someone for an answer. Since stopping that, and stopping my reassurance seeking with friends, it’s been really helpful.”

      Oops, yes that’s a broken link as I keep forgetting that I took that post off my site when I included it in the Break Free program. I think you’re a part of that program as well, yes? You should be able to find it there.

  • Mr_B

    Hi Sheryl,

    One way that I strengthen my ‘inner parent’ is that when I fall into a flurry of questions the ‘what if’s’, a almost a higher self steps in/inner parent, and quickly recognizes this as the Ego.. then once I have identified this it subsides 🙂

    I also spend the time on myself to work through feelings and address issues that are actually just part of being human. I guess in some ways I show myself greater humanity.

    That seems to help me, among other tools (meditating, journalling, prayer and reading).

    Hope this helps someone.

    Mr B

  • SR

    Sheryl, this practice is a great supplement to the innerwork I have been doing lately allowing love to seep into the rejected parts of myself. It can be challenging at times to acknowledge these parts of ourselves without them stepping up to the forefront. At my table I have the Loving Parent/Compassion, and seats for Fear/Worry, Not Enoughness, the Overachiever/Know-It-All/People Pleaser, Anger, Confusion/Doubt, and Sadness.

    On another note, I dove into a few exercises from The Conscious Bride Wedding Planner yesterday. I had an instance last week when I tried on my wedding dress for the first time as I ordered it online from Etsy, and the moment I put it on I felt overwhelmed by nervousness, and a feeling of being ugly, of not good enough for the dress. It was a good reminder for me to return to the inner work of the engagement. I spent a good portion of yesterday journaling my feelings/experiences, and spelling out my fantasies about marriage, life, the dress, and wedding, and I got huge insight, and peace. When I read through my fantasy about an ideal partner, all the attributes actually described how I am. I am my ideal partner! This was revelatory and beautiful to me, and before I step into a union with my fiance, I first and foremost am focusing on a marriage and love with myself. I can see how this will take a lot of the pressure off my fiance to meet my needs and allow him to be just as he is. I also saw how some of my other fantasies were related to revisiting my childhood, and the resistance to let go of my singlehood and the adventures I have had with my independence. It is giving me a chance to honor where I’ve come from, and consciously realize that my adventures and travels do not have to end just because I am getting married.

    Anyhoo, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your wisdom and tools with all of us. It is really helping, and very empowering.

  • growinglove

    I think in a lot of ways I am stuck in my story. I acknowledge that I have suffered a lot of pain and hurt in the past from men and also my own parents and family, which is certainly a road block in my journey with my boyfriend. He’s kind and compassionate, as are many of the partners of the women who write on your blogs. I know my story isn’t much different from anyone else’s on here but I can’t get past hurting him because I’m hurt inside. I find it extremely hard to be self compassionate, growing up with an emotionally distant father and a sensitive submissive mother, has made it hard for me to comfort myself in times of pain. Majority of the time I feel numb and have some sort of inability to deal with my emotions, so I feel like I do not actually feel much, a lot of the time. When I hear “bad news”, I expect it and am no longer in shock. I hope I can exercise my inner parent, I really need it.

  • B

    I find that I have been having anxiety around death lately and not having enough time. I feel that I’m on a journey, but I’ve been getting so anxious lately that I could die any minute that it makes me panic. I know it takes time to build a loving adult, but what if I die tomorrow and never had time to build that?

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thanks so much for this blog! Taking your time for us, its most appreciated.
    Finding the inner parent can be tricky at times. I guess its a matter of wanting and taking the time to sit with myself and close my eyes. As you know i dont have my own kids, but me and my husband are looking into adopting, We are excited, nervous. We are scared about becoming first time parents which is normal. We both suffer anxiety and i really dont want to pass our anxieties to our child. Its something that our hearts and souls desire. We hope fostering and adoption wont be a very long process. Too many rules for such an important topic, “Our children” .. who need a loving, nurturing and supportive home. I dont think that will be too much to ask. Hoping there wont be any problems. We are not rich people but we have alot to offer children who dont have the important things in life.?

  • Sue

    I’m happily married fro 36 years. I have a wonderful husband who understands my anxiety and depression. Who loves me despite it. And knows – more than I do – that “this, too shall pass”.
    I’ve lived with anxiety for so long. I have read much about anxiety, work with a music therapist and a spiritual director. And I’m still lost on the quagmires of anxiety.
    I made the table and placed my cast of characters around it. They’re all stronger than Loving Wise Self.
    This is so hard.
    Sue

  • Han

    Hi Sheryl,

    Even before your invitation at the end of this post I was thinking about sharing my experiences. I feel like I have made some large personal strides when it comes to relationship anxiety in the last few months. I had been having near debilitating anxiety over my relationship for months prior to my wedding, and then again for many months after my wedding because I didn’t do the inner work. I started seeing a counsellor a few months after my wedding and then finally purchased your course (although I knew about it for a long time) which has helped me recenter myself and find ways to navigate my mind when it’s filled with intrusive thoughts.

    I’ve been able to strengthen my inner parent by naming intrusive thoughts and being trusting of my husband whether or not I’m feeling trusting. Usually when anxiety hits it makes me feel like I don’t trust anyone, not even myself, but when I sit, breathe, and think about my intrusive thought from my loving parent’s perspective (meaning I allow myself to feel but I actively try not to attach to the feeling as best I can) I am able to see truth and move past it much quicker. Identifying the intrusive thought and then bringing truth to that thought has been effective for me when paired with open honesty with my partner. When I go to my husband and say “hey, I’m not feeling the greatest right now. I think it’s because my anxiety is making me fear _______”, we talk about it and then my anxiety usually subsides or at least lessens. My husband is so supportive and always responds so lovingly, which helps so much. Each time I reach out and trust, my trust in him and myself is strengthened, and anxiety’s hold on me weakens. I still have the thoughts, but they are no where near as potent as they used to be. By stepping back and looking at these thoughts objectively, I am often able to see patterns in them that identify parts of my wounded self that need healing.

    By meditating when I feel anxious, and by being honest and accountable to myself and my partner, I have gotten to a much better place in my relationship with anxiety. I know it’ll never go away, but I am getting to a point where I feel it is manageable. At my table I have fear, anxiety, and a lack of self worth sitting by my parent, who is getting better every day at acknowledging pains and fears without relinquishing her leadership at the head of the table, only because I am always doing the work in small ways every day. Thank you for all you do Sheryl. It’s been a life saver.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Han. You’re doing great work on yourself and taking the necessary steps that lessen anxiety’s stronghold. I love this: ” Each time I reach out and trust, my trust in him and myself is strengthened, and anxiety’s hold on me weakens.”

  • Katie

    Katie
    APRIL 29, 2017 AT 3:29 PM · REPLY
    I’ve had abit of a funny head for a few days and I’ve been doing what I shouldn’t be and been googling about ROCD and lost feelings. I came across this other apparent ROCD site and the guy said to basically ask yourself if you love your partner and answer it quickly without even thinking, I was already having the whole “I don’t love him” thoughts and then I did what the guy said and because I automatically answered “no” it’s now made me think that’s my truth. Or is it because I was in an anxious state? I know I’m looking to get your break free course but I’m scared, I’m scared it’s my truth. When I slowly start to accept that you won’t feel love 24/7 like I thought you was supposed to, my head tells me I’m wrong and that I should be feeling love.. I’m always checking my feelings, I feel guilty for having these thoughts, I look at him and sometimes I just wanna burst out crying saying “I’m sorry” because he doesn’t deserve any of this, he doesn’t deserve me having these horrible unwanted thoughts. He loves me so so much and I know he does and I just want to be able to feel the feelings back. I keep thinking that because I’ve been with him near on a year and a half that I should know by now 100% that I love him and I should FEEL it. Especially as we are looking to buy a house together. I want to be with him though, I don’t want anybody else. I want my life with him. But I also feel that I should feel love? Today I’ve had the odd few minutes of cuddling my partner and feeling warm and happy.. I also got offered a new job and my head was like “what if I meet someone new there and start liking them” 🙁

    • I strongly, highly encourage you to get the course, Katie. I know you’ve been deliberating for months, but if you want to break through this debilitating anxiety you need to start working daily with the tools that I teach there.

      • Katie

        Can I ask what does it teach? Me and my partner are obviously looking to buy a house together this year so I feel like I can’t buy the course at the moment as that could be money towards a home. I’m also scared I’d work through it and find out that all these thoughts I’ve been having is my truth.. it’s just the one main thing I struggle with and that’s about thinking love is a feeling. & if you don’t feel it then it’s not love etc.. I have noticed that the thoughts are always worse or arise when I’m annoyed, tired, having a bad day etc

    • Krista

      Hi Katie!

      I just want to let you know i have been there! Its sounds like fear is controlling you right now. You know what you really want. When I get in my fear spiral I notice how I feel, racing heart, anxious, tingling fingers, NUMB. My boyfriend and I bought a house last year and I went through the same thing! I gave these thoughts energy for 2 years feeling so much guilt that I didn’t feel in love enough that I actually WOULD end up crying, confessing my thoughts, and apologizing to him because I felt he didn’t deserve me. He stuck through it with me. Then I took a step back and realized that fear was talking. Its so difficult to do in the moment, especially when fear is in control but you have to name it for what it is and it will eventually pass. Wishing you the best!

  • J

    Fantastic article. Many of us on here identify as having OCD. Steven Phillipson, a psychologist and OCD expert, says much the same things as you do in his article ‘Choice’: https://media.wix.com/ugd/f87cc1_d1904df30a1d4beba1c0eee6084c257d.pdf

    I know you don’t talk in terms of ‘disorders’, but I think the basic principle is the same: we need to take responsibility for who is driving our car!

    • Yes, the principles are the same.

      • Shannon

        Hi there,

        I spent quite a lot of time yesterday reading and reflecting on the article at the link provided there, and I will say that so much resonated with me. It definitely calls to my mind the “Whack-A-Mole” entry that Sheryl posted a ways back. (http://conscious-transitions.com/anxiety-is-a-game-of-whack-a-mole/)

        As is stressed in the academic piece above, the content of the obsession is completely irrelevant–and rather, it’s the pattern of behavior that needs addressing. Because, as Sheryl mentioned in the “Whack-A-Mole” entry, the theme inevitably changes but the thinking pattern remains the same.

        In some ways, this idea provides me immense relief, as I am able to recall how many other absurd obsessions I’ve allowed to flourish over the years. And while the monster of the moment seems quite scary, a simple conversation with your significant other/friend/family member about the theme can really dilute the guilt suffered around having whatever these thoughts are (i.e., pedophilia, ROCD, harm OCD, etc.). If your significant other is anything like mine, he/she will likely call to light the triviality of the thoughts and call them out for being just that–thoughts!

        • Well said, Shannon. Thank you.

          • Shannon

            Thank YOU for housing this amazing network, and sharing your incredible guidance and insights! I am getting married in three weeks and I am 100% certain that I’d not be able to get to this place without the buoy of your counsel along the journey.

            Another great article by the same author–and even more poignant for those among us with “relationship anxiety”–is here: https://www.ocdonline.com/i-think-it-moved

            I know, Sheryl, that you prefer not to speak in terms of disorders, but sometimes allowing yourself the diagnosis is liberating, as if there is something truly misfiring that is beyond my control when left untreated. (And that’s where the hard work comes in!)

          • Some people feel contained by a diagnosis and others feel spiked by it. This is where self-trust and self-knowledge comes in!

          • Shannon

            Makes sense! For me, it’s definitely reassuring…! Curious if you’ve read the second article I mentioned above and what your reactions would be 🙂 The second page focuses on some common themes in your own writing… awesome stuff.

  • blual

    I’d like to ask about the feeling of hate in a relationship. Hope I won’t shock people here. My problem is I feel lots of hate or anger for no reason. First I thought it’s because I don’t like the guy too much but I’m afraid it’s more than that, it’s some kind of basic ambivalence. I wonder if this can be overcome. Sometimes I feel hate can be melted, other times I think i’m just like that, i’m neurotic and nothing can change this.
    I’d be interested in Sheryl’s opinion (or anyone who knows something on this subject).

    I’d like to clarify that i don’t have problems getting close to someone, i get intimate very easily, it’s after a while that the hate (and strong anxiety) comes up.

  • Ryan Flick

    A tool that worked well for me in the beginning of this was finding a picture of myself as a child and caring it around, or keeping to by my bed or something. Every time I was having anxiety, I would look at this picture and think of my inner self as this little boy. What did he need to hear? Are most children’s fears irrational? Yes, but they need to feel protected, they need truth, and they need to be comforted. The more time I spent parenting myself, the less I felt the anxiety, and the little child needed less attention. He still lives in me, but he’s becoming more confident and trusts what I say more and more.

  • Krista

    Hi Sheryl!

    I absolutely needed to read this article and I thank you for all the amazing work you continue to do. I have struggled with relationship anxiety for quite some time and I have had a great inner parent at the head of the table who was not allowing for fear to take over for quite some time so I thought I had this all under control. Until last week, when I was working out and my dog who I love with my whole heart was sitting behind me and I had a quick thought of “what if I hurt him?” and then fear, judgement, anxiety, all wreaked HAVOC. Since then I have found myself crying uncontrollably, feeling numb, distant, and SO MUCH GUILT for thinking that thought. I do exactly what I’m not supposed to do, try to push it away and it just makes it stronger. My boyfriend and I leave for a cruise this week and I am so concerned with “feeling better” that I’m not even as excited as I want to be. I know this stems from an underlying fear of loss but wow when fear is at the head of the table I feel my world is crumbling apart.

    • Fear does seem to slide in and out of the driver’s seat, but I fully trust that your inner parent will find a way to slide back in. See if you can hold that fear of loss and wrap it up in your compassion. Cry through it, write through it, give it creative expression and it will move through.

      • Krista

        Hi Sheryl,

        Thank you so much for your response. When I name it for what it is and don’t give the thought energy, I end up balling my eyes out because I know where it all stems from. Its amazing how much fear can take over when you let it. I appreciate all that you do!

  • Katie

    I think aswell that when I start to feel okay, I then feel like I’m made to think that I’m just lying to myself and I’m not being fair on my boyfriend, it’s like there’s a voice in my head saying “stop pretending that you’re okay and you love him, you need to stop being unfair to him, he loves you so much and you don’t” 🙁 makes me so sad, he does love me so much. He tells me all the time and it’s the “so much” part that spikes me. I don’t want to lose him though, but then I feel guilty and feel like he deserves to be someone who is certain of their feelings for him. He is the most amazing person. I feel sad for him. I do think “what if I stay with him forever and I’m forever having all these thoughts” that’s not fair on him is it? Surely he doesn’t deserve that? He deserves love. But I don’t want to let him go, I want to be the one giving him love, losing him isn’t an option right now and I don’t want it to ever become one. I am just struggling with the whole “love is a feeling” and “you know you love them when you feel it, if you can’t feel it then it isn’t love” 🙁 but I’m always naturally loving to him, rubbing his back, always wanting cuddles, always wanting to give him a kiss, I’ll be out shopping somewhere and see something that I’d know he like and I’ll get it for him, I always think what I can get him when I’m out shopping, I’ve even got him a little card a few months ago thanking him for being there for me with my head thoughts etc. I want a home with him, kids and marriage. But Can I do all that without FEELING love?

    • blual

      i too got a boyfriend who is very in love with me but i’m not that much with him and i get very stressed when he tells me that and i feel i cannot answer the same way. Maybe I could be more in love with someone who meets all my criteria but i’ve got just him in the moment.
      Sometimes it’s enough, i am happy i have somebody for whom i feel these (little) feelings and share a nice connection. Sometimes it is not. I guess it depends on what you want. If you want to be with him u can grow to appreciate the things you have, the feelings you have. It’s not sure you can have more in the future with somebody else. Or u know you can?
      We have to explore and learn, i guess. But I got a little less keen on exploring with age and the experience of anxiety and conflict i get in all relationships.

      • Katie

        I don’t know why you’re comment spiked me a little. I don’t want to have more with anyone else, I only want my boyfriend, I did have the love feelings what everyone seems to call infatuation, but they faded over a year ago and since then Ive had all these intrusive thoughts but I’ve also had the moments where I’ve felt warm and happy and my head has said “I do love him”

      • Katie

        And aswell in regards to your comment, you said “I’ve got a boyfriend who is very in love with me and I’m not that much with him” I can’t sit there and say my feelings aren’t the same for my boyfriend because I’ve had those days where I haven’t had any intrusive thoughts and I’ve seen my boyfriend through clear eyes and not fear eyes. I refuse to allow my answer to be that I don’t love him, im not willing to give up on someone who is so important to me and the best thing that’s happened to me. I don’t want to imagine a future without my man.

  • Ali

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I was just reading through some of your past blog posts and came across the one on “How to Find a Therapist”. Do you, Sheryl (or anyone else), know of a therapist who is familiar with your work in the Phoenix area? Thanks 🙂

  • growinglove

    Can someone please shed some light on this? I’ve been suffering with relationship anxiety since October 2016. It started off with all the typical symptoms and signs: numbness, anxiety etc. Anyways now it has become steadily worse, I have become very critical of my boyfriend and when that calms down I see that I become increasingly stressed. I also don’t feel ‘present’, in a lot of ways I feel like I’m not actually living though I know I’m alive. I feel like I am finding it very hard to function. I feel distant when we are sexually intimate, and I feel distant pretty much 24/7. I’m very scared of how I feel. I can literally feel the stress in my head at the moment. I don’t know how to help myself, even just thinking about self compassion gives me more anxiety. I’m scared there’s no way out.

    • Sophie

      Hi, just read this post and want to send you so much love. I trust you love yourself deeply and can connect with your soul/inner well of love, security, compassionate, understanding, forgiveness, tolerance, all positive energies of love and above. If suits you, I invite you to ask God/Angels/the universe to hold you dearly and tenderly and take away all your fear. Brightest blessings to you. I love you xx

  • Joanna

    Love this post Sheryl! Thank you for your work and all you do. I love this table example as it makes me see who I need to sit back at the head of the table and kick fear and anxiety to the side 🙂

  • Katie

    I’ve got this app called “better help” with therapists and that on there and the one that’s speaking to me at the moment asked me if back when me and my partner broke up, where I was a mess for 5 days and on the day we got back together I felt like I was calmer and started to accept it, she’s asked me if a part of me left my relationship there and now that’s spiked me 🙁

    • I would advise being very careful who you talk to, Katie. Most people, including therapists, don’t understand relationship anxiety.

      • Katie

        I literally feel like I’m at breaking point. I was reading through some of your blogs earlier as I have a diary and have every single blog written down and once I’ve read it I cross it out but I also write down pointers that stand out to me. I was also reading the comments and someone called soph was experiencing the exact same as me now. I was feeling okay and went to work and then when I got the message from the so called therapist it’s made me really bad, at work all that’s been going around in my head was “maybe a part of me did leave the relationship when he broke up with me, maybe I don’t really love him anymore” I just want to have a good cry. I’ve told my partner this. The thought of losing him makes me feel more sad than the thoughts itself. It’s so distressing. I think on Friday I’m going to purchase your break free course, I’m just really scared that I’m going to work through it and figure out at the end that all my thoughts are true and that I don’t love him.

        • Sending you a virtual hug, Katie. I know how painful this journey can be.

          • Katie

            It just makes me so sad that I’m with someone so amazing and someone I can have a loving happy life with and I’m here with thoughts in my head about wether I love him or not. It doesn’t seem fair. I just want to be happy and certain of my feelings.. I thought this was love..
            – feeling love 24/7
            – always missing them when you’re not with them
            – if you find another man attractive than you’re not that into your partner
            – if you can’t feel love then you don’t love them
            – doubt means don’t

            All the Hollywood description I thought was love. But I guess I don’t know what real love is but I want to learn

        • J

          Having been through the course, I can assure you that you will NOT find out that you ‘have to’ leave your partner!

          • Katie

            I don’t want to leave him, but I’m just struggling with the whole “I don’t love him” thoughts and because I don’t feel love as much anymore than what I did in our first few months of dating it makes me think that the thoughts real

  • futureself

    I love this post Sheryl. The visual of the table and all the characters really resonated with me. I am finding your work to be a lifeline to me. Making space for these other characters but not letting them run the show as of late has been how I am healing and growing. Loved this quote:

    “In fact, it’s the recognition itself that strengthens this muscle, for just as kids need their caregivers and mentors to witness and acknowledge their intrinsic gifts and strengths, so do our inner characters need to be acknowledged.”

  • Sonya

    It’s funny, I was thinking about my anxiety’s latest obsession this morning and was thinking I should call my Mum and talk to her about it as that usually calms me down (for a little while anyway). Then I read this post and started to think: If I was my Mum and I came to me with this problem, what would I say? And I find I’m able to give myself the advice, but I can’t really believe it, it’s so frustrating! I guess the loving inner parent’s there, but quite weak and easily overpowered by fear. Even now I really want to write here about my latest fear and get the answers from other people, because then I might be able to listen. But I know I will soon develop yet another obsession and have to go through the same process again, never really solving the real problem – even now I spiked myself! – because the real problem might be that you’re with the wrong partner, But I KNOW IT’S NOT! I just can’t listen to myself – this is hard!

    • You absolutely can and will listen to yourself; it just takes a lot of practice!

    • Ali

      I relate so strongly to your post Sonya. Everything you said about not being able to believe your own advice and fear taking over the inner, loving part of yourself is exactly what I struggle with too. And just as soon as one anxious thought or obsession subsides, another one pops up to take its place and I start all over again! I am re-visiting material from the Trust Yourself course I took a while back, and I get so frustrated with myself that even though everything makes perfect sense, it still takes me so long to “get it” and have it all really sink in!

  • K

    Many times, I think when we question “What is our truth”, our anxious minds are tuned to think of our truths as something dramatic and something that will throw your life out of gear. Because we view transformation to be external and hence we things our truths will entail big external shifts, a drastically new way of living that is far removed from where we are at present. I strongly feel these are just stories made up by the mind and preconceived naive notions of what a transformation means. Our anxious minds view transformation as external, namely a new job, new atmosphere, new city, new partner. And if those shifts happen, we will be happy. This is the fantasy of the anxious mind to escape its current suffering. But like Sheryl often says, most significant shifts are ones that are internal mostly without any need for any external changes. They are often ordinary realizations and not really dramatic. This is so difficult for the anxious mind to grasp as it is always looking outside for solutions projecting but all answers lie within. I struggle to internalize this simple truth and stop myself from projecting my anxiety to everything outside my being, a favorite ruminating topic being my relationship(because it is everything I have always wanted and i know that too. Typical fear of loss and ego trying to control outcomes). But I have to thank Sheryl and this beautiful community for the tons and tons of information, that helps bring clarity to thousands of people and help them live harmonious lives and not go on a self sabotaging spree. This is divine work and several of us are so indebted to you, Sheryl.

  • Katie

    I just sent this to my partner..

    “I just wanted to say that I hope you’re okay from last night. I understand it obviously cannot be easy for you when I talk to you about my head cause I understand it can’t be nice to hear but what I do need you to know is that it’s not you. You haven’t done and don’t do anything wrong. You’re amazing. It’s an issue with me & I don’t even know the core of it yet. Like I’ve said to you before, mines just based really around me thinking love is all feelings. & as I was saying last night it’s gone all in stages from “is it right being back together” that lasted a few months, “am I in love or do I just love him” lasted a few months, “do I love him as a boyfriend or a friend” lasted a few months, & then the worst one “I don’t love him” & ive had this one for a few months, but the fact I’ve had intrusive thoughts for over a year and I’m still with you must say something? Deep down I know I love you, I refuse to give up on you. It’s just a struggle within myself because I feel guilty having the thoughts but at the same time I can’t control them, & when I have days where I know I love you and I’m calm, it’s like the ROCD pops up and is like “stop lying to yourself” it’s just an internal struggle but it’s something I am willing to overcome and work through. Losing you is not an option. My portray of love is obviously wrong, nobody obviously feels love and butterflies 24/7 and that’s something I need to break from. At the end of the day, even on my worst days where I feel like I’m at breaking point and I feel like I have to let you go, I stay because that’s what I want. I want you and only you. I want my life with you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I know deep down I love you so fucking much. I’m gonna purchase the course on that website which has helped me quite a lot cause the therapist on there who specialises in relationship OCD said it would help a lot. I just worry that I’ll start it and realise that my thoughts are real but she has told me alongside other people on the site telling me, that most people who have done the course had the same fear that they would find out they didn’t love their partner, but not one person has had that happen. The fact I’m doing all this and refusing to give up shows my love for you. I just need to break free from Hollywood lies and learn about real love, & I want to learn all that with you. Just please don’t give up on me. As hard as it may be for you aswell, don’t leave me because of this 😪 I don’t ever wanna lose you. I love you loads xxxxxxxxxxx”

  • Katie

    Can I just ask a quick question sheryl? I’m reading your blog “The untrained mind” and I’ve come to the part where you mentioned about a guy you interviewed who suffered mainly from the thought “I’ve fallen out of love” and that he says “the thoughts and feelings don’t define whether or not I love her, what defines it is the actions” that has stood out a lot to me because even when I have my thoughts, I’m always doing loving actions. My boyfriend said to me last night when I told him I was struggling a little bit and he said “you don’t give off that impression though” basically he can’t tell when I’m having a bad day because I’m no different with him, which I’m guessing is a good thing? But I just wanted to ask, I’ve had horrible thoughts about his dad before when I’ve been annoyed regarding death and stuff (now I’d never want death upon anyone) my boyfriend knows this and I’ve only ever had this thoughts like 3 times, but I’ve also had times where I’ve acted off with his parents because perhaps they’ve annoyed me or something and we live with his parents ATM which is by far not easy. Does that mean I don’t love him because of how I’ve acted with his parents? Like if me and my partner have arranged to go out one evening and I hear his parents speaking about dinner, I make sure I rush down to let them know that me and my partner have plans. (I feel bad) and for example, there’s been times where I’ve felt really out of place living here and I’ve had a moan and my boyfriend or his sister deep down hoping that they’d stick up for me and say something to their parents which my boyfriend has done but then I feel guilty and feel like I’m causing problems with him and his parents? A part of me is glad that he’s sticking up for me but then a part of me feels bad?

    • agnes

      Ow Katie, you give yourself such a hard time! All of this is so normal. At the moment, I hate my partner’s mum in all honesty, but how I feel about her has nothing to do with how I feel about him. If you stick with Sheryl and this site, you will learn that it’s okay to make room for aaaallll the feelings. Feelings are just energy. It’s what we do that counts. The loving actions help to cultivate the nice feelings, but they don’t come immediately and we have to learn to surrender to them, which means allowing them to come and go. You’re at the very beginning of all of this, but you will learn with time. I really hope you do get Break Free, it really is brilliant. From how you speak about your partner it is very clear that you’re not going to learn that you have to leave and I know that doubt will pipe up there and say something like, “what what if it does, what if I’m the minority?” “but you don’t know me, you don’t know him, how can you say that!?” 🙂

      • Katie

        Thank you for your reply to my comment, it means a lot. I feel as though I had a little break through today so I’ve been feeling a little more positive about all of this. Can I ask you a question? In your opinion, is it normal in a relationship to not always have the loving feelings, I can go a few days without it and then one day I can get a glimpse of a sparkle. Is this normal in a real committed relationship?

  • Sheryl,

    I was hoping you could share some wisdom about a transition in a relationship that is coming up in my life. My boyfriend and I have decided that I’m going to move into his house with him. It has been in the works for awhile now, with a loose time frame of this summer. We have decided on July 1st, and I thought that when we decided the official date, I would have an anxiety spike; I was thrilled when I didn’t!
    However, now that the date is getting closer, my anxiousness is starting to come back. Nothing will really change that much, I’ve been “living” with him already for months (it has been months since I slept in my own apartment), the only difference is that all my stuff will be in his house, or our house. We’ve discussed a future engagement and wedding without any anxious bouts from me, but sometimes the thought just flares a wave of adrenaline in my stomach of anxiety. I believe perhaps what I’m feeling is not so much a fear of commitment, but maybe grief of the “single life” of not living with my partner? I know this is normal, but I was hoping you could shine some light on this stage of relationships and the anxiety that springs from this milestone.

    I really appreciate your help and all that you do Sheryl!

  • HannahR

    Hey sheryl

    I hope your well.

    Do you have any articles on grieving the single life? I always knew I had to grieve it but never really did anything about it much. Today, I felt awful anxiety over wanting attention from other men. I keep having day dreams about other men finding me attractive and being like ‘wow’ at me. It has scared me senseless to think ‘oh god now I’ve got to grieve the single life’ or it’s also a message to grieve the single life AND love me for me. I have no idea why I would want other men to find me really attractive and be infatuated by me. I guess I always felt like no man would ever feel that way about me.

    How do I get over this? I need to get over the single life and not care about this anymore. I just want to get on with my life and not mess up my relationship without all these thoughts 🙁

  • Katie

    I feel as though I’ve had a little glimmer of a break through with all this today. Today me and my partner went to the zoo, in the morning we were mucking around and play fighting which was nice, both laughing and smiling (I love moments like that with him), whilst we were in the car on the way to the zoo I thought to myself “it’s okay to not feel loving feelings all the time, even when I don’t have those feelings of love I know he is still the one I want to wake up next to and go to sleep next to every night, he is the one I want to be dressed in overalls with decorating our own home, he is the one that I want to be awake with in the early hours of the morning seeing to our baby, he is the one that I want to walk down the aisle to. I know I have love for him, it may not be “hollywoods” version of love with the butterflies 24/7 and always missing and thinking about him when I’m not with him but I love him in my own way. I am committed to him. I know we have such an amazing relationship which is also built on a friendship.. I don’t know if it’s normal to go days without having any feelings of love, but when I do get those glimpse of a sparkle I know that I love him. It’s okay to not always have those feelings, it’s okay to look at guys and think their attractive. Yeah I still have thoughts that make me feel like I’m lying and trying to convince myself I love him (which is my new thought), and when I’m at work I do wonder quite a lot of people are looking at me and find me attractive. But I know that my man is the only one I want, he is the only one who will receive my loving actions, and he is the one I want to learn about real love with.

  • Katie

    I’m confused. It seems as though “I don’t love him” thoughts have shifted after seeing things a little more clearly yesterday as I’ve stated in my above comment.. but today I seem to be overthinking everything. I work in a pub and I have noticed sometimes when I’m working (not all the time) if I see a atttavtive guy my head makes me think/feel that I’m always looking at them and that I’m having to force myself not to look, when I’m working I’ll sometimes think to myself “I wonder if they’re looking at me” and then even though I’m just doing my job it makes me feel like I’m trying to impress them when I’m not? I don’t even chat and have a laugh with the younger male customers because it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Yeah I find other guys attractive but I wouldn’t dare cheat on my partner or anything. I have no interest in being with another guy. I have noticed I find guys attractive in a different way than what I did when I was single, when I was single which I was for like 5 years, I used to love the attention and being abit of a flirt, if I saw an attractive guy I’d be like “wow” in my head and keep looking, now when I see an attractive guy I acknowledge in my head that they’re attractive but it’s not like an “wow” attractive if that makes sense. Is any of this normal?

  • Alexandra

    Hi, Sheryl!
    I hope you are well. I took TY a few years back and found it immensely helpful in uncovering my limiting beliefs and helping to nurture that inner parent that I know is there.

    I am wondering if you can suggest some more resources on the Wise Self. I took the Inner Bonding program and found it helpful, but I wasn’t able to get past some parts that didn’t sit well with me–for instance the dietary limitations (stuff like “if you eat sugar you won’t be able to vibrate on a high enough frequency to access your Higher Guidance.”) I still feel like the concept of inner bonding itself, or something similar, is the key for me, and what you’ve mentioned about Wise Self seems like a very fruitful path for me to follow as I continue to struggle with self confidence and emotional security.

    Thanks,
    Alexandra

  • P

    Hi Sheryl,
    I know my comment is a little late. I’m home with my 3 young daughters, my husband is away for business, and I feel a deep sense of loneliness and panic. So I searched through your site for something comforting and I found this article which is right on as usual.
    I am very familiar with these feelings, and In my earlier years I would deal with them by eating or staying in unwanted relationships, or just keeping so busy I don’t have time to feel…
    I’ve worked on this and thank Gd today I’m married to a wonderful and sensitive man. I think I’ve created a secure attachment with him, which I didn’t have with my parents (even though they were “present” physically, emotionally I don’t think they weren’t always…
    The problem is that I don’t feel like an adult. As long as my husband or parents are around, I feel good, strong and so confident. But the second I am alone (especially with my children), I feel insecure again, lonely, panicked, scared. This fear even prevents me from stepping out of the house! When I plan an activity that involves more than stepping out to the park, I overthink it, I get anxiety, I feel weak and nauseous, trouble breathing.
    It’s such a crazy feeing and I don’t know what to do about it. Plus I want to homeschool my kids but then I think I may not be fit for it.
    Can you recommend something, maybe a book or one of your courses?
    Thank you always,
    P

  • P

    I’ve taken: Break free from relationship anxiety, open your heart and trust yourself.
    I haven’t had a chance to complete all these courses. I go back and fourth. So feel free to refer me back to one of those!
    Thank you Sheryl

    • I would suggest that you go through either Break Free or Trust Yourself from beginning to end and commit to doing all of the exercises. Real change happens not from information but from practice; you need the information first but then you need to commit to one or two daily practices and do them for 10-15 minutes a day.

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