Deconstructing the Family Story

by | Jan 1, 2017 | Anxiety, Highly Sensitive Person, Relationships, Transitions - General | 56 comments

img_5359One of the essential spokes of the growth and healing wheel is being willing to see our parents clearly. As children, we almost have no choice but to see our parents as infallible heroes and gods, and many people continue to carry these fantasies into adulthood. But if we’re to know ourselves, which is essential to healing ourselves, we need to know where we come from. We need to be able to trace at least some of the lines of our negative patterns back to their origin.

This origin doesn’t always lie with our parents, of course. We are social beings and subject to many other sources of influence; siblings, peers, religion, and education all play a fundamental role in our development (as does temperament, personality type, and learning style). In fact, I’m often surprised and disheartened by how little attention these other factors – like sibling relationships – have received in terms of understanding our development of self. Likewise, we psychologically and culturally minimize the impact that a first breakup can have on our ability and willingness to love. From my work with clients I’ve learned that sometimes a seemingly minor event or interaction can cause the greatest pain. The sources of our wounds are many.

But the impact that not only our relationship with each individual parent but also our parents’ relationship with each other has on our belief system, sense of self-worth, and messages about intimate relationships cannot be denied. If we are to awaken from beneath the multi-layered blankets of slumber called fantasy, denial, and collusion that are necessary by-products of childhood (we often needed these defense mechanisms in order to retain any sense of self during our growing up years), we need to peel the protective layer off of the story we’ve told ourselves about our parents and our family and be willing to see the truth.

For just as there’s no perfect partner and no perfect job and no perfect city or house, there’s also no perfect childhood. Perfection simply doesn’t exist on this human realm. When I have a client who says, “I had a fantastic childhood. My parents were so loving and they have a great marriage and they were so good to us,” my ears prick up. It’s not that I don’t believe that all of those things were and are true. But it’s not the whole picture. Parents are human, and every human on this planet has places of pain that, when unrecognized, are passed down to their kids in some way.

This isn’t about vilifying or blaming your parents; they were only passing down what was passed down to them. It’s simply about recognizing that for all the positive ways that they parented you, there were beliefs and messages that weren’t positive. As much as they may have learned to attend to their own pain and cognitive distortions that were handed down from their parents, there were inevitable blind-spots that rendered them incapable of seeing you fully or supporting your emotional life more compassionately. The truth is that most parents have no idea how to attend to their own or their kids’ “negative” emotions and instead pass down an emotional and psychological coat of arms that says something like, “I can’t handle your big feelings. Get over it. You will be loved if you’re good, which means successful and obedient and you don’t make too many waves.” Your awakening depends on identifying the values embedded your family’s coat of arms and deconstructing the story.

As we’re deconstructing the family story and we begin to see the intergenerational patterns, my clients will often ask, “How do I avoid passing on these patterns to my kids? I want to do it differently. How will I know when I’ve dealt with enough of my ‘stuff’ that I’m ready to have kids?”

My first response is, “It’s never enough,” by which I mean that we’re always learning, always growing, always shedding negative patterns and beliefs and stepping more fully into our wholeness. If we waited until we were fully healed we would never have kids. At forty-five, I have infinitely more wisdom about my own trigger-points and negative habits than I did at thirty-two when my first son was born. I’m healthier, our marriage is healthier, and I have no doubt that if we had our son today he would be healthier as well. But we had our son when we were meant to have him, and I trust that whatever negative traits, beliefs, and behaviors we’ve passed down him will be part of his own soul-path of healing and growing. I also trust that as I awaken and attend to deeper and deeper layers of my own defense mechanisms, my inner work and healing naturally ripples down to my kids. As I heal, they heal.

My second response is, “Just by asking that question, you’re psychologically ahead of most people who have kids.” In other words, when you set the intention of not repeating painful and unhealthy family patterns, you’ve already done a significant piece of the work. Awareness is the first step toward change.

My third response is to encourage my clients to keep doing their inner work and, if they haven’t done so already, to be willing to crack the polished veneer on the family story. There needs to be a willingness to shine a light into the dark spots, which are the places that your parents don’t want you to see or can’t see themselves. This takes courage, of course. But if you can’t see the patterns you can’t break the patterns, and every family has toxic intergenerational patterns that need to be illuminated and then healed in order to serve the next generation.

There are many common themes I see in my work with clients, particularly around the connection between family legacy and relationship anxiety. For example, if you come from a family who places a high premium on being extroverted, including social fluency and humor, and your partner is the quieter, more awkward type, it’s likely that your anxiety will hang its hat on that hook. The covert message that may have never been explicitly communicated is that those who are funny, socially comfortable, and the life of the party are respected more than those who tend toward the more introverted end of the spectrum. When an adult-child is still hooked into receiving their parents’ approval, their anxiety-stories gravitate toward their partner’s traits that don’t fall in line with the family value code.

Another common example: Many of my clients were raised by parents who had a clear expectation that their kids would be “successful” in terms of achievements and accolades. These are generally parents who pushed their kids not only to do well in school but filled their after-school hours with sports and activities. The message may never have been explicitly spoken, but it didn’t have to be; children of these well-meaning but misguided parents grow up believing that their self-worth is dependent on external success. This, of course, leads to a watery sense of self, which then leads to difficulty making decisions and self-doubt.

There are countless other examples I could give of how the family coat of arms is passed down, but what’s essential is that you start to become curious about your own family’s patterns. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re deconstructing the family story:

  1. How did my parents handle my pain?
  2. How did my parents handle their own pain?
  3. What was the message I learned about my lovability and worth? Fill the following: In order to be loved, I had to _______________________.
  4. What were the overt messages I received about myself from my parents?
  5. What were the covert messages I received about myself from my parents?
  6. What did I learn about love from my parents’ relationship with each other?
  7. What temperament and personality traits did/do my parents value? (extroversion or introversion; social or homebody; serious or funny, etc)

We are entrained in invisible ways, following in footsteps, handprints, and heart memories we cannot see. When we shine the light of curiosity on these hidden maps, our inner world opens and the calcified patterns begin to soften. Then we start a new story, perhaps one based more on connection than separation, more on love than fear. We do this not only for ourselves and future generations, but also for the world.


  1. This struck a chord for me today. I will explore this more. I want so much to be able to explore it with my partner too but he is not interested in this kind of self reflection which is my biggest trigger for relationship anxiety. Any suggestions?

    • My suggestion is to follow your path and trust that your partner is following his. I understand the desire to share something like with a partner, but we must also learn to trust that everyone has their own way of turning inward.

      • This is key!! I have been noticing a lot lately that as I am learning and growing, I am wanting to try and control my partners growth and I guess I am sort of projecting my learning on to my partner. I try to teach him and show him. He probably is ahead of me in some ways but maybe doesn’t realize all of the things that I am finally starting to put together (like family relations and how they have impacted who I am today!!!). What I have noticed that I a doing though is that I am judging myself for doing this to my parter and trying to control him. I feel bad that why can’t I just love him and trust him and let him be, why do I try to control. I’m so thankful that I can see this because these thoughts and judgements and self-criticisms are what starts my anxiety. Thank you for helping me see this and I will try and bring compassion to myself as this is a learning process and we are continually growing! Thanks again!

        • Thank you for this, this is also what starts my anxiety as well. I’m interested in diving deeper into the work but my partner isn’t interested in this kind of self reflection. Currently, most of his focus is on his career as a musician. The rest of his focus is on spending time with me and his mom, surfing and going to the gym.

          I can’t stop noticing his “flaws” and the work that (according to me/what I see) he “should” be doing. My biggest trigger is this: if I do the work on myself and he doesn’t do it with me/doesn’t do it soon, does that mean I’m in the wrong relationship? Am I making a mistake? Should I leave?

          It pains me a lot because I love him a lot. He has been my best friend for the last 2 years. I don’t wish to leave. This is really difficult.

          Is there a way in which I could make this easier for myself? Working on myself and allowing him to do his own thing, I mean. I don’t want to be controlling and I understand that everyone has their own plan and timing. Any suggestions?

          Thank you in advance. Much love!

  2. Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for this post! The more I do my own inner work the more I realize such strong links with patterns that I’ve observed over the years from both of my parents. I’ve also starting to notice that lately, I think I’ve been somewhat controlling towards my partner – for instance, I freak out when he’s running late. This use to irritate me but it never bothered as much as it does these days, and I’m trying to dig a bit deeper and figure out what it spikes in me. My dad was always very impatient so perhaps it stems from having observed that for years.. food for thought. Is the need to control something that you’ve observed being passed down from parents? Thanks again!

    • Yes, the need to control is probably one of the most common intergenerational patterns that we inherit.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful post Sheryl!
    I was wondering your thoughts when you’ve done a lot of inner work, have witnessed these harmful patterns in your parents but have a really close connection with them. Where does the line draw between expectations and them not working on their toxicity as well? Is boundary setting the best approach to their behaviors when it triggers you?

    Although in love, firey and affectionate, my mom never has accepted my dad and they are easy to be against each other more than a team. I am working on accepting myself and my partner just as we are, with unconditional love.

    Thank you! Sending love!

    • Yes, loving boundary setting can be important, and I also find that the more we do our inner work, the more tolerance we have for our parent’s toxic habits. This doesn’t mean that we tolerate harmful behavior directed at us but that we’re able to handle being around their “stuff” without letting it get in too deeply.

      • Yes I fully agree with Sheryl’s response. Having done quite a bit of inner work in relation to my parents and the parenting I received, I realise this has involved a lot of forgiveness towards them, particularly mum. But this has brought such freedom and is slowly opening the door to me having a different relationship with mum that I didn’t anticipate would happen. But it’s slow and takes work!

  4. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for this informative post. I follow all of your posts and felt compelled to provide comments about this month’s article. None of us as humans are perfect. We have our faults, our flaws, frailties and vulnerabilities. Parents are not perfect and as a parent I know that only too well having raised two children that are now adults and have children of their own. Children do tend to view parents as authorities and at times as infallible and perhaps in their minds as God. Children also do not have a wholistic perspective nor the experience to understand what a parent themselves may be going through at the time of their interpretation of the events. Parents are influenced by societal expectation, educational and religious structures and yes through their ancestry, blood lines and pain. The are also influenced by the ideology of the period of child rearing that may include psychological theories and strategies that although are well meaning are at times incomplete in terms of research that is always evolving. Parents 50 years ago, did not have the educational resources that are available to the adults of today. Doing ones inner work was not on the horizon because as one raises children, financial resources are dedicated to the family and the home and counselling can be costly.
    Today if I was to raise children, I would have a different perspective and many resources that I could rely on. While I have being doing my inner work since early adulthood and continue to do so, I have made great strides, my children still tend to see me that way I was back then even though I am more loving and caring of my actions in what I say and do. They have no interest in understanding or the curiosity as to how I was impacted by my era, society, my parents, my social, economic, political, educational, religious structures and the patriarchal ideologies.

    In doing my work from a transpersonal perspective I recognize that each generation has inner work to do in order to move more towards unconditional love. It is not about being better than one’s parents but in rather coming to an new understanding and acceptance of all of what is good and what is perceived as not so good. As we gain more understanding and awareness about our parents, their pain and the structures that influence their decision making, we can make more aware choices that are in alignment with our values and understanding of love. We cannot have the light without the shadow and it is both the light and the shadow that moves us forward to unconditional love and better choices that align with this. Kindest Regards,

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Helen. I frequently imagine what new information will be available when my sons are grown and raising their own kids, and how they will likely call into question some of the parenting choices that my husband and I are making that may be creating negative imprints. Yes, we are all human and we are all doing the best we can, and I always encourage my clients to hold their inquiry into the family patterns and stories in that context.

  5. Thank you so much Sheryl!
    Since I have started my inner work, I have noted many negative beliefs that I have formed regarding relationships due to witnessing the flaws of my parents’ relationship towards one another.
    I am new to your work, so I have difficulty interpreting my reactions towards situations.
    Similar to Lee, above, my parents were people who did not understand one another but seemed to love each other very passionately and affectionately. Similar to Lee’s experience, it seemed that it was my mother who could not give unconditional love. On the other hand, it seems to me that my father did not fulfill many of my mother’s expectations, which seemed to be justified.
    I was wondering what is the distinction between loving unconditionally and accepting your partner, on the one hand, and denying yourself what you hope to have in life and in a marriage in a way that is harmful to one’s sense of self, on the other hand.
    Thank you and best wishes for the new year.

    • I don’t have a direct answer to your question because relationship patterns are more complicated than that. I suggest that you read the book “Hold Me Tight” as it will help you understand your parents’ dynamic more clearly, which will also help you in your own relationships.

  6. Hi Sheryl,
    Great post and at times I feel as it i share my mother’s worries.

    My motherI feel is not a great wife to my father. She has said at times that if she knew marriage was like this she wouldn’t have got married … or she claims to have married the wrong man.

    Looking at my grandmother (mums mum) she was widowed very young, didn’t re-marry, and raised my mum alone. She’s a ‘colourful’ woman who was against my mum marrying my dad even to this day. Growing up there were many arguments ..

    Given the above a fear of mine is that I’m marrying the wrong woman. I know in my soul it’s not true, C is an angel from heaven from whom I’m blessed to now be marrying. But none the less the fear comes to me at times and at times sounds so real.. then the mind races with thoughts until I get a grip on reality and give reference to the 4 realms.

    Could this fear have originated from my mother’s and grandmother’s issues?

    Mr B

    • Absolutely! This is exactly the kind of legacy that we unwittingly and unconsciously absorb from our ancestors. It’s been funneled down to you for the purpose of healing!

  7. Hi Sheryl, Happy New Year lets hope 2017 is a even better year.
    Im glad you brought this blog to our attention. Family dynamics are the most talked about.. which can be painful experiences that people encounter in their families, from confusion to enlightment. My dad had his character that my mum didnt like over the years. But she loved him just the same. My mum also has her inperfections. Which she inherited from her dad. So its a vicious cycle its ingrained in us whether we like it or not. Like you said when we recognise it whats been passed down to us, then we are able to stand up with confidence and say. I am this way because i learnt the behaviours and its ok. Im learning to better myself from acknowledging I am this way.

    • That’s exactly right, Angela: we start with self-compassion and from that place we can make gentle and necessary changes.

  8. Thank you for this post, Sheryl. It’s very timely, as I am currently dissecting these issues in therapy. As an adult with a deeper understanding of life’s messiness (compared to how I viewed the world as a kid), it is fascinating and liberating to see the the ways in which family patterns were passed on from my parents. It helps me to acknowledge certain emotions that arise at specific times, which is very helpful. Taking a closer look at my parents’ traits has also helped me identify what I really want for my life. Although I have a feeling this will be a lifelong learning process, the benefits have already proved to be worthwhile.

    • Yes, very well-said, Kristen. It’s fascinating how a child’s mind needs to organize the world into neat packages whereas the mature mind can handle messiness. We have to be able to tolerate messiness in order to see the truth.

  9. Thanks Sheryl,

    I think this is a really important point. We pick up so many messages when we are growing up and often, our parents relationship is the only romantic relationship we know.

    Question 3 of your post really touched a sore point with me. It reminds me of Track 3 on Alanis Morisette’s album Jagged Little Pill – “Perfect”. This album was released when I was 7, and my mum would play the album in full in the car when we were travelling. This song resonated, even as a 7 year old, I knew that to be loved, I had to be perfect. I now know perfection does not exist, and it’s simply important to learn from your experiences, but it still triggers my anxiety when I am not “perfect”.

  10. This is quite an interesting post… I’m in my early twenties, in a relationship which I have profound anxiety in. My relationship with my parents has always been quite distorted, my Dad is quite emotionless and is not the type to really engage in intimate conversation where you can confide in one another and have that safe space of protection and love. On the spectrum, he edges more towards seeming loveless, whilst there is my mother who is more on the sensitive side. My parents do not display any physical signs of affection at all, I feel to some extent in my household it has been equated to shame and disgust. My father has never called my mother by her name, when they speak it is about problems in the extended family or business, never positive things, or the “love” between them. When I was younger he used to hit her, but that’s now stopped for a while now. They are still quite verbally abusive to each other when things get heated between themselves, and me and my sisters have had to grow up listening to it all. If anything, apart from the relationship anxiety, my household is what makes me the most stressed. Because of the lack of love shown between my parents, me and my siblings are not loving towards one another either. In fact there is a noticeable emotional distance between us even if we may be within physical proximity. I find that sometimes when I argue with my boyfriend, I do what my mum and dad do to each other, and since they are very impatient people, I panic a lot in regards to getting places on time and having excuses ready incase I get “told off”. It’s complex stuff. But thank you for this post Sheryl, I hope for those of us who have not learned to love from a young age, learn to love ourselves and our loved ones from the deepest parts of us.

  11. Hey Sheryl,
    I am still working through my anxiety, but the other day I did have quite a realization. My dad wasn’t a huge supporter of my faith. He would yell at me when I read my Bible late at night and when I wanted to go to church. He would call me radical and tell me that I was ruining my life and that someday I would realize it. Because of all the pain from his harsh words I had to leave his house and live with my mom, whom of which I wasn’t much close too. Anyhow, I realized the other day how I have always looked for a man like my dad because even though he hurt me, he somehow managed to still be my superhero in my mind. Just like any person, he wasn’t perfect. But anyhow, I realized how I have put expectations on my husband when we were dating and even as married…expecting him to be just like my dad….and when he wasn’t, I wasn’t happy…and so what I learned is that I missed my dad and I can recall the fond memories but also learn to love and accept my husband as he is and not expect him to be my dad. He can never take the place of my dad. We can just build something new together. I felt me heart soften a little as I learned this.

    • This is exactly how the learning works, Daphne: we see clearly, we make connections, we grieve, we soften. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  12. Thank you so much for your amazing work Sheryl. You are totally Gd sent.
    It’s really astonishing how this email came at the perfect time for me – when I find myself back in my parents house (me, husband and 3 kids!!) visiting for my brothers wedding! So many issues coming up and I feel that it’s my opportunity to finally deal with all of this and try and resolve some! It’s overwhelming. It feels like my family patterns are a ball and chain. I am currently working through your Relationship Anxiety Course and although I don’t feel I need it mainly for my marriage relationship, I feel that I need it because I am married to my parents!! Lots of emotional baggage there, guilt, resentment, pain but also lots of love… It’s so complicated.
    I was also wondering – there is no doubt both of my parents are highly sensitive people. My father is an introvert and doesn’t “believe” in therapy… But he lives with daily anxiety attacks, difficulty sleeping and wakes up every night at 5 with panic attacks. Can you recommend something I could do to help him? (Here I am feeling responsible for his happiness again!). I would love to be able to help him. He is literally driving himself crazy with his own thoughts. Do you have tools for someone who would like to help a loved one who lives with anxiety and fear?
    Thank you in advance.
    And Happy New Year

    • Is your dad open to reading? If so, I highly recommend that he read “Calming the Anxious Mind” and perhaps start practicing some simple meditation.

      • Unfortunately he is not open to reading or meditating, and certainly not to therapy. Anything that is quiet or still scares him. I think he is afraid to be alone with himself.

  13. This is an excellent post – so often I worry and feel sad about seeing the flaws in my parent’s relationship and parenting of me. It makes me feel uncomfortably distant from them.

    I’m having such difficulty lately 🙁 I am trying to do my work but I can’t even identify the thoughts and feelings I’m supposed to be noticing and engaging with. I can’t even identify my emotions at all most of the time…everything is dulled and muted. I can only feel when the emotions are extreme. Even when I sense an emotion I question its validity – ‘Well, if you feel that feeling, where is it (the physical sensation)? What makes you think you’re feeling that?’ – looking for evidence. Sometimes I say ‘I love you’ and wonder where on earth it came from.

    I’m experiencing my old pedophile spike again too; though it’s not causing me sensations of anxiety. I just feel…nothing; which reinforces the belief that I’m not wired right. When the voice speaks so quietly and with such a reasonable, seemingly grounded tone, how do I know what the truth is? I have read The Untethered Soul and I understand not to believe everything I think, but this FEELs real. Some thoughts are so absurd I can just swipe them away, which again reinforces the feeling that these ones must be true. In regards to the P-spike, it seems to rear its head when I am experiencing very low sex drive. I’ve wondered if my brain conjures the most extreme “””sexual””” scenarios it can to spark something in me. I want to be clear – in real life, my reaction to children is motherly and healthy. Though I have lived this before and I know that voice only grows and takes over until I am 110% convinced of its validity. I really hope this doesn’t frighten anyone reading and that you know, Sheryl, this obsession has never left the realm of thought 🙁

    Can anyone offer guidance? please 🙁

    One more thing, Sheryl – I’ve noticed that my (ego?) mind clings to the ‘wrong’ actions, ‘wrong’ thought and ‘wrong’ feelings I do/have and the good is unregistered/disregarded as of no importance. Would a good task be to write down 10 good/loving thoughts/feelings/actions a day?

    Sorry for the long post. Thanks.

    • I just want to mention – I don’t know if it’s important – but I have been experiencing the P-spike on and off since I was about 12.

    • The pedophile spike is SO common and yet it’s possibly the most hidden of all the intrusive thoughts because it carries so much shame and taboo. I hear about it all the time in my work with clients because they trust that I’m not going to judge them and they know that I know that it only lives in the realm of the mind and is never acted out. Remember that, as with all intrusive thoughts, it’s not about the thought itself but it’s designed to get your attention so that you explore what’s living inside. I hear you that it’s hard to identify what’s needing your attention right now, but if you stay with this work and practice journaling and mindfulness it will become more clear.

  14. I love that you’re bringing attention to how much the family we grew up in dictates our patterns in life if we don’t do something about it. I started lately to realise how deeply the fear of loss is embedded within me, as most people struggling with relationship anxiety. I spoke to my mum about this as I had a difficult childhood which taught me to close my hearts as opening your heart always means pain! Going on my own healing journey I began to piece together why I never let anyone in, my mum never let me in, nore did she let my dad in after the divorce when they got back together nore did my dad let her in, nore does my brother let anybody in. But I’ve started to let my boyfriend in and I am beginning to let my dad in, it’s vulnerable and scary but once you feel the feelings that where always there underneath the relationship anxiety and realise it all stems back to the fear of loss and needing to control the outcome you realise the only choice in life is to let the ones you love in. I don’t just mean let anyone in, as sensitive souls we all have an awareness of who is healthy and who is of, for instance I’m not yet in a position to let my mum in and that’s ok I’m new to this, but I am further than I was. When I spoke to my mum about how I don’t believe she grieved her dad dying (just before I was born) and suggested she could heal this if she wanted to she told me she’s scared to heal because it could happen at any time and you could lose anyone in a heartbeat. There’s painful truth in that, and in that comment I found compassion to forgive her as to why I never felt let in by her, she didn’t shut me out because she didn’t love me, she shut me out because she doesn’t think she’s strong enough to let someone in and lose them again, I know she’s strong but that’s her journey and the truth is maybe loss is the greatest human fear and reason for most of the retaliation of the world we’re all vulnerable beings desperately trying to escape it, but vulnerability takes true courage and it’s beautiful.

  15. It’s amazing, in my world viewpoint, how God/ the Universe knows exactly what we need at just the right moment :-). Before I saw this article I was literally just about to comment on your previous article about ‘Mum issues’. Naturally they have been triggered since spending New Year with her (and my sister).

    I feel angry that my mum allowed my sister and I to grow up in a religious cult that denied us of our childhood and made us grow up feeling bad, guilty and ashamed. Now I’ve been out of the cult and my family for many years now and have never been happy. But when I go ‘home’ I’m reminded of all the pain and unhappiness. My mum’s wordless, pouting moods when I do something against her beliefs that forces me to walk on eggshells around her. For example, on NYE I took my socially anxious sister who still lives with my mum out for a drink at the local pub. She is 25 but has never ever bern to a pub out of fear of my mum and the guilt she feels from our old religious upbringing. The next day my mum would hardly talk to me, was cold and short with me. She is against drinking and even going into pubs. However she was very kind and loving towards my sister the minute she got up. I think she feels like she can show her displeasure to me because I’m already out of the house so she doesn’t fear losing me.

    The rest of my time at ‘home’ was spent feeling like my mum was displeased with me. It brought up all my pain around never being able to please her. I felt uncomfortable and rejected.

    Today as I was leaving she made a comment about my top being revealing. I was annoyed and said, although not harshly, “Leave me be.” She then said that she didn’t want me to feel embarrassed! I used to feel embarrassed because of the religious shame, but now I wear lovely things that flatter my figure. I wish I had a mum who talked about how good I look in certain things, not one who makes me feel like a slut.

    I feel angry and hurt. The anger covers a sadness for what I never had, and for the psychological abuse I experienced growing up in the cult. I’m angry too for the damage it has done to my sister. She too has left it behind but can still live in such fear. She is repressed, depressed and anxious, but thank god talking to a lovely counsellor now who is helping her.

    The good thing is my mum has come to accept certain things, such as me living with my partner ‘unmarried’ (even though we’re in a Frnch civil union), going to the cinema (even though she believes or has believed they are full of demons), to name a few. I feel like she has really made an effort to be more open minded, which is hard being part of sucb a closed-minded sect. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling hurt by her. I want to know how to love and accept her the way she is, how to put up healthy boundaries. I believe it will be a work of a lifetime, healibg from these wounds.

    One of my intrusive thoughts is that being in a loving, committed relationship is too restrictive for someone who has had my background. That somehow I should be living va crazy lifestyle of sleeping around, partying, travelling etc. But that really isn’t me. I love my life and am learning that freedom is an inner work, not something achieved through a lifestyle of non-commitment and constant self-indulgence. It’s all about balanced.

  16. So many typos! *Family home *happier

    • *balance

  17. Thank you for this Sheryl. My parents are married but very unhappy with one another and it causes me so much sorrow. My father is good about respecting boundaries and not speaking negatively about my mother with me and we only talk about how unhappy he is when I directly ask and give him a space to talk about it (I don’t do this often as it is too draining for me). My mother, who is quite emotionally and physically ill in complex, intertwined, and heavily overmedicated ways, blames my father for every unhappiness and relentlessly speaks about my father in very negative ways, sometimes deliberately attempting to undermine the hard-won relationship that he and I now have. She and I used to be very close but she has become so hard to be around that I can’t have the relationship with her I once did and I constantly morn that loss.
    In my own romantic relationships, I really struggle to find any kind of peace or contentment and am terrified that I am doomed as a result of their dynamic, despite my awareness of it and attempts to make more healthy choices. How do I begin to separate myself from their unhappiness?

    • It sounds like you’re already separating yourself from their dynamic, Loxa. You have a lot of consciousness about them and with this clear-seeing you will be able to make different choices. Creating new patterns takes time – often many, many years – so it’s important to hold patience at the forefront as well.

  18. Thank you Sheryl, thank you so much. These are the questions I have been pondering lately. I hope that I can break the cycle. Thanks Sheryl.

    • I’m glad it was helpful, CC.

  19. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for all the work you help me do. I had posted on a topic previously and have been thinking further.
    Do a lot of people have a hard time connecting to baby and wonder if they love their baby enough??? Is it possible that I’m convincing myself I don’t love motherhood? Is it possible to become happy being a mom and eventually have a second one? Because I don’t want to lose my husband and he wants another one so bad! I just hope I can enjoy it!!
    I have always been one to love kids and always wanted kids. Now that I have one I worry maybe I wasn’t meant for this. But my parents are the most loving kind parents I could ask for. They encourage me to think more positive. So what is wrong with me

    • And I never suffered with as bad of anxiety as I did right before I married my husband. And then I had it again after my son was born. I take anti anxiety medicine but have had to increase it. Does that mean that either something is wrong with my marriage or that I shouldn’t have become a mom since I have to increase it

      • Have you read through my site or signed up for any of my courses? There’s nothing unusual about what you’re describing and there’s nothing wrong with you, but it doesn’t matter how many times I reassure you: if you don’t do your inner work nothing is going to sustainably change. And while there’s a place for positive thinking, we also have to learn how make room for grief and fear and understand that anxiety and disconnect are messengers letting us know that we need to attend to our inner worlds.

        • Yes I have been reading your site and trying to figure out my inner work but have not come up with anything. I was really suffering. So having to increase Medication doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have become a mom? Do others have difficulty bonding?is it possible I’m convincing myself I don’t love motherhood?

          • You ask the same questions on every post and I’ve responded to you personally as well. Are you in therapy? Would you be willing to take one of the courses? This work takes time, and if you really want to heal you have to be willing to invest time, energy, and resources into yourself. I know it seems daunting at the outset and you want someone to make it better and give you the reassurance that you’re seeking, but that’s not going to serve you right now.

  20. Yes I have been in therapy. I would love to take your course but don’t have the money at this time. I’m sorry I ask the same questions. I just always seek reassurance that my thoughts or unhappiness is not telling me I shouldn’t have become a mom because that would break my heart. I’m sorry again that I ask the same questions. I’m just so scared that what if I do the inner work and what if that’s what comes out of it that I shouldn’t have become a mom or married the wrong man.

  21. Beautiful, I am starting therapy, I am so blessed that you have been a guide in my pain, last year I went through a horrific amount pain that was and is so big that i could not handle it. Your words “Hold On” stay with me and I am thankful my husband has not given up on me, he was not perfect and a lot of pain was caused but he has an amazing heart and he is willing to make me see that he loved and loves me and has change so much for good, he is not perfect neither am I of course and we are learning from each other through this difficult times and your words stay with me through this post” there is no perfect partner” I think I am grieving a so much pain of the fantasy of how I wished things would had been between us at the beginning since we met, how I wish he would had seen me and how I wish he would not had been that immature to see how much I loved him, it took him a little while to mature and become the wonderful man I always though he could be, now its just a matter of healing the past.

    Thank you Sheryl and Happy New Year.

  22. Wow, another amazing insight gained from your point about the dominant traits of the family e.g. extraversion and how this impacts on relationship anxiety when with a quieter partner. Wow.

    Transferring the alliegance from my family of origin to mySelf and my relationship with my partner has been by far the most challenging and agonising part of my journey with this work. Putting myself and anyone else first, ahead of my parents and my sister was totally inconceivable to my inner child and other parts of me. Working through the stages necessary to even begin to make that shift was gut-wrenching grief work. I remember literally staggering as I cried at the realisation that my family is not my no. 1 anymore. And it is certainly not a one time, done and dusted achievement. Its a work in progress with an enormous amount of grieving along the way.

    These days I see my parents as people and the dynamics of their relationship with a lot more objectivity, to the extent that this is possible. With your help, I have extricated myself one tiny step at a time.

    Love always and blessings for the new year to all x

  23. I love this, it is right where I am at in the work of my healing. I have a 15 month old and I am constantly wondering how I can be a better parent than my parents. I went through life with an inflated perception of my child hood. Don’t get me wrong there was a whole lot of love, but there was a lot of negative patterns that I am know aware of. I never saw any of this until I came out of my dark night of the soul. I have struggled with having very little patience and compassion for my family while discovering the negative things, but slowly I am regaining these. My family most certainly thrives off of the life of the party type and my husbands reserved/quietness has been a lot of were my anxiety hangs its hat (among many other things). It has taken me quite a while to put all these pieces together but the more I figure out, the more wholeness I feel that I am slowly taking control of my own inner peace. Sheryl I thank god for you everyday, the fact that I am becoming so equipped (with all the wonderful tools you give) to be the best mother/partner I can be is the greatest blessing!

  24. Hi.

    Around 5 – 6 years ago a made the horrible mistake of cheating on my boyfriend. I don’t no why I would do what I did but I was 19 young and stupid. I told him and straight after that and now I suffer from serve relationship anxiety. Do I deserve this? And is this course for me even though I did the wrong thing?
    Its been years and I still cant have it vanish from my mind it keeps popping up vevry onow and then.
    Can someone else

  25. I’ve been reading your website for a few months now and some articles I’ve found really useful. I just want to tell you my story and it would mean a hell of a lot to me if you could please reply..
    I’m currently 23, my boyfriend and I have been together for about a year and 2 months. We knew of each other for a few months before we got together cause I worked in a pub and he would come in and fix our fridges etc if they were broken. I loved seeing him, whenever I’d walk into work and see their van outside and I would hope and pray that it was him that was working. It was a little complicated at first us getting together cause he was in a long term relationship but he wasn’t happy. Anyway we met for a chat and ended up talking for about 6 hours. When him and his gf of the time split up, we started talking and seeing each other and I felt like the happiest girl in the world. We just clicked on got on so so well, we became so close in a short length of time. He asked me to be his gf a month later and I finally thought I was getting my happily ever after, I hadn’t felt happiness like it before.. & then one day I had dream, in my dream I slept with someone else. Now the dream itself didn’t overly bother me, what did though was the fact that the dream felt real, and so I questioned myself for weeks, asking myself “did that actually happen” even though I knew it didn’t. A few weeks after my boyfriend split up with me. I hadn’t felt pain like it before, I honestly felt like my heart had been ripped out my chest. I knew I loved him. I’d lay by my phone everyday for the next 5 days hoping he would respond to my messages. I would cry all the time and the only thing that seemed to take my mind off how I was feeling was to just sleep, he said some hurtful things when we broke up, that he felt like maybe his ex and him could of worked things out etc and that he didn’t love me etc & then one day he texted me back, we exchanged a few messages and he told me that he has made a mistake and could I ever forgive him, I knew that I wanted him back but on that day before he said that I kinda accepted in my head “we will just remain friends, but I’ll ask him to meet up for lunch and that now and then and hopefully he will want me back” anyway, we got back together and that’s when it all started, as soon as I took him back my head started with “is this the right thing to do” but I knew deep down that this was the person that I could see myself having a happy life with, this was the person I want to spend my life with, so I ignored the thoughts and then they got worse (we were doing long distance at the time) my head started saying “do you love him?” I couldn’t bare the thoughts, I couldn’t do long distance anymore, I didn’t want to, I wanted to be with him and I didn’t want to just see him once a week if that, so he asked his parents if I could move in with him and them cause he was living with his parents until his house with his ex sold, so anyway I moved in with him, this is the first time I’ve moved away from home and away from my family, I suddenly changed pubs which has been really hard for me.. the thoughts disappeared for a while and then they came back but tougher “you’re not in love with him, do you even love him at all” and I’d try to imagine myself not being with him and if I’d be okay and my head was like “yes you will be find without him” but I didn’t want to believe it, the thought of losing him makes my physically cry, he is the most loving boyfriend I could wish for; I’ve never had someone be so caring towards me and loving towards me. I’m always affectionate to him and I’m like that because I want to be, I love cuddling him and kissing him. I love his smell.. after a while with those thoughts they were then replaced with “I don’t know if I want this anymore” that lasted a few weeks. I’d look at my boyfriend and be like “why don’t you love him” and I could never answer it, I still can’t, I have no answer. If I don’t love him then I have no idea why because he is perfect.. my current head thought at the moment is “maybe I want to be with a girl, maybe that’s who I want my life with” about 4 years ago I kissed a girl when I was drunk and about 10 years ago I think I did something similar, but 4 years ago I wasn’t sure if I had a crush on this girl or any feelings at all. Once I stopped working with her I forgot about it, I didn’t miss her or anything. But a lot of people I worked with were gay, and a lot of people I work with now are also gay.. I keep trying to picture in my head how I would feel being with a girl, waking up next to a girl and stuff like that to see if it feels right. But what confuses me is I’ve not been bothered by this before in my whole relationship, it’s only occurred the last few days, I have asked myself in the past “I wonder if I’m attracted to girls” but I’ve always been mainly attracted to men, serving on the bar I always notice the men, I don’t pay any attention to the women, I don’t see girls and think “wow you are really hot, I fancy you” I personally feel that, if I was single and drunk or whatever, I wouldn’t maybe say no to experimenting with a girl, but I just feel like maybe I’m overthinking and I’m trying to make myself think and feel something when I shouldn’t.. it scares me massively because I know deep down I don’t want my life with a girl, I want my boyfriend and I want my life with him. We talk about having our own home together when his house is sorted because it still isn’t yet, and the thought of us being in our own home makes me feel happy and warm and excited. I see him being an absolute fantastic father to our kids one day, and I see him being the person at the other end of the aisle waiting for me.. I just struggle with the love feelings, and how I’m supposed to feel towards him. My chest feels all right when any of these thoughts come into my head and I just feel scared and sad and just cry. I don’t wanna lose him. Please reply

    • Also I just wanted to add, besides the break up we have no red flags.. we never argue apart from silly little tiffs but they never last longer than an hour with us not talking. He is my best friend which brought me to another thought “do I just love him as a friend” we get on so well, we laugh, we play fight, he literally is my best friend and boyfriend wrapped into one.

  26. Sheryl,
    As always your posts always come at the best times. Thank you.

    I wanted to reach out with a question that I think others might relate to. I’m a few years into this journey and while my anxiety used to arrive as a specific intrusive thought that was easy to identify, currently it presents itself as more of a feeling. Numbness, lack of interest, annoyance , etc. it scares me because it is not a specific thought that is easy to explain and dissect. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • Yes, anxiety often first presents in an alarming way to get our attention. Once that simmers down, we’re left with the numbness and lack of interest which, while less alarming, also needs our attention. The work is the same: to recognize the projection then turn inward and ask what’s needed, where is the disconnect, etc.

  27. Love this post 🙂

    Recognizing where I still (!) have buy-in to my family of origin’s images of themselves brings big relief on the conscious level. My dreams show me that my subconscious also grows from each myth I unpack.

    Here’s an example. 2 days ago I did art therapy work on my childhood mother-daughter relationship. That night I dreamt about one of my brothers. (He “hates” me in waking life, and as an aspect of my animus tortures me psychologically in dreams) In the dream, he sought me out to give me a long hug. I asked why, and he said he’d heard from our mother (another aspect of me, I assume) that I wished to be close to him.

    It was incredibly healing. It showed me that our relationships with our families of origin aren’t external — we mirror them inside ourselves. I have a feeling that once my inner brother and I have a solid relationship, I won’t be nearly as upset by my waking world brother.

    Here’s to making friends with the “ghosts in the nursery”!

  28. This is such truth.

  29. What a wonderful post Sheryl and a great topic to write about for the new year. Through my own inner work and with the help of a therapist, I was able to answer questions 1-6. However I was astonished by Question 7 and your bit on parents’ temperament/personality traits and family’s social-cultural legacy influencing one’s current relationship. I would like to share that I totally see this influencing my marriage AND my non-romantic relationships! My family culture growing up (and even now) was just as you described. I unconsciously absorbed from my family the need to be extroverted, socially fluent, be witty, have tons of friends and a busy social calendar, have a highly respected career, and I even must surround myself with people like this too (and that people who aren’t like this are losers). Otherwise I worried I wouldn’t be a normal, proper person in society. Being unable to achieve the above traits is the source of my deepest insecurities and grief. Also early in our relationship I often resented my husband that he wasn’t on the “same social wavelength” as my family so I became embarrassed to be around him. Also I realize that a source of relationship anxiety could have been this, when I first became engaged I had so many doubts if I chose the right person because he, basically, isn’t like my family! I guess I unconsciously chose to marry a person who’s opposite of my family for a good reason, hah. I have worked extremely hard to achieve the above mentioned personality traits, but now I realize I only did it to achieve acceptance from my family, like to reassure them that I’m normal. But there are so many different ways to live a life! I didn’t realize how ingrained my family’s behavior pattern was in my psychology until I moved out-of-state and observed their behavior from afar. Since my early twenties I realized a problem in my behavior, and my family’s role in it, so I began slowly distancing myself from their lifestyle and trying to improve my worldly perspectives and correct my discriminatory/judgmental behavior. This post has solidified my resolve keep going and be OK with the process. It’s hard, sometimes I feel the only way to connect with my family is to revert to my old ways. But I’m WAY happier and feel more mentally-stronger now than I have ever been. I’ll be 30 soon, and I want to start my 30s on the right foot!


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