Exposing the Truth in this Important Intrusive Thought

by | Sep 22, 2019 | Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts | 22 comments

One of the many challenges of working with intrusive thoughts is that there’s often a grain of truth embedded inside the obsession. If we feed that grain by watering it with our attention, it grows into an unwanted weed of mythic proportions, taking over our internal space on every level until it’s difficult to function. When working with most intrusive thoughts, nothing is gained by exploring the grain of truth. But occasionally we come across a thought that carries within it a seed of consciousness and existential awareness that is worth unpacking and exploring.

A common thought for those struggling with relationship anxiety and life in general is: “Something is missing.” Whether the thought is directed toward your relationship or another aspect of life, it carries within it the expectation that something “out there” is supposed to fulfill you and provide you with the euphoric, technicolor version of life that the media has indoctrinated you to believe is your birthright. As I teach repeatedly, nothing out there can fulfill you or bring true meaning. Yes, we need relationships of all kinds, but it’s not someone else’s role to set your inner life on fire and learn what it means to find deep and sustaining fulfillment. That’s your job and yours alone.

However, when the thought “something is missing” orbits around your mind, it’s trying to find its way inward so that it can ignite an aspect of your heart that both remembers pain and longs for more fiery joy. For the truth is that there is something missing, but it’s not what you think. Let’s break it down:

1. There’s an existential element to the thought that something is missing as it points to an in utero memory of when nothing was missing. We experienced perfect union in our mother’s womb, and from the moment we’re born, we experience separateness. When we alight on “something is missing” we’re in touch with the fundamental separateness of being human and the only sane response is to breathe it in and grieve.

2. There’s an emotional element to this thought, for on one level it’s a projection of the undeniable fact that there was something missing from childhood that now shows up on your partner’s face or on the screen of your life. There were needs that weren’t met, needs that your parents didn’t know how to meet because they simply weren’t capable. When we can name the unmet needs and allow the sadness connected with them to move through we hijack the tendency to remain stuck in projection, which, on one level, is an abdication of responsibility and an eclipse of growth.

3. Lastly, the thought is an invitation to reach for your birthright of experiencing moments of euphoria. We long to feel fully alive. We seek an experience of ecstatic joy that transcends the ordinary. It’s unrealistic to expect to feel ecstasy every day, but the longing for these larger-than-life emotions is, indeed, a healthy longing.

What happens when we follow the contrails of the longing instead of misdirecting it?

We find ourselves in the forest of mystery where euphoria hangs on tree branches like jeweled fruit and fireflies alight the night as pinpricks of holiness. It’s the longing that leads us there. It’s the longing for “something more” that lives inside “something is missing” that, when followed like breadcrumbs, lands us in the land of what we do not know where the river of expression lures us to its banks of light. “Something is missing” says YES, something IS missing, follow me and I’ll show you the way.

When you misdirect this expectation for more aliveness onto a partner, friend, food, shopping experience, or anything external, you overlook the breadcrumbs of longing and grow blind to the firelights that point the way. As always, the intrusive thought is the messenger, and the next task is to reel in the projection and own the need as yours so that you can turn toward the true source and rediscover the timeless spot of grace that is your birthright and guide to your aliveness. As Mark Nepo writes,

Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by god. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, And Jesus calls it the Center of our Love. 

We discover true ecstasy when we make love with Life itself, which means allowing the kaleidoscopic canvas of colors that we call emotions to churn like paint mixed in our soul as we time travel back to the original sources of pain and sit with the young girl who was left to cry alone in her room or the teenager who was outcast because he was “overweight” or had a nose larger than the societal norm. We find ecstasy when we meet these forgotten parts with tenderness and say, “I’m here. I hear you. You’re not alone. Of course you felt lonely and heartbroken and alone and sad and scared and confused. I will never leave you again.” The unleashment of emotion and meeting of compassion give rise to aliveness.

Something is missing, and that something is you: your emotional awakening, your creative expression, and your spiritual connection. When these rivers are flowing and lit by the lamplights of your tender and fierce attention – tender because we lead with gentleness and fierce because we must protect from the forces of fear and resistance that, in their attempts to divert us from the path, are actually inviting us to strengthen our resolve – we taste moments of euphoria and this life exactly as we know it becomes a place that is infused with a hum of quiet joy.

* To learn more about healthy pathways to cultivating ecstasy, I recommend reading Robert A. Johnson’s Ecstasy. Understanding the Psychology of Joy. 


  1. As always Sheryl- your posts and shares always come at the perfect time for me. Was having this exact intrusive thought “something is missing between us” and I felt the thought taking over and my anxiety stirring. And then I read this. Thank you.

  2. Hi Sheryl – this is such an interesting one, in particular…I struggle almost every day with the separateness of being human. When thinking about friendship and romantic relationships, I often find myself thinking, “it’s like I won’t be satisfied until I can crawl inside someone’s skin!” It’s a creepy metaphor 😉 but it accurately describes the feeling of never being as close as I’d like…never quite quenching the need for connection. I’m really surprised to hear you say that longing for ecstasy is a healthy longing. I think part of me had resigned myself to thinking ecstasy belonged in fantasy realm. I’m still sceptical but I suppose that’s natural if I’ve never felt it! I get frustrated with this inner work a lot and I sometimes feel like I’m still ‘chasing the carrot’ but with healing instead; longing for break throughs and emotional experiences others are having. I’ll keep trying. Thank you for the post and the book recommendation. xxx

    • Agnes, you are not alone. I too feel that I never experience satisfying or real connection. It seems like I want to be so close but can’t be (I’m also avoidant in many ways lol). Idk this is just beyond difficult work and I’m just unsure if I am being motivated by love or fear by staying with my partner. I honestly feel beyond neurotic all the time. I can tell I feel so empty and so low. I deeply wish to feel such a deep emotional connection that will rescue me and fill me up. Help me be a better me. It’s not healthy to look for that in another person, I know. I don’t know how to be close to someone without being that way. So I tend to avoid the world. I just don’t understand how to fill myself up yet and connect to that loving compassionate inner mother within myself. I just wanted to let you know that you are NOT alone in that deep need for connection that doesn’t ever seem to be close enough. Maybe Sheryl could chime in. But the way I’m trying to see it, is that we are really wanting to connect to ourselves in some spiritual way that we find fulfilling. Much easier said than done. Truly be the source of our aliveness and fulfillment. I just don’t get how. I can’t seem to connect to anything and trying to feel my feelings of pain that are in my heart, doesn’t seem to move the pain through me.

      • I also recommend the book “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. I read it alongside Sheryl’s work years ago when working through anxious and intrusive thoughts, and it gives great guidance for unlocking that aliveness within yourself. xo

        • IT’S FANTASTIC!! I would recommend it over and over again.

    • I think there’s a typo in the second paragraph where it says, “someone is missing” – is that supposed to say “something is missing”?

      • Hah! Just changed it. Thank you.

  3. This is a timely post for me. It was my birthday yesterday and it’s been a whirlwind weekend with friends visiting from out of town, moving to a new town in a couple weeks, spending the first night in our new home we just bought, being 6 months pregnant with my second…needless to say I have a lot going on.

    I opened a birthday card from my mom that said something about hoping that “all my hopes and wishes always come true” and I just got so much anxiety in that moment for some reason. It was like the thought of feeling “in love” was one of those hopes/wishes that will never come true or something.

    Maybe it had more to do with me needing to be responsible for bring more of those own feelings in my life to fulfill that hope and dream instead of expecting someone outside of me to make me feel that. I just felt so guilty thinking that when I was surrounded by so much love and good things unfolding around me that have been hopes and dreams of mine for a long time.

    • You responded beautifully to your own spike: “Maybe it had more to do with me needing to be responsible for bring more of those own feelings in my life to fulfill that hope and dream instead of expecting someone outside of me to make me feel that.” YES! Nurture that pathway and you’ll calm the anxious mind.

  4. I loved your post. Yes, something is missing. Intimacy is imperfect in this life. But I get glimpses now and then and it’s really cool. We more sensitive ones feel the lack more than others I think.

  5. “We find ourselves in the forest of mystery where euphoria hangs on tree branches like jeweled fruit and fireflies alight the night as pinpricks of holiness.” – This is such beautiful imagery! I’m looking out at the trees in our garden right now and can just see the glowing jeweled fruits hanging on the branches, pulsing with love and aliveness

  6. Sheryl,

    I’m not a course member, but I follow your blog and often reference it as I am working through my journey of understanding myself and my anxieties. Love this post.

    I am often perseverating on the secret fear “what if I’m not meant to be with my partner? Are they attractive enough? Does that matter? What if it all falls apart someday–what if I realize that I have been lying to myself all this time.” As I have faced this intrusive thought (desperately not wanting that to be the answer, because I truly love my partner) I am reminded of an experience I had when I was in 4th grade. That was the year that I learned I was “fat” and that “fat boys” and “popular girls” don’t go together. And “popular girls” are pretty, which led me to the inner belief that because I was chubby, I was unworthy of beauty.

    Ever since this point, I have spent all my life searching for that one truly beautiful woman that would validate me–the woman that I could hold up as a trophy and turn back to the world declaring that I was enough that I wasn’t the fat kid that everyone thought I was. That I was worthy of beauty and excellence and good sex.

    That led me to a series of shut-downs from different women, and relationships that were founded chiefly on exteriors. The rejection just fed my belief. This pattern also set my template for who I was “attracted to”: women that were unavailable–lofty, better than me, superiorly hot, unattainable.

    The relationship I am in now is different. Because of that, I have found myself over and over again feeling fear about the relationship because she makes herself available. She cares about me and doesn’t lift herself above me.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. Your blog has been a huge resource for helping me with this problem. I’m certainly not through it yet, as I still come back to this fear, but I am trying to remember that cognitive dissonance I am experiencing when I ask “is this the right person for me? do I want someone different? hotter?” is actually my heart saying, “This healthy relationship isn’t like what I’m used to. What I’m used to is achieving my worth by achieving the affection of a woman who is culturally validated for her sexual prowess/beauty.”

    In my heart of hearts, that isn’t what I want. I want love. And I want to love her.

    • This is so beautifully articulated, P. Thank you for sharing. It speaks to the heart of what so many struggle with around lack of attraction that is actually a projection of one’s own lack of self-with, often stemming from early rejection and bullying.

  7. Hi Cheryl – I thank you for your compassion and wisdom. What a helpful guide you are! I find myself trapped in the vein of grief that autumn always seems to carry with its arrival. You mentioned this in a post a while back and it has really resonated. It gets difficult for me to decipher what is anxiety from what needs attention. I have OCD, so I certainly know a thing or two about intrusive thoughts. But, what is interesting the past couple days is that once I let the tears flow and feel the fact I miss my departed mother so deeply and that my divorce has caused a repeated longing for my children when they are not around. I also know deep down that I still love my ex-wife even though we divorced due to the fact I am gay. My life has been so very difficult the past 7 years that I too grieve the fact I feel lost more often than not. My OCD and anxiety make life harder, but I am beginning to think that I have some real pain and grief that still has to be felt. Sometimes the anxiety just kicks me into a place where the tears begin to flow. But I can also start that process of being locked into OCD once again. My my, it’s confusing. But, I am slowly getting somewhere. Slowly I am able to face the day with my intrusive thoughts when OCD presents itself. And, slowly I am beginning to be ok with letting my tears of sadness fall. My transition from a married man living a hetero lifestyle to a divorced parent of two wonderful girls who is gay continues. And, within all that transition was the loss of my mother. Life can be so painful, but also so very beautiful. I just wish I could take the pain better. Thank you for listening Cheryl.

    • This is so very beautiful, Ryan, especially this: “And, slowly I am beginning to be ok with letting my tears of sadness fall.” The more you move toward the sadness and unresolved grief, the more your intrusive thoughts will quiet down. Sending much love on your healing path.

  8. Thank you for this. So beautiful, Sheryl. As always. I feel this so deeply – always a “missing” in my relationships and I see more than ever a.) how that is normal especially as HSPs and b.) it’s really always a call for me turning inwards and asking myself what I need moment to moment. I do wonder if this concept of separateness or my fear of it plays into my resistance / fear of creating a future with my partner? This is a huge block for me and I am really trying to look / feel into the source of that.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, Bianca. Always good to hear from you ;).

  9. Sheryl……

    My God, your blogs seem to come at the perfect time. This was another blessing in my healing this week for childhood shame and loneliness, societal norms etc,. Thank you for sharing your words with us and guiding us on this path of healing. You’re such a gem to this world and to me.

    • I’m so glad it arrive at the right time :). x


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Pin It on Pinterest