Holy Fear

We hear and read a lot of fear these days in psychological and spiritual circles. Mostly, fear is painted in a negative way as the energy that we have to wrestle with and overcome in order to live a life of joy. Most of the statements and quotes we read about fear pin it in the position of the enemy, the obstacle, the dark road. These quotes are accurate, but they’re only talking about one kind of fear. There’s another face of fear that needs and deserves our attention.

Recently, while reading Rabbi Naomi Levy’s book, “Einstein and the Rabbi”, the phrase “holy fear” leapt out at me from the page. She writes:

“There are two divine attributes that emanate toward us: they are love and fear. Love and fear are always keeping each other in check like yin and yang. Love is an outpouring that flows from the soul, it pours and spreads like water. But love also poses a danger. Love unchecked can smother, like a parent who can’t let a child grow up. Like a river with no levee, it overflows and floods everything in its path. Love unchecked is a sea without a shore to give it boundary. Without a dam to contain it, love’s waters can engulf us all.

“That’s where the second attribute, fear, comes in. Fear is here to counterbalance love. Not lower-level fear that cripples us and prevents us from fulfilling our potential. But holy fear, holy fear is restraint, awe, trembling. The fear of losing it all. It is a force within that says, “Stop!” Holy fear is a voice that says, think before you leap, weigh the consequences before you act, take a moment to contemplate before you hit “send.” Recognize the beauty of what you have before you trample all over it.” p. 153

Do you recognize yourself in this description? Those who find my way to my work are almost always highly sensitive people, which means they have a good dose of healthy, holy fear. Wisely, they weigh their decisions carefully before they act. With great consciousness, they’re aware of their actions and cognizant of all possible outcomes and consequences, including negative ones. They’re cautious people and, thus, do not enter into major decisions lightly. These are all positive attributes that have served individuals and communities extremely well for thousands of years. The problem arises when healthy fear devolves into what Naomi Levy calls “lower-level fear”; when we can’t stop analyzing, ruminating, and worrying the fear begins to cripple us. A significant part of our learning curve when we’re on a healing path is to grow a strong enough loving inner parent so that we can discern the dividing line between holy fear and lower-level fear and step in to say “enough!” when we’ve done enough contemplating and list-making and poll-taking. We want the holy fear so that we don’t make reckless decisions but we need know when to let love’s gates open so that we can receive its flow as well.

So here we are making a place of fear at our dinner table as we recognize that there is some aspect of fear that is holy. This idea probably appeals to me because so much of my work is predicated on the concept that we need to befriend every aspect of ourselves in order to heal and move toward wholeness. We live in a culture that encourages us to push our “shadow” characters into the dusty, dark corners of psyche, which means that “ugly” feelings like jealousy, envy, anxiety, loneliness, restlessness, frustration, anger, and fear are pushed away a hundred times a day. So when I came across the phrase “holy fear” I tingled with the excitement of resonance. Yes, this is how I talk about fear, but I had never gone so far as to name it has holy. Holy fear. I like it.

Again, the key is to be able to discern between holy fear and unholy fear, as Father Ron Rolheiser writes about here. As I understand it, holy fear is healthy fear that stems from love and is connected to respect. It’s the fear that women who are trying to conceive feel around the prospect of not being able to carry a child, the fear as they bow to the timetable of the force of Life that is so much bigger than their desire to have a baby right now. It’s the fear that young parents feel around their babies as they realize the awesomeness of the task of caring for this new, vulnerable, angelic life. It’s the fear of standing in front of a loving partner, one who has the capacity to create a shared life with you, someone with whom you can learn about the vulnerability and bliss of real loving. It’s the fear we feel on the precipice of change as we peer into the edge of darkness into the vast unknown. This is primal fear. This is human fear. This is holy fear, and it fills us with “restraint, awe, trembling.” And there’s no way around it.

When we make room for holy fear, unholy fear begins to wither. When we recognize that there are forces bigger than us at play, we can more easily move our small, fear-based ego minds out of the way and surrender to the wisdom of the universe. In other words, when we stop fighting what is – when we accept that fear is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe of being human – anxiety, which is an offshoot of fear, quiets down. When I’m walking alongside a client on the arduous road of trying to conceive, for example, I often find myself saying something along the lines of, “Of course you’re terrified. You want this more than anything in the world. Make room for the fear as there’s no way around it when the longing is this deep.” These words are a balm to these women’s souls as it’s an antidote to the cultural message that says, “Let go of all your fear! It only causes stress, which will interfere with your chances of conception.” This is a lie, and there’s no faster way to inspire fear than to tell someone that being afraid will limit their chances of creating exactly what they want to create.

Of course, we don’t want to indulge in the fear, even of the holy variety. This is where it gets tricky: we must learn to honor fear in its rightful place in our human life while simultaneously relying on our daily tools that help us to lift out of the fear-state so that we’re not living there. Nobody is served by living in fear. What I’m suggesting is that honoring holy fear may allow us to shift out of fear’s hold faster.

One of the most common fears I hear among my clients and course members who are struggling with relationship anxiety is the fear of hurting one’s partner. It usually sounds something like this, “What if I’m just leading my partner on? What if I realize down the road that I don’t want this relationship and I end up hurting my partner? Or maybe I’m already hurting my partner by staying in a relationship when I have so much doubt and fear?”

Do you hear the love wrapped inside the fear? Why would you feel so worried about hurting someone that you didn’t love?

It’s what Father Ron Rolheiser writes about here:

“Holy fear is love’s fear, namely, the kind of fear that is inspired by love. It’s a fear based upon reverence and respect for a person or a thing we love. When we genuinely love another person we will live inside of a healthy anxiety, a worry that our actions should never grossly disappoint, disrespect, or violate the other person.  We live in holy fear when we are anxious not to betray a trust or disrespect someone. But this is very different from being afraid of somebody or being afraid of being punished.”

In this way, instead of expecting fear to completely disappear, we make room for it in all of our most meaningful love relationships, whether with a partner, a child, or a friend. We bring fear out of its dark corner as the chastised, “bad” part of our psyche and realize that being fully human isn’t about eradicating fear. There’s a cultural idea that people like Jesus or Buddha or the Dalai Lama never experience fear, or that lack of fear is, in fact, the sign of a fully evolved spiritual master. But what if it’s not that at all? What if we have it all wrong and the truth is that these spiritually evolved humans, instead of eradicating fear, learned to discern between “holy and unholy fear”? What if we set a place for Holy Fear at our table and, by doing so, the grip of unholy fear begins to loosen? Instead of clumping fear into one category, we take time to discern its threads and pay heed to those that are praiseworthy while letting the others dry up and wither away, thus allowing love to assume its rightful and balanced place in the order of things.

55 comments to Holy Fear

  • nikki

    Hi Sheryl,

    This is so beautifully written I felt a calmness come over me. I’m not sure if I’m mixing up what you are presenting here but yesterday my partner and I had an argument which escalated beyond normal. Now while we were taking a breather from one another my friend looked at me and said “if you aren’t happy you can leave”. Now, in my mental reflection on the situation in relation to this article I could very easily have jumped on that thought and let the unholy fear consume me and make me ruminate over how this was a “red flag”… But something deep inside me told my friend “no I don’t want to leave”, and I think while my anxiety was through the wall I feel holy fear was touching my soul yesterday. Yes I’m scared of love as anyone would be if not given the correct mould as a child, but I think my love for my partner is so deep that holy fear knocks a lot without me realising.

    Just wanted to share this and while I might be completely off in my thinking I just feel a small crack in my RA through this article.

    • Yes, Nikki, this is absolutely on target. What matters isn’t if you’re “off in thinking” but that you feel a resonance with the words and you’re able to apply them to your moments of insight and opening. I’m so pleased to read this ;).

  • Kathy

    Right now I’m struggling with what I would have previously considered a “holy fear” but now I am kind of unsure. A few months ago my SO and I moved in together. It was a very stressful month, for reasons besides the move, but we started fighting a lot more than we had in the previous two years we had been together. In one of those fights things were said that really hurt my feelings (alcohol was involved). Since then we have apologized to each other and I pegged it as stress related frustration and tried to move on. Last weekend we got into another fight, in public (alcohol was involved again), and hurtful things were said (again). This time, I felt myself shut down, and I’m having a hard time moving past it now. I’m pretty insecure but I know how I do and do not want to be spoken to, I’m hypersensitive to disrespect. This was what I considered my “holy fear”, being with someone who does not respect me and having enough self respect to remove myself from the situation when it presents itself. A part of me knows that fights can get ugly, people can and will say hurtful things to each other and not mean it and he has since apologized profusely. Another part of me says “these are excuses, you’re unable to get past it because you know it’s wrong. Leave now.” And I told this to one of my closest friends and she said the same thing (so I can 100% identify with you Nikki). I’m having a hard time discerning whether this is a “holy fear”, one that keeps me grounded and able to identify what I really do and do not want or need, with a “low-level fear”, one that keeps me from tapping into the part of me that is sensitive and hurting and won’t let me grow as a person (or us grow as partners). Any insight would be greatly appreciated🙂

    • Without knowing more about your relationship it’s difficult to say for sure, Kathy, but if the disrespectful language has only occurred during arguments with the influence of alcohol playing a role AND he has apologized profusely my hunch is that you’re not describing a red flag. I would suggest, however, that you both limit or remove alcohol altogether. This article relates:


    • Rochelle

      Hi Kathy
      I hope you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts, but in my experience I have noticed fear in a relationship has an annoying habbit of saying “this is not right you need to leave” but what I think is more accurate is “this is not right let’s work on it” I don’t know what you and your SO were arguing about but maybe it’s worth going over the arguement and figuring out the root cause? working on this with your SO so you don’t have these incidents again will make you feel so much stronger.
      Hope that helps!

      • Kathy

        Thank you both for your reply! Sheryl, I actually have read that exact article a couple of times, the alcohol thing is a trigger for me because my older sister went through a similar situation with her ex (they were together for about five years) and I’m terrified that I’m going down that same path. It’s a topic that my boyfriend and I have had open conversations about and have agreed mutually that it is something that we need to work on (it’s funny, I preach all the time that strong couples aren’t free of problems but develop their own healthy ways to work on them, it’s much easier said than done). And I agree Rochelle, it does seem like this is something to work on rather than a reason to leave. I’m trying to not judge the validity of our entire relationship on the last couple of arguments, there are so many other good things and this is a pretty recent development for us (like I said, it’s been two years). But it could easily turn into a huge problem and that is what I really get stuck on. We’ve tried to do better over the last few months but then we backslide and I panic again. I know that this is the low-level fear in me that is afraid of taking risks and trusting someone to not let me down but when it mixes with the legitimate fear that this may be a potential red flag later on it just leaves me feeling kind of resentful. Like he knows this is important to me, why can’t he just stop? I guess I just need a reminder that growth is not linear and people can falter, it’s really difficult though.

        • Andrea

          on the other hand, kathy, perhaps don’t give him too much leeway 🙂
          In this case, i’d be super curious what makes your relationship good for 2 years, because alcohol induced behavior (when he’s aware of your feelings towards it) is a pretty big red flag.
          But if your relationship generally coasts by on mutual love, respect and understanding than yes, these may be momentary failings. You definitely write like you have a good handle on yourself, and your worth and the work you have (both) done. Sounds like you can trust yourself!

          • Kathy

            Not gonna lie, that comment kind of spiked me.

            But I do think that these are one-offs and the root cause is how we handle stress, and neither of us handle it particularly well. I have no problem with either of us getting drunk and having a good time (to a certain extent), it’s the using alcohol to sublimate stress that I have a problem with. And this is a bad habit that we both have. At the end of the day I am going to have to trust him and trusting people is really difficult for me (always has been). We’ll keep working at it though.

          • I was concerned that you might be spiked by the comment, Kathy, but it sounds like you know that at the core your relationship is solid and you’re on top of dealing with the alcohol issue by addressing from the root cause, which is what matters.

        • rochelle

          hi kathy, I book sheryl suggested to me and my partner for resolving conflict was Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson it helps you understand why you are arguing and what to do to stop it from escalating! Perhaps that will help. x

  • Gen

    Hi Sheryl,

    You know my story – can u address the fear of not finding a partner?


    • It’s a real fear, Gen, and one that needs to be acknowledged while not allowing it to sidle into the driver’s seat. It’s similar to the fear I wrote about above regarding trying to conceive: it’s on a bigger timeline, and our work is to feel the fear then learn to shift into faith. It’s one of the biggest challenges in the world!

      • -C


        I relate to this so much. I feel that on a daily basis because I don’t want to end up alone in life. My loving adult keeps telling me that I never know, that maybe I will find someone…but my false beliefs keep yelling at me…telling me that I will never find anyone that I like, that I connect with, who also likes me back. Its something I struggle with all the time and I find that the fear of ending up alone morphs into thinking about my ex and feeling like I still need to grieve that loss. I might, as nostalgia of the good memories will always be there, but to a point I feel it’s a mask that my ego, fear based mind might be creating to try and hide the fear of never finding healthy love and a real connection, someone to share love and life with.

        Best of energy and healing vibes to you, me and everyone.

  • Alise

    I understood holy fear to be about a necessary respect and reservation towards the loved person, in fearing hurting them or going too far in one’s carelessness so as to hurt them? With my recent relationship, I was aware for the first time of so meticulously speaking in order to communicate clearly and kindly. For perhaps the first time, I have been the most conscious of treasuring my love.

    What if recently you, despite really loving the other, broke up with them as a result of such worries? What would you suggest one might do if time has passed, and it feels clear that the break up was for reasons of fear and not intuition?

    • I would encourage you to take the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety e-course so that you can get a firm handle on your fear, then consider if reaching out to your ex-partner with this new awareness in mind is possible. If that’s not a possibility, know that everything you learn through this process will serve you in any future relationship.

  • Sally

    Once again, thank you Sheryl for a beautiful article. However, It did spark some worry within me as I don’t feel guilt about experiencing fear and doubt with my partner. My initial thoughts were “well you obviously don’t love him!” And “you’re a horrible, unfeeling monster”. On deeper reflection I thought that it could have something to do with my belief that my boyfriend would be better off without me, and I cannot fathom why anyone would want to be with me. Also, I hate to say it but my anxiety makes me incredibly self centred – I become so concerned with easing my inner turmoil that I don’t really have enough space to worry about the ramifications on my boyfriend…

    Have you encountered any other clients you similarly didn’t suffer from guilt?

    • At least half of my clients don’t experience this guilt (I should have qualified that in the article), and it’s by no means an indicator that you don’t love him. Remember: the ego will look for any evidence to prove that you’re the exception, that you don’t really love your partner or that you’re not suffering from relationship anxiety. This is what we have to be on high alert for so that we can name it and turn inward to do the work necessary to break out of anxiety’s stronghold (which, by definition, creates self-absorption) and learn to open ourselves to love.

  • Carolyn

    Very “of the moment” for me, thank you Sheryl. But I would like to ask, how do we know that it’s a lie to say that being afraid will limit our chances of creating exactly what we want to create?
    I recently began to struggle with this as my grandmother once put a dog down that severely bit her, despite having had many dogs in her lifetime. This was a big fear of mine when training our puppy. We love our dog so much but he has always had a nipping problem since being a very young puppy and it’s scary. He doesn’t tear the skin but I’m concerned about the behavior as he is a big dog. I’m very afraid we would have to put him down if he nipped the wrong person. We’ve tried so many things to help him learn not to. Recently a trainer who we’ve started to make progress with her methods said that I had created exactly what I didn’t want because he sensed I was afraid, didn’t understand it, and would start nipping as a way to try to help or gain control over the situation. It makes sense in terms of her training methods but it was very triggering for me in terms of my relationship anxiety and fears over having children.

  • K

    The synchronicity is amazing. I was just pondering over shadow characters or our “dark side” and it’s place in our psyche. This is just lovely. Whenever I used to feel fear or hatred, I used to think of it as an absence of love. Now I increasingly understand that all these “light” and “dark” feelings can coexist. We just need to develop a healthy inner parent to maintain that balance and wisdom. Thanks, Sheryl.

  • Kateawil1

    Hi Sheryl,

    You said above that the work is to shift out of fear and into faith. What worries me, and my biggest piece of resistance going into a meditation or any deep work with myself, is that I will go back to the horrible existential crisis I was in a few months back. It makes me nervous that I won’t be able to shift out of fear and into love. I’m seeing a counselor and she helps me with this and I am doing much better than I was, but it’s still an ongoing piece of resistance that pokes its head anytime I try to help myself. I really liked this post, and I think discovering the difference in my mind between unholy and holy fear could really help me have more faith in my ability to heal.

  • P

    Hi Sheryl,
    Once again thank you so much for all the light you share.

    I love this article. It reminds me of the concept of the sfirot in Kabbalah – how “Chessed” (loving-kindness) is adjacent to “Gvura” (strength or discipline). The two work together to create balance between the act of giving and restraint. This “relationship” is used to describe how Gd operates in this world. It is said that our souls are composed of the sfirot, therefore we also operate that way.

    My question is: when does that fear interfere with our soul’s essence? When does it stand in the way of us living the life we are meant to live? For example I want to homeschool my children. Whenever I read articles about free childhood and happiness and the importance of play and self directed learning, I get this feeling deep down like I know it’s my truth, so much so I could burst into tears. But then “reality kicks in”, with its challenges (3 kids under 5 at home not always cooperating, another one on the way, a house to clean, etc), and then the fear “what if I am incapable? what if I screw up their future? Ruin their lives? End up in 5 years thinking what have I done and then it’s too late, they can’t even get into school?!…” Not to mention mainstream society that seems to want to believe dreams are for idiots or cowards, as if to convince themselves that their misery isn’t a choice – it’s the way it’s meant to be. “Life is hard!”.

    And yet somehow it seems the greatest leaps you can take in life, that will change you and shape you (for the better), are always accompanied by the greatest fears…

    • Yes, the sefirot also came to mind when I read Rabbi Levy’s words. I imagine they were in her mind, too ;).

      As far as trusting yourself to homeschool your kids, I hear so much fear in your words, and mostly fear about making an irreversible decision. Keep in mind that if you start out homeschooling and if, at some point, you or your kids want to change paths and go to school, you can always make that change. Nothing is set in stone and there are many, many people who change directions regarding schooling/homeschooling. There is so much more flexibility in our lives than we think!

  • Tee

    Hi Sheryl,

    I opened this blog post with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised and also, intrigued to read of your understanding of Holy Fear. I agree with your thoughts but I wonder whether Holy Fear and low-level fear can co-exist? Part of me says no but practically, I’m thinking yes, as ‘the thoughts/voices in my head can go back and forth, duelling with each other.

    For me, I think I struggle with relationship anxiety (less so through your work and other therapy) but I also know I was never really ‘into’ my hubby – definitely not as much as I’d like.

    The Holy Fear which also includes the love and reverence I have for God helps but how would you suggest a person move forward when there’s this battle?


  • PaintedFlowers

    I really like this idea of Holy Fear. I have been realizing lately that I am a person full of fear. As a spiritually-minded person, I find it difficult to be so full of fear. Sometimes my religion helps but other times it hinders. I’ve struggled a lot since getting married with this idea that I went against God in marrying my husband, therefore it’s wrong and we are doomed for divorce. I’ve reached out in prayer many times. Sometimes I feel peaceful assurances, and yet I still can’t shake the intrusive thought about inherent wrongness. This makes me afraid to reach in and do the work and makes me fear reaching out spiritually. And I am always afraid of hurting my husband if I tell him too many times about this struggle. I hate the idea of making him worry.
    Is it a lower-level fear that I’m struggling with if I’m afraid of it being wrong? It seems often quite self-centred. Sometimes the thoughts come as I’m just too afraid to leave. But honestly I don’t want to leave. I love my husband so much. I know in my heart and my head he’s a good man. I hate how anxiety clouds truth. He’s always sweet, kind, gentle, thoughtful, patient and generous. Those are things about him that shouldn’t ever change. And if he’s a good man and we get along, why couldn’t we be a good match?
    How do I get past my lower-level fear hurdle and into a holy fear where I don’t feel paralyzed in love?

    • Brooke

      Paintedflowers, your response is almost to a T of what my thoughts and fears are. “Did I go against Gods will by marrying my husband”. I think the only reason I have that thought is because of the anxiety leading up to my marriage and I still wonder why I had that or what it meant. Now when I take the time to slow down and truly listen to God or just slow my mind down I can hear the soft whisper of “this is who I meant for you”. Of course the intrusive thoughts yell so much louder and grasp my attention much more than the whisper of God. (A sad truth that it’s easier to listen to the enemy rather than Gods comforting voice).

      When you dig into scripture, God will not tell you that you married the wrong man. Because he would not have allowed the marriage to happen if it was against His plan. Scripture will lead you to love and cherish your husband therefore strengthing your marriage.


      • PaintedFlowers

        Thank you so much Brooke. That is exactly why I have stulruggled. My anxiety was so intense all the time of my engagement leading up to the wedding. I couldn’t tell if that was God saying “don’t marry him.” My wedding day was very blissful, happy and so spiritually sweet. I cling to that as an answer that it was the right thing for me. Thank you for your reassuring post. It helps me not feel alone in my experiences.

      • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

        PaintedFlowers, thank you for posting (my fear too!!). And Brooke, thank you for responding. I’m 3 weeks engaged in a loooong-distance relationship. We got engaged (on our 3yr dating anniversary) at the end of a WONDERFUL month together after 11months apart. Zero anxiety the entire time we were together until the morning he flew out. He’s an amazing(!) guy – stable, responsible, funny, authentic, loving, spiritual, generous, open, invested… everything I could ask for, yet I’ve NEVER sensed the “YES!” I’ve always associated with God’s leading). We just kind of happened and kept growing despite the anxiety that has plagued me since the very beginning (a lifelong pattern – anytime a guy would try to get close I would run. This time I want to stay, but I can’t tell if I want to stay for the right reasons.)

        I’m/we’re currently working our way through Sheryl’s “Conscious Bride Wedding Planner” and I’m awaiting the arrival of the CB book any day now, but the more I get into it the worse the anxiety screams I’m making the hugest mistake of my life. I don’t know if that’s a red flag, or simply 46 years of self-protection and negative beliefs around marriage being threatened. Also, I’ve long battled the belief (I think formed around some childhood experiences that have become deep pathways inside me) that I’m “meant” to be single and I’m experiencing the anxiety cause I’m going against my true design.

        Yet I also believe “Love wins!!!”, not fear. So I choose deliberately to step out in open-hearted trust that everything is being worked out. My FI is worth it. But is it supposed to be this hard?

        • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

          Addendum: I can definitely say I love him, but it has been a love that has grown, not one that has come naturally or easily. My world has been heavily dominated by females (mom, sister, nieces, aunts, girl friends, co-workers…). I just don’t know what’s “normal” in this journey of loving my man.

        • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

          Reading back over the above… it definitely came from a place of fear eyes, not clear eyes. Like Brooke said, “Of course the intrusive thoughts yell so much louder and grasp my attention much more than the whisper of God. (A sad truth that it’s easier to listen to the enemy rather than Gods comforting voice)”
          The reality for some of us is that we’re dealing with a lot of static around hearing the comforting voice, because in this one precious area of our heart our inner radio antenna has been bent by past experiences. But the joy is that this is NOT our inheritance… “Behold, I make ALL things new!!” That’s GOOD NEWS!!!
          PS. Sheryl, in case you read this – the CB Wedding Planner is AMAZING!!! My man (whom I would call a conscious groom) is getting so much out of it too. Our discussions are crackling with discovery! Thanks for making it <3 Can't wait for the book to arrive!

  • Jessicabythebay

    Hi Sheryl. Thank you so much for this. As a new mom I’m being confronted with a new kind of holy fear and it’s overwhelming. The powerlessness I feel around my ability to protect my baby from the evils of the world and the brutality of nature is incredibly painful. The last few days I’ve been resenting motherhood and it’s unyielding responsibility , My baby’s unyielding need. I’ve been feeling so unequal to it and fearful that it will destroy my marriage. The threads of fear have wrapped themselves into a knot of anxiety, but this post helps me remember that big fear is normal here And the knot loosens a little. I’ve just never had to make so much space for it, I’m in some uncharted territory. How do we hold all the love we have for our children and all the fear that having them entails and continue to put 1 foot in front of the other, enjoy our lives?

  • Ana

    Thanks for this, Sheryl. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for over two years, and we just moved in together. He’s truly perfect, and I had a feeling about him from the very first time I met him. Over the past year, though, off and on, I’ve had this persistent gut feeling that I’m with the wrong person for no reason at all, and most of the time I feel no sexual desire for him, probably because I’m putting too much pressure on myself to feel something 24/7.

    I’m having a hard time getting past that first year of our relationship that was all feeling, all excitement, and filled with knowing deep down that he was THE person for me. I don’t feel fearful, I just feel sad, and I don’t want to lead him on when he’s never doubted me a day in my life. Is this normal?

  • Tracy


    Your work has saved me over the last 7 years. Thank you! For the last 2 years I am in a relationship with an amazing man. A real find… kind, gentle, successful, humble, smart, vulnerable. We’re rock solid. This is the first time i’ve felt like i’m with someone who recognizes what i have to offer and is not only on my team, but my #1 fan

    I have suffered from anxiety for my whole life, and it was very unfortunate that i ended up married to an abusive man and a loveless marriage. When i finally extricated myself from that, after too many years, and met other people – i started to realize i’m warm, and affectionate, that i could love and be loved! So in addition to anxiety, now i have RA, because i finally CARED about someone. And finally after being so independent, I finally needed someone.

    My fears are that now that i finally found my life partner – how can we possibly pull this off?? And do i want to. We are both older (mid 40’s / early 50’s), we have 8 children between us. I know people say just continue dating forever, but to be honest, i do want the marriage and i know he does too. And being practical, it would actually be a wise financial move for me as well. But i also know that just because i enjoy spending x% of my time with him, doesn’t mean i’ll enjoy it if i double or triple x% 🙂

    I love my home alone time, i love my space, i love being able to behave as i like in my home when my children are around. I can’t imagine continuing like this without him… on the other hand continuing with him feels overwhelming. I’m trying to simplify life as i get older – Sharing a home with him, with our children, added family. Dealing with our kids managing. All that while i still battle the fear of “will i love him enough forever” – “will he love me forever”. There is definitely love wrapped in this fear. I picture his proposal. I picture our lives together. I picture big happy family meals and nights by the TV reading books. I picture believing him that he has never felt like this before and can’t wait to spend every night with me.

    But then i fear that i’m romanticizing everything and real life will come and smack me in the face. And that’s definitely some holy fear!! Thank you!

    • Tracy

      and PS – and this is the first time i’ve ever worked on feeling committed in a relationship and it’s a bit of a struggle for me. I was married before, but i was committed to my work, and to my kids. I wasn’t committed to us.

      I dated someone else post divorce, and loved him, but he never gave me the security that it was going to last so i never jumped in with 2 feet. So i always kept my eyes open.

      i felt being an adult and not committed was a reckless feeling, freedom, and i rather enjoyed it.

      I don’t even know if i know how to commit, or be faithful forever. This guy is worth it, but it’s scary to even voice the words “i want to marry him” just like i struggled voicing the words “i want to divorce”.

      Long PS – sorry!!

  • A

    Hi all

    My boyfriends mother has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s in the early stages but I feel like the news really shocked me. I cried most of yesterday evening (that’s when I found out). I am worried about my boyfriend because he is so close to his mother and the immediate thing he keeps thinking about is “what will I do without her?” I have some anxiety around my reactions to this news – and worries that I’ll push him away because I can already presume it is going to be such a painful experience to go through. I am so sad that his mother has cancer, she is so sweet and loving and caring and I myself can’t bear to think about her not being in his life anymore or mine (we haven’t formally been introduced yet but, I would love to be her daughter in law). Is there anything else I can do to support him? I have been reassuring him that we will get through this together but I am wary of saying “she will definitely be OK”. 🙁 sorry if this isn’t anxiety related- I do have relationship anxiety but right now after hearing the news all I want to do is make sure he’s OK. He lost his Aunt (his best friend) a few years to a heart attack and has a huge fear of loss- so now what’s happened it is confirming his belief that he doesn’t trust life, or God. Any advice would be appreciated and again apologies if this isn’t relevant.

    Xxx wishing everyone good health.


    • I’m so sorry to hear this, A. The best thing you can do to support him is to offer your loving arms and compassionate ear. The way through grief is to allow for the grief and fear to arise and move through without trying to take it away from him or fix it or offer platitudes like, “She’ll be okay.”. Sending you both love.

      • A

        Will he grief principle still exist even if his mother isn’t terminal? I assume I associate grief to death… but it feels like a grieving process even with no physical death present. 🙁 thank you for your kind words Sheryl. Xx

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    I am a highly sensitive woman, I have been cautious in my relationships, My upbringing has alot to do with me being so
    Careful with whom i met. I never have been one to dive into anything so quickly. I would think before I made a decision. Im not saying i was so sure of people. I was niaeve in my twenties which was due to immaturity. I just wanted to test before i bought. I was affraid to commit. What is exactly holy fear?

  • Angela

    Does holy fear mean HEALTHY FEAR, NECESSARY FEAR ?

  • Julia

    For Gen and C ,
    I know the fear you’re referring to. For years I was yearning for a partner before I met my husband. In case it’s helpful here’s a couple of strategies that helped me at the time , ( and variations on them help me now). I said to myself almost daily, sometimes more than once a day , “Who knows? Maybe today I will meet him” . I kept an open mind as I went through my day, and also an honest online dating website profile. And at the same time I would periodically say to myself, “Ok, so if you are going to go through life alone , how would you like your life to be?”. And I worked on visualizing a rich, interesting life, and started following those leadings. I also became a lot more compassionate to myself. For example when thoughts of regret about previous relationships replayed in my mind , I would stop them by labelling them as a form of “self-hate”. Those thoughts were really ruminations and I deserved to be holding thoughts of self love and self nurturing.
    Thank you Sheryl for the amazing post !

    • Thank you for this generous response, Julia. I love your tips, especially working on visualizing then creating a rich, interesting life even if you remained single. This is what it means to unhook from the story that says, “I’ll be happy when….” (I meet a partner; I get pregnant; I land the right job).

  • Nosebleed

    Thank you for another wonderful article, Sheryl. I’m so sorry about the wall of text bu I just want to get this out of my chest. Please, forgive me, but lately I’ve been feeling so lost, sad and anxious. I’ve been trying hard to stay true to the “Take back your gold rule”, but it looks like I’m stuck in an awful period of The Grass Is Always Greener. I love my boyfriend so much and he means the world to me… But I’ve been feeling really guilty because I keep checking out of this relationship and being triggered by every single being of the opposite sex (and even had a little bit of HOCD tendencies) who looks like a potential love interest because of looks, personality, or financial status. I can be attracted to just everyone. When I feared that my partner wasn’t kind enough (he’s the kindest person I know. He has such a good heart and is so sensible and loves me so much. But anxiety can lead you to believe crazy things…) I felt interest in a friend of his who looked like a good person, but isn’t attractive at all. But then I would obsess over my boyfriend’s looks and think to myself that maybe I just needed a more attractive partner! So why would I be interested in someone who, to me, isn’t attractive at all! The grass does look always greener. But honestly, this is too much. I’ve been triggered by something like 10 different men. Men I didn’t personally know or men who just were friendly to me or friends I had decent conversations with, but never interested me before entering this relationship. I just don’t want these thoughts. I just don’t want to be tempted and think “Oh my, I hadn’t considered a relationship with this kind of person before!” with every different person. Honestly if I could I’d just seclude myself with my boyfriend and never met anyone again. I don’t know what this is. Since the beginning of this relationship I showed serious ROCD tendencies, but honestly I don’t know. Maybe part of me isn’t ready to let go of the single life and give up the constant crushes I would always get. This may be true, because if I could just turn off these thoughts with a click I would… But with some esitation. I’m still 18 years old, this is my first relationship. People would tell me that it’s normal at my age and that I should date around, but I don’t want to. I’m sick of getting a “”crush”” (not really a crush though) on just everyone like I have no “standards” whatsoever or my feelings for my boyfriend don’t count anything. I don’t want to lose my best friend just so I can date around. I don’t want to lose my boyfriend. I don’t want to lose what we have. But then my ego tries to tempt me by saying things like “You are just hurting both of you. A break-up isn’t the end of the world. You could still date around and then find another lovely man when you’re ready to commit”. Long distance and taking my boyfriend for granted makes everything so hard. We worked so hard together and when there was drama between us I was sure about my choice and I wanted nothing but to live the rest of my life with him. I still want this. But it’s not fair to him to be with someone who keeps being tempted by other possibilies. I talked to him about this and I cried desperatly. But honestly all he was worried about was me crying. He laughed it off with me and tried to comfort me. He doesn’t deserve this. I would always check the intensity of my feelings and imagine scenarios where I had to choose between my boyfriend and some other guy. A more attractive, or a richer guy, perhaps. And then tried to find reassurence by making sure I’d choose my boyfriend over them, but got anxious when I noticed that the choice wasn’t so immediate and I still had a bit of temptation. I would ask to myself “But why are you feeling this way? Don’t you care at all about losing Michael” and felt like the thought of losing him didn’t pain me that much if I could just replace him. I just want a love where I can choose him over anyone without a inch of tempation. I just want to commit 100% and stop being so unfair to my lovely boyfriend. Honestly sometimes I feel like I should just break-up with him because nobody deserves to be with a partner who is tempted by everyone. He promised to love me forever and would never leave me for any other girl.

  • Bee

    I tried logging into the break free course with my login and password and it wasn’t letting me login so I tried resetting my password incase I had forgotten it and even with the password the email gave me it still won’t let me log in?

Leave a Reply