On a recent group call, a participant asked one of the most common questions for those struggling with anxiety and intrusive thoughts is:
“So if I don’t trust these anxious thoughts then what can I trust? If my truth is really that we are not right for each other [or that I really have a life-threatening illness] then how would I know if I am teaching myself not to listen when doubts arise?”
And then she wisely responded to her own question with:
“But I can see that is probably another clever resistance pattern.”
Even though she named that the question was coming from resistance, the question itself is a valid and common one, and if you’re struggling with anxiety and have found your way here, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same thing. It’s really the million-dollar question that inspired much of my work with relationship anxiety, including the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course. Asked another way, the question is: Is my anxiety/doubt evidence that my truth is that I’m with the wrong partner or does it mean something else?
Truth is a funny thing. We have this idea that there’s a single inner truth and if you could just arrive at the truth you would have your answer. But life is much more nuanced, complicated, and mysterious than that, and when we’re dead set on discovering a truth, we’re usually setting ourselves up for a massive bout of anxiety. Truth is a spike word in the world of relationships, like “chemistry” and “the One” and “settling”, so for now let’s shift away from the word “truth” and instead open a conversation about knowing.
Knowing is the place beyond thoughts and even beyond feeling. If we open to the space between the thoughts and the place beneath the feelings, we arrive at a place of knowing. It’s lives deep inside, quietly shimmering like a warm pool. When we dip into it, anxiety and doubt fall away. We may only dip there for a brief moment in between the bouts of intrusive thoughts, moment of grace, perhaps, when the mental chatter and the attempt to find an answer settle down. But we know it when we’re there. And if we could put words to this place it might say something like, “I don’t want to leave. I’m with a great partner. So I might not feel madly in love, but I don’t want to walk away. I might not know if my partner is “the One”, but I know that they’re someone with whom I can learn about love. That’s a question I can answer.”
We have a hard time in the culture trusting what we can’t see. We want hard evidence, “proof” that we’re with the “right” person, which causes the ego to shift to overdrive in its quest for the answer. But the most meaningful things in life are usually invisible, which means we don’t arrive at them with our five senses. Like the divine, we can’t “see” or “touch” these places, but we know they exist in a place beyond rational knowing.
An analogy recently came to mind for me regarding the need not only to find “an answer” but ultimately what it feels like to trust ourselves despite the messages in our rational-scientific culture that only trusts what it is evident through the five senses. I’ve been a vivid and epic dreamer my entire life. From the time I was a little girl, I would wake up each morning with several, detailed dreams roaming through my conscious memory. My mother was interested in my dream life, and many mornings I would share my dreams with her or in my journal. Nobody talked about dreams at school. None of my friends mentioned their dreams. But because my dream life was validated and seen at home, I never doubted that they were something special and meaningful.
As I grew up, I was exposed to the mainstream message about dreams: Dreams are just a way of releasing excess mental energy. Dreams are a way of processing the day. Dreams don’t really mean anything. Dreams are fluff. For the most part, I didn’t buy into those messages, but once in a while something would hook in, and when it did I could feel a part of my soul sink.
I will never receive a definitive confirmation that dreams are messages from the unconscious. No scientist will ever be able to prove it and no psychologist will be able to disprove it. But I know it in my bones. I know what’s true for me and for many of my clients who bring me their dreams weekly: that dreams are signposts to the soul. That doesn’t mean that doubt about the importance of dreams doesn’t play a cameo role from time to time, for doubt is a character in psyche as well. But I don’t let doubt sidle into the driver’s seat. I see it, I hear it, and then I return to my own place of knowing.
I hope the analogy is clear, but if it’s not let me lay it out for you. When you hook into the widespread cultural belief that you have to leave your loving partner because you don’t always “feel in love” or you’re plagued by doubt, your soul sinks and your heart contracts because this edict is out of alignment with your deepest knowing. Just like we have to swim upstream to defy the mainstream message that says that dreams are fluff, we have to swim upstream to defy the mainstream message that says that if you were with the right partner you wouldn’t be struggling so much, and you do this because your heart – in the deepest recesses, in that pool of knowing – stands for real love.
In some ways, choosing a life partner is as amorphous and risky as trusting in your dream life. There is no formula for choosing a partner, no blood test that will guarantee that you’ve made the “right” choice. You can go from psychic to psychic asking if you’re with the right person and you will likely receive a smorgasbord of responses, each of them certain that their foretelling of the future is accurate. You can poll your parents and friends and, again, will receive a variety of opinions. But in the end none of that matters. What matters is that you trust a place deep inside of you that says yes to the person that you’re with. It might be a quiet whisper of a yes, but if you listen closely enough and with ears that hear in murmurings instead of words, you will send a taproot down into your place of knowing and be able to chart your course.
Jeremy Taylor, who was a master dreamworker through fifty years of working closely with dreams, often said that the only reliable source of recognizing an accurate interpretation of a dream is the dreamer’s own sense of “a-ha”. It’s that subtle or sometimes even exuberant feeling of YES that rises up from the unconscious to meet the conscious insights, that place deep inside that nods its head in agreement and often leads to an opening inside. It’s the moment when oxygen re-enters the psyche, when a sense of spaciousness opens and a smile releases. Many people have this same response when they find my work on relationship anxiety and anxiety in general. It’s the feeling of, “Yes, this is right, even if it flies in the face of everything else I’ve read about anxiety. Or even because it flies in the face of everything else out there.”
The bottom line is that nobody can hand you this sense of knowing; it’s something you have to discover for yourself. In fact, one of the gifts embedded in the crucible of \ anxiety is the opportunity to strengthen your muscle of self-trust – or perhaps to access the muscle for the first time in your adult life. Engaging with and committing to your inner work will help you sift through the faulty beliefs and unrealistic expectations about love and relationships that interfere with your ability to access self-trust, but ultimately the work of finding your path is yours and yours alone.