If You’re Struggling with Relationship Anxiety, this One is For You

by | Sep 26, 2021 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Relationships | 28 comments

This post is for those of you struggling with relationship anxiety. But it’s also for anyone who struggles with anxiety that attaches onto a specific theme – health, parenting, money, friendship, sexuality – and struggles to understand in your cells the concept of projection: the wild psychological phenomena that projects our inner wounds and needs onto the things that matter most to us.

The key with projection, as I share in all of my courses, is to unhook from the conviction that what you’re feeling/thinking toward your partner – or whatever the current projection screen is – is true so that you can take full responsibility for the pain, fear, and faulty beliefs that are being projected outward. As Break Free From Relationship Anxiety member MohTa shared in this exquisitely beautiful forum post from 2016, freedom lies in recognizing that the projections are red herrings pointing you in the direction of YOU.

When I reached out to MohTa a couple of weeks ago to ask permission to share the post, I also asked for an update. After all, he wrote this post in February 2016 and anything could have happened since then. Was he still with his partner? Was he still struggling with relationship anxiety? I sent the email, and within a few hours he shared this response:

Dear Sheryl,
 
It’s so great to hear from you! Every time I receive a message from you, even if after years, my heart pumps and smiles just like the old days when I was waiting to receive any advice from you 🙂
 
I am doing great in my life! I’d love to keep saying it again and again, since I moved up and have been truly healed with the Break Free from Relationship Anxiety program, everything changed with me! Not only my relationship with my wife, but many many other things in my life… simply, “I” changed! And honestly, not only this, but throughout the past few years, I enjoyed experiencing a feeling that many people are saying and commenting that I changed to a much better person, they become “loving” me and enjoying with me more… became calmer, easier, more flexible, less perfectionist… and just to make you laugh, many are saying that since I met my wife, I have started to change as if it is all about her that changed me ;). Indeed it’s partially true; she was the trigger, but they don’t know what I have passed through and how I changed from inside out!
 
Now of course, as a living human, it’s ups and downs, but it’s just fine and normal!
 
We are having great love together, and God granted us with a very lovely daughter who is almost 2 years now, and she let me experience love like never never before (my wife is truly and funnily jealous at times) :)))… and I can’t deny that at moments am passing through some anxiety and fear feelings towards my daughter and anxiously thinks if I will be able to protect her, give her the best.. etc, but my wife is my buffer I guess! When noticing me doing that, nonjudgmentally she just calms me down and helps me to see how this is normal and just life!
 
Also worth to mention, that while I am glad that I managed to help few friends throughout that past few years see and detect their anxiety patterns and to overcome them somehow using the wisdom I learnt from you (and I am passionate to work as a coach somehow to close people), but on the other hand, as am now noticing such pattern more with people because I have awareness about, it makes me sad of how such anxiety is really spread out in the society! Many many people suffer from it Sheryl and totally blind about naming it! And so they keep suffering and that’s it, which is really sad!
 
So this is how am doing in brief, am always happy to offer support to other people whenever you feel I can do so, and I hope the programs are working well with people and are known more and more by time to those who need them 🙂
 
Warmly,
Mohammad 

And now for the original forum post. It’s a short and beautiful dream followed by the member’s own interpretation (all gratefully shared here with permission). I encourage you to read it carefully, especially his interpretation. Dreams can be challenging, but the way he approached it speaks to his high level of self-awareness and, most importantly, his commitment to taking full responsibility for his well-being.

***
I have reached a great aha-discovery the previous few days and consequently I have had a great dream last night that I’d like to share with you in hope it may help some like it is helping me.

 

The Dream:

I was in an open field place with someone I can’t remember. I saw his face, and he somehow told me that we need to walk through this nearby semi-forest. We started to walk through the semi-forest so to end up to the “exit” (I knew there was an exit on the other side). We walked and he seemed so confident and not afraid while I was very alert and just following his steps. I was wearing a sport short and felt that I regretted why I did so as I didn’t want animals to bite my legs! During the walk, I started to feel animals around and started to be more focused and alert, until I noticed a hyena! I was afraid at that moment, but I kept moving. That hyena looked at me (us) and started to walk around us calmly, and my whole focus was how to shift its attention from us and how to not look at it and how to convince it that it should not focus on me! Then hyena after hyena, and even baby hyena showed up that when I saw I tried hardly to stay away from, so the mother / father doesn’t think am trying to do something to its child and attack me. Until we finally reached the exit.

Then, and I don’t know why, I repeated the experiment again, but this time I brought my friend F (one of my closest friends) and told him to join us in the journey. Was I trying to bring him to panic? No! I sensed after all that there was some joy in it and wanted him to try it with me!

We went in and I had exactly the same experience I just described above, but this time, something new was added: this time, it was really much STRONGER THAN BEING A DREAM! This time I heard, literally, the hyena sounds in my ears, and a fox appeared as well this time with the same movements and behavior of the hyena, and this time, THE BIG CHANGE, is that they started not only to walk around, but to touch my skin, my legs and I literally felt it and was very irritated from it (it was soft, but was irritating from the fear feeling)..They kept touching me by their bodies, and I was like very focused and walking with constant steps and following the firm guy until I reached the other side successfully!
And it is worth to mention that it was not a dark forest, it was daytime and some light was there.

 

Metaphor/Interpretation:

I believe the forest represents my Self, my inner world, the world that I have been trying to enter since few months, but this time really different and more pleasant, this time with a hint of achievement that I did so far. The light / daytime is a strong indication that I finally allowed some light to enter, or I have finally made it to go through until I started to see light. The steady person walking in front of me with trust, calmness (silence) and firm is simply me, my Parent / Wise Self  , he was clearly guiding me through and giving me indirect doses of trust and “you can do it” assurance feelings..

Now the big part for me, the hyenas and fox were parts of my wounded Self, including resistance. They didn’t hurt me and they were looking at me. It was very clear they were trying to tell me something and not hurt me.. they were trying to tell me “we are here. Come and see us, talk to us, take care of us, or we will remain a source of false panic to you.” YESSS!!! I love that dream

In round 1, it was clear that I was trying to avoid them and RESIST ACCEPTING their presence (which I have been doing for a while), and here I want to stop and elaborate on this topic because nowadays I am having a new “aha” discovery moment that I believe is very important to all of us: throughout the previous few months, I have been working on my anxiety, reading and reading, reflecting on my Self, journaling, doing various exercises, grieving, doing mindfulness…etc, I felt improvements at moments, but also I felt very down at others. It kept being up and down, until I discovered (mainly the previous few days more than any other day before), that my main problem (or setback let me say) of what am doing, is that am really focusing on “noticing or striving for a change out of all of what am doing on my feelings toward my partner”; I became obsessed observing if this or that action will be reflected positively on whether am now more attracted or not toward my partner; when grieving or making a long deep dialogue with my Parent Self for example, I directly observe “do I feel better toward her now”?! Oh God, how could not I notice this before?! And people be careful here please, you may say “no, this is extreme and I am not like this”. And although it is extreme, yes, but you may be not noticing it in yourself until a while, I mean I didn’t notice it this clearly and how extreme it is until I realize it now, but when I was living in it, I thought I was doing the right thing and that’s it and didn’t notice I was that obsessed about feeling better toward my partner out of every action I was doing.

And do you know how I discovered this problem and reached this conclusion? I reached a recognition that simply as long as am keeping obsessed about noticing a change toward the way I feel toward my partner out of the exercises I’m doing, it exactly means that I am admitting that the anxiety feelings I have are due to the way I feel toward her, and NOT a reason of internal deep issues I have inside myself. I mean, believing that the exercises should change the way I feel toward her means that I am taking the anxiety-provoked-feelings toward her at FACE VALUE! I hope you got it! While in reality the exercises, yes, they should change something, but what is it? It is how I feel toward myself, how far I am learning and growing about myself, and all what I feel toward my partner is just fake and just a way my super-excited nerves (sensations) and psyche (intrusive thoughts) are trying to release stress through (because they have to release such stress in a materialistic way.. projections on real world objects). So we should really pay full attention on how we feel inside, how far we are growing, how far we are becoming wiser with ourselves…etc and just tell the thoughts and sensations that “we know you are here, and we will let you be there, so we can learn about ourselves, but we know that it is simply nothing about out-of-our-body, and so nothing about our partner.”

And the 2nd round of the trip in the forest was the greatest pleasant hint to me: the animals started to touch me (somehow in a weird pleasant way), indicating to me that I am finally closer and closer toward looking at my wounded parts, accepting them, feeling them and knowing that they don’t want to harm me and that it is all about them and nothing else! Yes am still anxious somehow (I was irritated and a little panicked from them touching me), but i was also fine and knew in the dream that they were going to do nothing wrong to me after all.

And also in the 2nd round, my invitation to my close friend F to join me the trip was a strong sign to me that I am finally more open toward vulnerability and more able to share my deep issues with people I love without shame, a strong sign toward healing.

 

Now I know that I may be feeling down few days from now, then up, then down.. and so on, but what I will try hard to keep in my mind is:

1. This is normal as breaking free needs time and the body needs time to recover

2. I will try to remember that such feelings and thoughts are ONLY for my body to heal from its long-term tiredness, and through which there are CHANCES to learn and grow about myself and how I can be a different person without the same old habits that caused my body to reach this tiredness level

3. That all this has nothing to do with my partner, it simply doesn’t go out of my skin environment, it is only within, and whatever I feel about my partner is only fake, only secretions from my body to release the stress (through thoughts and sensations on an object), and I just need to keep the “whatever” attitude toward my feelings toward my partner

4. You don’t need a dream or strong hint or something to realize: stop looking for outcome! The more you long for outcome, it means you are giving the anxiety more a “face value” weight because striving for outcome means you believe in the content of the anxiety and want it to change! The content is fake my friends; the truth is only – “what’s going inside your body? What are the old beliefs about YOUR Self that you need to heal that caused this anxiety to come to surface?” the more you keep inward and just learn and grow and enjoy talking with your inner world and forget about the fake out-projections and reduce looking for improvements, the more and faster you will eventually improve! As Sheryl always says “it’s through paradox, the tension of opposites, that the peace we seek is revealed.”

With love.
***

There you have it, my friends: the key to set you free is personal responsibility. It sounds so simple on paper, but it’s actually one of our most challenging tasks. It’s relationship anxiety  that can set us on the path to either remain fused with the thoughts and take them at face value, thereby abdicating responsibility, or to name the thoughts as protectors, messengers, and metaphors, thereby turning the magnifying glass into a mirror and beginning the lifelong task of owning what is yours to be owned. This, in a nutshell, is the path to freedom.

How does struggling to take responsibility show up for you? In other words, when projections and intrusive thoughts arrive, how often are you able to recognize them as a signal to turn inward and how often do you take them at face value and fall down the rabbit hole? And if you had one question for Mohammed, what would it be?

P.S. If you identify as male and attraction is your main relationship anxiety spike, you can read a free PDF on the topic here (Mohammed’s full interview is included in this packet).

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28 Comments

  1. One projection I had was reminiscing about being in other relationships and that would fix the anxiety. As soon as I was able to firmly call it as abdicating responsibility the visions and thoughts stopped.

    I took the intrusive thought “I’m not attracted enough. I don’t love him enough,” at face value for a long time, until I accepted it as anxiety and stopped searching for answers. The attraction and love eventually grew.

    My current intrusive thought (if it is an intrusive thought)… “Am I meant to spend the rest of my life with my partner?” Still working on what the root behind this thought is. Maybe I need to grieve more about my parents relationship. I may need to grieve about not experiencing the infatuation stage and “the one.” I may just need to sit with uncertainty more to become more tolerant of “not knowing/thinking I should know” to see what arises and not assume right away that it’s my partner and the relationship.

    Reply
    • Sheryl, (or anyone willing to give some input) I’m feeling something similar Ans looking for some insight-from anyone. As I am on the brink of leaving bc I can’t shake this feeling of “it’s just not right” even though I live him so so much. (I posted this on another blog Ans I’m waiting to be accepting to the forum but thought maybe someone could provide me some help.
      I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost five years (I’m 22 now, so since 17.) I love him very VERY much. We recently moved in together which I was over the moon to do. Things aren’t always perfect and he annoys me sometimes. I don’t always think his jokes are funny and sometimes things he says irritate me. We’ve lived together for almost three months and those months I’ve felt very happy. My friends could see it, my family too. Then two weeks ago I woke up with the thought “am I really happy?”. Since then I’ve been spiraling non stop. I feel guilty being around him been crying a lot because I can’t tell if my gut is telling me this isn’t right and you’re only with him because it’s comfortable. The thought of actually leaving is also terrifying, a life without him by my side is debilitating. But I don’t know if that’s why I’m trying to stay or if these thoughts are just thoughts. I went through something similar in may and I chose to stay and had felt very happy ever since. I love him so much and have always thought of a future together but I keep going in circles and don’t know what to do. I don’t want to stay because I don’t want to hurt him/be alone but I also love him so much and want to make this work. I just want these anxious feelings to go away because right now when I’m around him I feel sick to my stomach like I’m lying like I should be telling him something. Please help. I’m working on the Break Free course right now as well

      Reply
      • When I woke up with the thought “What if I don’t love him?” I had to stop searching for those feelings and become grateful towards what I did love and appreciate. I know it’s easier said than done, but once you stop searching and appreciate what you do love, the anxious feelings may fade away. I also had a spike about us not having similar interests and I had to let that go as well because I value who he is and how we are together more than whether or not we have similar interests. As you begin to fixate less, you may eventually appreciate the “not so funny” jokes later on.

        Hopefully this helps.

        Reply
        • I’m definitely trying to have this mindset. It’s hard because I feel so awful around him. Not like I usually do, like I’m hiding that I know it’s not right. But I WANT so much to be with him. I know all his amazing qualities and yet I still feel this awful gut wrenching feeling that I so desperately want to be gone. I want to hold on and hang in there with it for at least a little longer, but this is so so hard.

          Reply
          • I fully understand the pain you feel JJ/LM! I was there and felt maybe even worst at times.. you feel you are going crazy at moments and just wish you are in a different world!

            For me the way I see your words is that it is full of love already.. full of desire to stay with him.. this is great! And apparently you are stuck with and highly driven by the intrusive thoughts because you are having intense pain spikes with each single thought.. for me this means that you may just need to dig deeper into your inner world.. learn more about your Self.. trying to have Nicole’s “mindset” is good but not enough, because it is only a cognitive trial while you need to go through other important realms (emotional and spiritual).. so my advice is to keep doing the program work and go more deep with it from one side, and during, keep reminding yourself of the great love words and emotions you are expressing already

            Reply
            • I’m trying to dig deeper and having trouble distinguishing my fear self with my wise self(?, I think that’s the correct terminology) And I almost feel like my fear self is telling em to stay because I’m afraid to be alone Ans my wise self is telling me to leave and that’s why I’m having so much struggle. That might be the case but I don’t WANT to. I know there’s that “knowing” and I know I might feel like I have to go but I know that I WANT to stay and keep this going. Any specific areas where you think I could dig into the course more would be helpful if you have any ideas. There’s so much to try and take in!

              Reply
    • If you can apply the same tools that you used to unpack and discharge the first two intrusive thoughts to this one I imagine the next layer of learning and healing will unfold. Good work, Nicole!

      Reply
  2. Wow, amazing. Such beautiful insight. Thank you Mohammad for sharing, and thank you Sheryl for creating the spaces you create and sharing this with us. I’m inspired. <3

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Jamie. ❤️

      Reply
    • Thank you Jamie 🙂 🙂

      Reply
  3. I’m confused about this part:

    “and whatever I feel about my partner is only fake, only secretions from my body to release the stress (through thoughts and sensations on an object), and I just need to keep the “whatever” attitude toward my feelings toward my partner”

    If feelings are fake, does that mean my positive feelings are fake too? How do you tell the difference between fake and real feelings?

    Reply
    • I think what he means is that the anxiety isn’t real in terms of taking it at face value but rather is an expression of his own inner wounds that need attention. Anxiety isn’t actually an emotion, but it points us to real emotions that need attention.

      Reply
      • Thanks Sheryl for your answer! Btw, I’ve finally signed up for the course. It took me 3 years to gain the courage, but here I am. Hopefully will be able to access the forum soon!

        Reply
    • Hi Jessica, actually when I was in the middle of the anxiety phase, this question you are asking was one of the most painful questions that was hitting me frequently; what if the good feeling is fake? What if am trying to convince myself with a fake sorting of the normal and anxious feelings…etc?

      But what i can tell you is first: doing the Break Free work can help to teach you somehow tips and hints of how to distinguish.. but the most important part is how you will learn it by yourself with time the more you walk through and learn.. I mean it’s not easy to answer you with a statement, but I assure you that ONCE you start to heal, you will have the picture clearer more and more and you will even forget about this question!

      Anxious thoughts are of clear pattern and pain.. you feel that you can’t control stopping them, you can’t control not feeling pain or “tightness” out of them.. while the good feelings are actually controllable.. you can feel love but easily shift that feeling at that moment if you are busy with something else!

      Hope this helps

      Reply
      • Hi MohTa, thanks so much for your caring response! I’ve just signed up for the course and am trying to do 1 lesson a day. Desperately looking forward to getting to the stage you are at now and being able to distinguish between real and fake.

        Reply
  4. This made me tear up. Reading his words were like a cup of warm chamomile tea for the soul. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Yes, Caitlin! I’m so glad you had that experience reading this special post. 💕

      Reply
    • Thaaank you so much Caitlin, am so glad and happy to hear this 🙂

      I saved your answer to me as this really makes me happy 🙂

      Reply
  5. This is honestly really interesting. I’ve been reducing obsessively looking at articles, but I still feel “meh” or mediocre about my partner and our relationship; I guess I expected immediate change or something of that nature. Like Mohammad, I wonder “am I feeling better towards my partner right now?” and then think “oh, I must not love him” when I don’t feel “better.” Thank you for this post Sheryl, I often see on older posts that people say your posts are “timely” and now I have to agree. I hope to take your course in a few years if it is available by then.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the post was helpful, and the course will be there when you’re ready.

      Reply
    • Thank you Biscuit11, am so happy it meant something for you 🙂

      The course has been a life donor to me.. I wish you will always have a good a loving life with your partner 🙂

      Reply
  6. I appreciate the generosity of Mohammed in sharing his journey and insights. I really like reading dream interpretations, they speak to me in a deep level.
    I don’t struggle with relationship anxiety specifically, but the dream interpretation was beyond any specific anxiety type.
    Thank you Sheryl and Mohammed.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Marie. I agree: it’s special to read dreams in any context even if you don’t have the same specific struggle.

      Reply
    • Thank you Marie 🙂

      Reply
  7. Somehow the universe always delivers a message that I need to receive.

    My sexuality spike has been showing itself again, and I have not been the best student, leaning into the impulsive behaviors and trying to “prove” to myself one way or another regarding what my “true” sexual orientation is (I currently identify as cis-gender heterosexual – but…. ::insert intrusive thought::).

    What incredible parallels to all the different ways that anxiety manifests in the body and in intrusive thoughts. A great light pointing towards the idea that this is indeed an intrusive thought.

    The idea that looking for an outward change should not be the intent really resonated with me, as my “trying to prove” to myself one way or another is so similar to MohTa’s asking himself if his feelings towards his partner had changed – it is taking the anxiety at face value!

    Also, other commenters mention whether the “good” feelings are the true feelings or the intrusive thoughts is another parallel. So many times the “good’ feelings or “true/intuitive” thoughts are quiet, a whisper, while the intrusive thoughts are all-consuming and it can be easy to mistake the one for the other. I take a lot of peace from seeing all of our shared experiences, it is so powerful to not feel lonely.

    Thank you, thank you as always for the share <3

    Reply
  8. Hi Sheryl, I feel embarrassed to share on a public forum but I am so completely lost and I need guidance…

    I have been with my fiancé for 5 years and I wonder if I am only with him because he’s perfect on paper. When I started dating, I had made a list of all the qualities I was looking for in a partner, it looked like this:

    – kind
    – intelligent
    – funny
    – good, stable career
    – wants a family
    – tall
    – nice hands

    And he checks all the boxes. But the truth is, I think I went into a relationship with him because of the boxes and not because I was truly into him.

    When I first met him, we got along very well, instantly, it felt like we already knew each other. I found him funny and kind, but I was not attracted to him (he is overweight). I went with it anyway because I thought I could not pass this chance and he was such a nice person. Now we have a very comfortable relationship and I do like and respect him as a person, but I don’t think I have ever truly been in love with him. I wish I could be. He is everything I ever wanted and we could have a family and I know he would always be there for me. It feels more like a great friend.

    I feel terrible writing this down. I am wrestling with the thought of leaving many times, and even talked to him about it, but I also love the life we built together. It is a comfortable life but I feel dead inside, I feel guilty for my absence of feelings for him, I feel like something is missing.

    I need to know, Sheryl, is this ROCD or am I just a terrible person and I should let him go?

    Reply

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