Intrusive Thought: “I Have to be Single In Order to Heal”

by | May 5, 2019 | Anxiety, Relationships | 53 comments

It’s a thought that arises frequently for those struggling with relationship anxiety: “I have to be single in order to heal.” Offshoots and extrapolations of this thought sound like:

• “I have to backpack by myself across Europe.”

• “I have to live in a loft in New York.”

• “I haven’t dated enough.”

• “I have to leave my partner in order to find myself.”

At the core of these thoughts is a misguided and culturally supported belief that we can’t find our “true selves” while in a relationship. It’s a belief strongly supported by our current mainstream culture that carries a blaring strain of “me, myself, and I(phone)” at the center. In our selfie-and-Instagram media world, we’re in danger of creating a generation of narcissists whose self-esteem primarily stems from seeing themselves reflected back on their screens and checking their numbers of likes and hearts. There’s a message that says, “Do whatever you need to do to please yourself and fill yourself.”

It’s a distorted message. Every spiritual tradition knows that one of the most powerful cut-through actions that dissolves anxiety and fills emptiness is to give to others. This doesn’t mean that we give in order to fill ourselves up or that we abandon our inner work and only focus on others. Rather, it means that when we peer outside the compelling web of thoughts and obsessions that keep us in a perpetual state of sticky anxiety and consider how we might offer compassion and generosity to others, we tap a source of that leads to true fullness. One of the most potent places to practice giving love is in our relationships.

Furthermore, while we can certainly heal on our own, there are certain wounds that are only activated in a relationship. Mariana Caplan, in her important book Yoga and Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy,” writes along these lines:

“Human beings are relational at their core. John Wellwood suggests that ‘relational wounds’ (the wounds that occur within human relationships) are most effectively healed in relationships with others. People often assume that their core sufferings and traumas – many of which occurred in childhood and in various relational contexts throughout our lives – should be healed in the solitude of our own heart and minds. Teachings of self-sufficiency and the dictate to meet one’s own needs are often celebrated on the yogic path [And I would add on the self-help journey in general]. I believe this is another way in which we use our spiritual ideas and practices to avoid the vulnerability of our humanity and our needs for intimacy and community. Solo meditation practice and inner work are not often the most effective remedies to relationship wounding. Therapeutic relationships, intimate relationships, close friendships, and spiritual mentorships can provide a context for healing that solo yogic and meditative practice cannot address in the same way.” 

If we resist the urge to take these thoughts at face value and instead take the time to decode them by asking what’s needed, we quickly see that the arrows are pointing to a longing to connect more deeply with oneself. These thoughts often arise for people who struggle to know themselves, who have spent a lifetime outsourcing their self-trust, and often describe themselves as a chameleon.

There’s also often a fear embedded inside the thought that they’re not able or allowed to be their true selves within a relationship, which often stems from a pattern with an early caregiver in which they were asked without words to subsume their true needs and nature in order to please the other. The invitation, then, is both to work with this core fear/belief that says, “I can’t be myself and my needs won’t be met in an intimate partnership”, and embark on the journey to reconnecting with the lost core of self-trust and self-knowledge. All of this work can and must be done within a relationship.

As I wrote in last week’s post, love is why we’re here. I would add that fear is also why we’re here, for every time we walk through fear’s door we grow our capacity to love. In this sense, love and fear are not only cousins in the heart-pocket of love, but also allies, and while you will encounter one kind of fear while backpacking across Europe or living in a loft in New York by yourself, it’s not the fear strain that is triggered in intimate relationships. We need each other to heal and grow. We need each other to draw fear out from its underground hiding places so that we can walk with it and through it where we discover love, again and again, on the other side.

***

Note: I welcome your comments, insights, and thoughts that are directly related to each week’s post. If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety and are a member of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, please bring your questions there. 

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53 Comments

  1. This last week was an absolutely horrible week for me. I’m wondering if you could help me and shed some light for me. I turned 29 at the end of April. I was on such a high. I had a great birthday. Probably one of the best I have had in a while, but then felt I went into a major depression after. My boyfriend has been very stressed at work and he’s been complaining so much to me about it. I feel like that is most of our conversations. He complains about the stress of the job, wanting to get a new job and his studying for an exam to become an engineer in Canada (he’s European). I really shut down this past week after him calling me 3 times at work complaining so much about work. It really brought my vibe down. I also had some family members dumping their own stuff on me too when I also have my own stuff as well. He went away to Europe for the last 5 days. When he left, I felt like I didn’t miss him at all and felt no more love for him (when I had felt a lot of love the previous week). I took the time this week to try to take care of myself a lot. I know from your RA course and blogs that I’m responsible for my aliveness and not him. I feel scared that I’ve been shut down so much. I am so not used to a guy communicating to me (as my ex of 7 years NEVER did) but it’s hard to open my heart when I feel our relationship is revolving around his stress. I just want to get back to us, but I get scared that we can’t get there. Other things I think I get caught up in, which I feel bad about, is that he’s not as successful as I would like him to be (which I feel sounds terrible) and also still sometimes struggle with him being European and not the ‘typical guy’ I saw myself ending up with. Are these just projections? Are they just fear voices? I would love to have more of a fun and ease relationship, but I get so paralyzed by the ‘what ifs’ and hate the overwhelming ‘ick’ feeling I get when my heart is closed.

    Reply
    • Here are some things my adult self is saying:
      1. You’re responsible for your aliveness
      2. You were sick before your birthday so you didn’t exercise as much, which makes your mental health better
      3. A lot of people were dumping stuff on you
      4. It’s that ‘time of the month’
      5. You had lots of alcohol on your birthday and also gluten and dairy – things that don’t go over so well for you.

      There are many things coming in to play for you which can cause you to not feel alive and the ‘ick’. You’re scared because the last person you had these same ick feelings with ended up cheating on you, however, this guy is different. Don’t compare the two. Take care of yourself and you’ll get yourself back.

      Am I on the right page at all?

      Reply
      • Absolutely on the right track, Chantal, and I LOVE that you responded to your own comment with the wisdom of your loving inner parent. Good job and keep going. Also, relationships include times of stress when one partner is struggling to find their way through a transition or a work challenge. Part of being a loving partner is learning how to support your partner through these challenging times a way that is loving for both people.

        Reply
  2. This is such an insightful topic. Its so difficult sometimes for me to accept that I need someone, as I automatically deem it as weak. I wonder often how you know wether or not your relationship is really helping you grow. My partner and I struggle often with disconnection. But then again, I struggle feeling connected to myself and yet I don’t do much about it. He doesn’t “push” me, he just let’s me be. I feel stuck most times and I always end up blaming my relationship for not “inspiring me” to grow, but in every struggle I see lessons that I can learn. Perhaps the growth is there, it’s just very slow and gradual. With every struggle, arguement or disconnection we are faced with the same issues so we can heal them again at deeper levels. You can grow in or out of a relationship, alone or partnered, you will face fears and struggles.

    Reply
    • Needing others isn’t weak; it’s a sign of healthy attachment! And yes, it’s not your partner’s responsibility to help you grow and inspire you. That’s yours and yours alone.

      Reply
  3. Wow. I cant believe this topic is being addressed. I’ve carried this belief (that I have to be single in order to heal) for years and the tears that I experience now when reading this post are helping to hopefully dissolve this potentially erroneous belief. Thank you so much Sheryl x

    Reply
    • Me too!! I’ve carried that thought for.ever. Great timing as always Sheryl!

      Reply
      • I’m so glad it arrived at the right time, Amber and Claire!

        Reply
  4. Wow! I had no idea that “I have to be single in order to heal” is an intrusive thought. I thought it was a fact of life and I thought about leaving my great relationship every time I encountered doubt and yet another fear. I figured if I had that many doubts and fears, I had to heal first and then enter a relationship. Very timely indeed… also I am helping my wonderful boyfriend to reach his long time goal and I have been worrying that I lose myself in the process (that I give too much). However it feels different this time somehow. It actually makes me happy to do that and when I check my inner self asking “am I doing it because I am a people pleaser and I want him to like me and think I am the best girlfriend he ever had?”, I get that quiet answer from within telling me that I just want to do it. Just because it means that much to me.
    Thank you Sheryl. It was very timely indeed.

    Reply
    • I love that you’re connecting to and trusting your inner, quiet wisdom. That’s the work!

      Reply
  5. Yep, this one sounds like me too. I’ve been blaming being “burnt out” on relationships. I’ve had some rough ones while trying to grow and heal that just felt like pulling my hair out. Only I think I’ve figured out my next growing edge… speaking my needs out loud and making sure they are openly valued as equally as his (I’ve been slowly growing out of automatatically taking care of his needs without realizing I am ignoring my own). I faced this fear head on in my last relationship, and tried to speak up about my feelings, but he was so incredibly sensitive and took things personally which made it that much more unbearable to talk about my needs. I also realized I wanted something completely different than I thought, and ended the relationship. Now my question is whether my latest reason for telling the Universe “the door is closed” is a valid one… the many major transitions I’m going through all at once causing upheaval and major time consuming work of creating a new business. Or is the fact that I’m avoiding a relationship a sign that I actually need one to heal? Thanks so much for this home-hitting article.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad it hit home, Sabrina. Keep tuning into your inner guidance and you will be led.

      Reply
  6. I’m a member of e-course, and i always had the idea of if i have dated more, ill be more sure about my relationship with my husband, because he was my first serious relationship..this idea just like the mentioned above : i havent dated enough right? I need to get rid of it ufff

    Reply
    • Go underneath the thought, Sally, so that you can attend to what’s truly needed.

      Reply
  7. Beautiful and so very timely from me. A complete paradigm shift from what I’ve thought and others often say. Yet as I am breaking feared form an unhealthy and isolating marriage, new and reenergized relationships are bringing me joy I haven’t experienced in years. Thank you for helping stop the inner battle – yes to people, love and intimacy!

    Reply
  8. How do you tell between an intrusive thought and one that isn’t? This past week I put away all my anxieties and just focused on being loving to my partner and I felt incredible peace and joy. But then the thoughts came back. One that crippled me was around his relationship to women before. He was more sexually adventurous in terms of being with different people, hookups, orgies even etc. That is very different from how I used to see sexual energy – as very intimate. At dinner his friends came by and alluded to him hanging his boots. It really bothered me. I know that all this was in the past and even then he always had integrity – was honest about intentions, there was consent etc. But the fact that he had such a colourful past and his close friends know it seems like a betrayal to me in a sense of my values around sex and my values as a feminist who feels that the way men are socialized comes at great cost to women and to them too. I keep wondering that I hope in all these things he didn’t emotionally hurt another woman and also I feel he shared something special with so many people so casually. I also can’t help but feel like the “good” girl that the bad boy ends up with and it makes me uncomfortable.
    He’s been very open to me about how his sexual values changed over time. And been honest about where we still differ – he is more liberal about sex than I am. Eg Id think twice about strip clubs and porn. Him not so much. But he would listen to me, honour my boundaries and not do anything I’m not comfortable with. I have to say we have a loving healthy relationship. It’s my best by far. And we get better and to deeper places. But this triggers me a lot. And when I bring it up he feels hurt that after all these years I still don’t trust him. I also feel like I end
    up repeating myself and he listens thoughtfully but it starts to feel frustrating because he is helpless to change the past, and he has been completely honest with me. Is it an intrusive thought or my intuition? Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • M, an intrusive thought is any thought that is unwanted and repetitive, one that you feel like you can’t control and sucks you into the rabbit hole of anxiety. It is obsessive in nature. Intrusive thoughts can be about anything, really, but it’s really common to be hyper-focused on your partner’s past and his morality. This is a subset of relationship anxiety/ROCD (which either focuses on the the relationship itself or a perceived flaw in your partner).

      It’s tempting to try to figure the thought out, but that feeds the thought more. Whether your feelings are anxiety or intuition is also an intrusive thought/obsession, and one that you can never get certainty for. No one can ever KNOW, for example, whether something is intuition or not. It can’t be measured or proven. I recommend researching mental compulsions to give you some insight into what your mind is trying to achieve and how to go about responding in a way that will help you heal. 🙂

      Reply
      • I agree with much of what you’re sharing here, A, but I do encourage people to learn to connect with their deeper wisdom that lives underneath the thoughts. It’s important, for example, to be able to determine whether or not we trust our partner, and to explore issues around trust from the perspective of past experiences around broken trust. If we label all questions as “intrusive thoughts” or “mental compulsions” we miss critical opportunities for deeper leaning and healing.

        Reply
    • This is a VERY common place for anxiety to hang its hat, and also a common trigger point. In other words, I’ve worked with many women who struggle when their partner has a more colorful and active sexual past. It’s wonderful that you can talk through this together, that you have a foundation of trust (even if your anxiety tells you otherwise), and that he respects your needs and boundaries around things like strip clubs and porn.

      Trust is a tricky thing, and it sounds like what you’re asking in your question is if your focus on this topic is your intuition telling you that he’s not trustworthy. I’m not hearing anything in your description of him that leads me to think he’s not trustworthy (having a colorful sexual past is not indicative of his trustworthiness). Are you able to drop down into your body – underneath the thoughts and fears – and connect to your deeper wisdom about his trustworthiness?

      There other places to focus that may help: Have you been hurt by men in the past? What is your history around trust and betrayal? If you can take the focus off of him and see the fears as pointing you in the direction of your own healing, you will start to see some movement.

      And yes, as A has shared, at the core of intrusive thoughts is the need for certainty, so there is a belief that if he had a “spotless” past then you would never be hurt. But I guarantee you your mind would focus on something else in its attempt to find a guarantee that your relationship will last and you won’t get hurt.

      Reply
      • I really appreciate you taking the time to reply Sheryl. I was so nervous in asking and in reading the reply. But yesterday I did indeed start to wonder if I need to do some deeper work within myself around trust. Because he has been so loving and honest with me and full of integrity even when I fall into this space. Thank you for everything and thank you for normalizing what has been a lonely set of thoughts for me. Thank you A as well.

        Reply
  9. Amen!

    I find that in addition to our cultural narcissism, we have a new hero on the screen: that of the newly single gal on her way to self-enlightenment. I think it is a response to the happy-ever-after romcoms of the 90s and 00s. This makes it especially tough for chameleons like me to believe that we are on the right path in seeking healing *within* our relationship.

    This post is a balm. Thank you Sheryl.

    Reply
    • That’s a brilliant insight, Katie: “we have a new hero on the screen: that of the newly single gal on her way to self-enlightenment.” Oh my goodness, YES!

      Reply
  10. Sheryl, this post is very timely for me. The other day, when talking to my mother, I was describing being confused with my thoughts about my relationship. It’s like there’s a devil and angel on each shoulder, but I don’t know which one is which. And then yesterday a thought occurred to me, that each of them (anxious and avoidant) is both truth and fear… seeking out to have their opposing needs and fears met and acknowledged.

    Reply
  11. Dear Sheryl,

    I am sorry I have to post again but I still feel so bad (numb, oddly „off“ in some way, sad, anxious,…) I am slowly going on through the course but still my mind says I’m the exception etc. in addition I feel disconnected from my partner at the moment and also disconnected from my life (or from myself in general? I don’t quite know).
    First, thank you for this article! It really hit home, I can relate to everything as I have already struggled with all of this intrusive thoughts/beliefs!

    What really bothers me right now – last night I had a dream that absolutely disturbed me and makes me feel so bad.

    I try to describe the dream here:
    In this dream my boyfriend suddenly died/has died and I received this message. In my dream I experienced this feeling of disconnection from everything and everyone, too. I was very very sad about his death, broken-hearted and somehow despaired.
    But at the same time I had an odd feeling (and mindset?), I don’t have any term for it but I would describe it like this: „Now you’re alone again and everything is how it should be = you’re alone and you have no one. But you’re meant to be alone anyway. It’s better for you because you‘re safe then. Every relationship will end anyway and/or will hurt you. So your plan is to stay alone now and continue staying alone (forever) – you will be safe and not hurt by anyone then!“ in my dream I felt not happy about this sense/feeling but yet somehow „safe“ and I thought „it’s better for you to stay alone and not be so close to someone (again)“. I can even remember that I was was talking to no one about my feelings and I was kinda hiding from/avoiding all the other people in my life in this dream, even family members etc. (= people who love me). I felt closed, somehow isolated or cut off from them. But I don’t seem to care that much about it at the same time (was not happy but not that sad at the same time)! I seemed to be accepting that this is how I „should“ live?!
    Then I remember that on top of that in the dream the girlfriend of my boyfriends brother confessed to me that she has had sex with my bf (just before his dead) so he has cheated on me with her – I was even more disturbed by this! And on top of that, she didn’t even seem to feel that sorry for this deceit/betrayal. She just said something like „We just wanted to try it one time“
    I didn’t even know what to say to her and I felt not much. I was shocked/disturbed, yes, but at the same time I seemed to be shutting down even MORE and saying to myself cold-heartedly „So there’s another evidence. You can’t trust anyone. You’re better off alone and without anyone close to you in your life“ and I just walked away(?) from her and other people that were staying near our conversation (I can’t really picture them anymore – don’t know who it was etc.).

    I am really disturbed and confused because of this dream. What does it mean? What is wrong with me?
    Is my truth that I want to be all alone (without my partner, without any friends, not even with my family) because my truth is that it is „better“ for me?!
    I have a really hard time decoding this stupid dream. I am afraid that it wants to tell my I should really listen to my anxiety and leave my boyfriend (plus everyone else who loves me/cares about me)!
    I don’t want to google about dreams and dream interpretations again because I used to do this some time ago and it in the end it didn‘t bring any reassurance or relief – it only spiked my anxiety A LOT and I panicles and went down the rabbit hole of anxiety.

    Sheryl, I know from reading your blog that you’re very versed in working with dreams.. do you have any tip or advice for me?? I am anxious what it might be but I also can’t stand the uncertainty about what the dream could mean! ☹️? I would highly appreciate your advice. If anyone else here has some for me I would of course also!
    <3

    Reply
    • April Love, I’m only going to say this since I think responding to your comment in full would be feeding your obsession.

      “I don’t want to google about dreams and dream interpretations again because I used to do this some time ago and it in the end it didn‘t bring any reassurance or relief…”

      Googling for reassurance or relief is a compulsion that feeds your obsession. Asking Sheryl or others for advice or reassurance is feeding the obsession. Healing will only come by not trying to figure things out and sitting the uncertainty that scares you. I wish you well. <3

      Reply
    • AprilLove: I’m so sorry you’re struggling, and I’m sorry my delayed response felt triggering for you. I don’t always have the time to respond to every comment, but I do my best, and I certainly understand that my lack of response activated the place that is already is scared that your relationship is doomed.

      First off, you’re not the exception. Everything you’ve shared falls under the category of classic relationship anxiety. You’ll see that very soon when you gain access to the forum (if you choose to participate there).

      As far as the dream, all dream images are, on one level, representations of aspects of ourselves. So the fact that your boyfriend died could mean that there’s some aspect of you that has died. Death in dreams is always seen as a positive event because it means that there will be a rebirth – that you’re ready to let go of an aspect of yourself that isn’t serving you and welcome in a new mindset or pattern that is healthier.

      This line stood out for me: “So there’s another evidence. You can’t trust anyone. You’re better off alone and without anyone close to you in your life.” This sounds like a deep fear that you have around trust that needs attention. Is it “better” to live alone? It’s safer to live alone. When we live alone, our deepest relational wounds, as I mentioned in this blog post, aren’t triggered. Relationships trigger unhealed wounds, and I’m hearing that that’s one aspect that this dream is pointing to: a belief that nobody is to be trusted.

      Reply
      • Thank you so much for your reply, Sheryl. I’m so glad you don’t think that I’m the exception.
        I certainly understand that it must be very time consuming for you to reply to so many comments. I want you to know that I truly appreciate your help and advice.

        I‘m still not quite sure about the dream. The fact that my boyfriend died in the dream scared me very very much, as I‘m just scared it could mean that the relationship is doomed/he’s wrong for me/I don’t want him in my life and just lying to myself/etc….
        You told me about this „an aspect of your that has died“ – maybe it’s an aspect regarding the relationship anxiety? I don’t know. But that would be good indeed.

        I guess you’re likely right regarding the aspect about trust.
        And I have a strong assumption where it comes from. Long story short: I had one ex boyfriend before my current boyfriend (I was 14/15 at that time). Me and my ex attended the same class in school, became friends and then developed a romantic relationship and were soo in love. I was suffering from depression at that time, my parents were on the edge of separating (at home everything was just chaos and arguments/fighting etc.). I trusted my ex completely and also my best friend, she used to be in our class as well. But all of a sudden he dumped me, didn’t talk to me anymore first but then really kind of attacked me, insulted me very hard (even in front of others), bullied me… he told everyone that I am a bad person, a liar and a fraud and other things.
        On top of that, my best friend (we literally know each other since birth/since we were babies and have been best friends ever since) was not really by my side but more on his side and she did not help me in any way!
        I was absolutely shocked, my heart was shattered into pieces and many times I felt like I just wanted to die. I felt completely alone and lost friends because my ex persuaded them that I was crazy, bad etc. My parents didn’t notice my suffering. The rest of this school year was horrible for me and I was relieved when it ended and classes got remixed the next year.
        That was not the only traumatic (?) experience in my school days but I think it absolutely was the worst. Ever since I stopped talking to others about my inner world and about how I really feel. I wasn’t able to develop new deep friendships anymore till this day.
        No one in my life (except my therapist) knows about my relationship anxiety so no one really knows about my suffering. When my mom asks why I look so down and stressed out sometimes I always say It’s just because I‘m having lots of stress at work or didn’t got enough sleep, having a headache or something like that. I can’t speak about these things.

        Sorry for rambling.. maybe this experiences in my teenage years (there were more, but like I said before, this was the worst) formed this belief about trust? I don’t know where else it should come from.
        I always thought my reaction to the break up with my ex and the following incidents was over the top (overly sensitive?) and yes it was bad and hard for me but that’s nothing that really shakes up beliefs about trust etc. Other people experience things that are worse, like rape, stalking, being abused/beat up by their partner… ☹️

        Again, thank you Sheryl. I received the email concerning the forum. I think I will have a look tomorrow and will carefully read a bit.

        Reply
        • Yes, AprilLove: This is a heartbreaking, deeply traumatic experience, and could absolutely be a root cause of your difficultly trusting. Is it trauma? Without a doubt. I’m also hearing that you haven’t yet learned to validate your pain and that you’re diminishing it by comparing it to what we think of as “real trauma.” This is a growing edge for you, and I encourage you to bring it to your therapy. I can hear that you’re starting to make connections. This is the work, and it will only continue as you continue to work through the Break Free course and do your personal work in therapy.

          Reply
  12. * I must add, I did not only struggle with the beliefs/thoughts explained in the article in the post but I still do struggle with them today.

    Reply
  13. I totally understand this feeling. I have had it as long as I can remember. Also the feeling of becoming a chameleon, I can easily morph myself which doesn’t help me figure out who I am or who really likes me. I am married to a man who is extremely quiet and doesn’t like sex. I feel invisible most of the time and feel like I need to be more interesting to make him see me. He is caring but only when I cry. I try to just ignore him at this point since he doesn’t seem that interested in any sort of engagement. But it’s always my fault in my mind. It’s hard to figure out how to be happy and have a good relationship when I don’t know/trust myself but also don’t really know him. It’s like living in a cloud. I just want him to want me, to find me funny and sexy, and for me to not be so disgusted. I fantasize about being alone and think that is all I can do comfortably. I think it helps me to hate him because then it’s on him. He doesn’t ask anything of me so it’s easy.

    Reply
    • It sounds like there’s a lot of pain and disconnect in your marriage that needs attention. Have the two of you considered couple’s counseling? The model I HIGHLY recommend is EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy). You can find a local therapist here:

      http://www.iceeft.com/index.php/find-a-therapist

      Reply
      • Sheryl, I feel very worried because you did not reply to my comment – I don’t want to be rude ? but you would help me so much if you could just give me one little tip/information regarding the dream.
        I just noticed that you did not reply to my comments and I directly thought „Sheryl’s not replying to your comment because you‘re a hopeless case anyway“ and now I’m thinking that maybe it’s obvious that my truth is that I should live all alone and I’m just the only one not getting it.
        I am so sorry for annoying you, Sheryl. I know I’m just making desperate efforts to get some help.

        And I’m sorry for rambling under your comment, Peabody.
        Please know that I can relate to many many things from the article, too. You are not alone. I’ve been struggling with such beliefs since my teenage years, because I never seemed to „fit in“ and I always tried very hard to be „cool“ like the other people in school. So I can also relate to this feelings you describe – often feeling like I don’t really know who I am. I guess that’s mostly because of my teenage years and schooldays, where I tried so hard to be like everyone else (going to parties, drinking, being cool/witty/extroverted, etc.). Today I am just confused and most of the time I’m not sure what’s the real me now.

        Reply
  14. I’m often surprised at how timely your posts are! I am prone to seeing myself and my fears in other people’s stories – most recently a celebrated author who is known for her celebration of “showing up” and “being yourself.” I hear this and her story floods through me – she left her then-husband to hike through another country and “find herself.” And, even though my logical brain knows better, I get stuck in a loop of “is that me? Do I need to find myself? What if that happens in my marriage?” and on and on and on.
    It’s a soothing voice that speaks the truths I learn here… “This is about your inner work, not your relationship.” Thank you for helping me continue to open my heart.

    Reply
    • That celebrated author has triggered untold amounts of angst for those struggling with relationship anxiety (if it’s the one I’m thinking about)! There are long threads on the Break Free forum about her and her book. But she’s not the only one. As someone else commented on this thread: “we have a new hero on the screen: that of the newly single gal on her way to self-enlightenment.” That’s it, and it’s a challenge to keep forging your own path despite these powerful images. My advice, as always, is to limit social media and media in general as much as possible.

      Reply
  15. I have often thought that it was odd that as a culture (maybe more so within Christian church culture) we talk about how important having a “tribe” or a “community” is, but at the same time, there’s this American ideal of independence that says I have to do it all on my own. The two extremes then become competing and then lead to burn out and more isolation because people are so focused on serving the community and not receiving from it.

    If wounds were made from relationships, then it would make sense that wounds need to healed within relationships. We can’t say relationships are important and yet, say that we have to do all of our healing on our own aside those said relationships.

    I even said to my husband recently “I don’t get why we can talk about how important friends and community are, but at the same time, can’t expect that very community and set of friends to help me heal emotionally.” I know there’s a fine line of co-dependency, dealing with your own insecurities/issues, and receiving loving help from others, but at the same time, I have felt that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how accepting and loving a person can be the very thing that is needed in his/her healing journey.

    Great work as always and love the reference, Sheryl.

    Reply
  16. This exact intrusive thought is the thought that pops up anytime my RA decides to rear its head. My partner of 5 1/2 years has been amazing for over 3 of those years off and on, not putting up with, but helping me through my anxiety and encouraging me to heal. He is amazing… although over the years I can’t tell you how many times I have tried breaking up with him over that thought. He never let me though because he is able to see what I can’t during those challenging times.. which is the potential that I have to overcome that.

    Although the thoughts aren’t as frequent these days, they still come up though. My RA now to what it was 3 years ago is so much more bearable, ONLY because I have really put in the inner work and now I know when I need to put extra energy into my healing. Therapy, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, healthy eating, acupuncture.. and other things are what I try to practice regularly but give extra attention to thise things when RA occurs (my episodes last weeks maybe even days instead of months now). Its awesome being able to know when I need to do more for myself, and not want to break up with my partner thinking that I need to end the relationship in order to heal and grow. I get to “have my cake and eat it too”… aka I don’t have to give up anything to focus on my healing. I hope that whoever reads this comment knows that it is possible to overcome, even if RA isn’t 100% gone yet, there are steps that you can take to gradually heal yourself if you are willing to put in the inner work.

    Reply
  17. Hello! I think I needed to read this (and every post, lol
    )
    I’ve been struggling with RA for a year, though I don’t feel as anxious anymore (compared to the start of it). I just have this intense feeling of repulsion and hatred toward my partner that I can’t see clearly if I want to continue or not.
    When I have an intrusive thought such as “You’re happy when you’re not together or he’s near you”; it hurts (physicaly and emotionally) but at the same time my mind agrees with it and makes fun of my partner like if I’m taking advantage of him (and that hurts even more because I don’t want to be like that 🙁 same happens with my mom)
    That’s why I don’t know if this is healthy anymore. I avoid him sometimes and feel guilty about it. I feel relief when he’s not with me.
    Should I just leave and let him go?
    I really wish I could take the course, seriously. But thank you for your blog in general.

    I think every post is really a blessing. How do you know so much?
    It saddens me seeing so many people leaving relationships (even though I’ve wanted to leave mine) because of fear and doubts; though, I don’t know to which extent this applies to every couple and situation but we are human with fears after all.
    I’ve been reading here a lot and the content is so rich, so full of humanity.

    Thank you very much and to everyone sharing their stories, struggles and progress here.

    Reply
  18. Not sure if this was posted before. My fiance showed me this song last week and it is a beautiful song full of love and care. It speaks to me and as my fiance says, to our relationship. Enjoy 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDeNQNtW1f8

    Reply
  19. Hi Adri,

    In reading what you said about the fact youre less anxious now but more i guess disconnected from your partner and experiencing hatred was interesting to me. Sorry your experiencing this by the way!
    It resonated with me as i too at the start when this popped up out of nowhere i was incrediblt anxious…always in a flight or fight state! In the last week or so ive felt not hatred but annoyed towards my partner for little things i normally i would be fine with. I guess feeling more disconnected with him. The last couple of days i feel like i may be starting to push through that…but i still often get intrusive thoughts of doubt!
    Im guessing this all might be a normal part of the process??
    Starts out with intense anxiety and then you try and protect yourself by putting up barriers. Thats what im putting mine too…ocassionally though my brain tries to tell me otherwise.
    The biggest thing i worry about is will it ever be gone? And how will i truely know if its right? If i was to share with friends and family they would simply say something is clearly wrong and you should leave. I worry that i wont be able to put all this behind me even if i do make it through!
    Anyway, i wish you all the best and know you are not alone ?
    More people need to be informed that this is actually a thing!

    Reply
  20. This is something I am currently struggling with. I have been with my partner for a total of 14 years, married for 2 of those years. I was 19 when we started dating and was head over heels in love so I did not think I was missing out on anything at the time. Recently I’ve been plagued with feelings of regret and doubt that make me want to run away from the life that I have. I missed out on the college experience (did not live on campus, did not join any groups, did not party, did not study, only made one good friend). I also did not date others while in college since I was with my partner and I did not have eyes for anyone else. Now I can’t help to think that I would not be feeling the way I do (anxious, depressed and resentful) if I had done all those things instead of being in a committed relationship. I love my husband so much, he is incredible and I do not want to leave him. It breaks my heart thinking I will need to leave him to find myself as I did not do this while in college. I feel lost and I cry everyday. I get vivid images of me being single and going out into the world to experience being alone and putting myself in dangerous and exciting situations. I have also been obsessing about an ex-boyfriend from college, which causes me so much distress. I don’t want to feel this way because I want to be with my husband. He is my person and I love him so much. We have grown up together and he has seen my at my highest and lowest points in life. He is so understating and tells me he loves me and that everything will be fine. I don’t know what to do anymore. I just want this pain to go a away and go back to being happy in my life. I have an incredible life and I feel like I am missing out on it because of these ideas and images running through my head constantly.

    Reply
  21. Correction –
    Meant to say did not study abroad
    Keep thinking about a high school boyfriend, from when I was 16

    I keep imagining living a different life and feel like if I do not do it I will never be at peace and wonder about what it would be like. I do not want to want this. I love my husband so much and I am committed to him. I want all this longing and wondering to go away. I just want to be at peace in my marriage.

    Reply
  22. Thank you so much for this post. This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. I love my husband more than anything and am committed to our marriage, but every so often have an overpowering thought of “what if I leave my whole life behind and just start over?” Would that make me happier ? Would that help me truly discover myself? I hate these thoughts as they overwhelm me with guilt and shame. I don’t think that’s what I really want to do, but the thoughts hit me so hard I have a difficult time distinguishing them from reality sometimes. From reading this post and others, I think the root of this is my intense fear of abandonment and loneliness resulting from growing up with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. I am hoping that addressing these unhealed wounds will help eliminate the power of my intrusive thoughts. My marriage has no real problems, so it’s always bothered me to no end that these thoughts pop up. Thank you for shedding light on this . I’m glad to know I’m not the only one experiencing it.

    Reply
    • I love that you’re already identifying root causes. Keep shining light there and the intrusive thoughts will diminish.

      Reply
  23. I have felt so triggered today. I have been in therapy on my own for a year and a half, doing my own work. I have been dating someone for almost a year and I know he has so many deep wounds from his childhood. I try to share some of the things I’ve learned during therapy that may be of help to him. Today, my therapist asked if he was in therapy and I said no. Now all of a sudden I am terrified that I shouldn’t be with him because he has wounds and he may not know how to address them. He is a good, kind, loving man and now I’m afraid I’m triggered to believe I could do better. I don’t want to leave him and he has many wonderful qualities. Heck, I have my own wounds and I know he does too. I know that he doesn’t expect me to rescue him and vice versa. I’m just feeling so anxious that because he has these hurts and he isn’t actually in therapy that now we’re doomed. I know it sounds crazy. It just feels tremendously real and frightening at the same time.

    Reply
    • It’s a common trigger, Jen, and it doesn’t sound crazy at all. This is how fear and relationship anxiety work; they grab you by the throat about the things you care most about. The important question to explore – and you an only do this once your loving and wise inner parent is at the helm of your psyche and you can see through clear eyes – is if your partner is willing to grow. There are many ways to grow; therapy isn’t the only way.

      Reply
      • Thank you, Sheryl. Yes, he does desire to grow and change. In that way, I think we both offer care and compassion to each other, a safe space to be vulnerable. This is someone I hope for a future with and want to grow with. I know he’s not perfect, but he is trying.

        Reply

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