It’s Not What You Think

by | Sep 21, 2014 | Anxiety, Parenthood transitions, Relationships | 40 comments

IMG_4224One the many problems of living in an image-based, superficial culture is that we learn to take life at face value. You have a dream about having sex with someone other than your partner and you latch onto the most obvious interpretation that you secretly want to have sex with someone else. You find yourself obsessively thinking about your ex and you assume it means you still want to be with him or her. You bolt awake in the middle of the night with unexpected doubt about whether you love your partner enough and you assume that you don’t love your partner enough. Your child screams at you and you assume that he’s trying to control you or needs a lesson in manners and respect. These seem like reasonable enough interpretations, and they’re certainly supported by the mainstream culture.

By contrast, part of the reason that people respond to my work with a breath of relief is that I take very little at face value. True to the Jungian perspective by which I’ve been trained, I understand sex dreams as symbols that you’re longing to unite with an underdeveloped part of you that the dream figure represents. I understand intrusive thoughts about an ex as an indicator that you’re needing closure with that person or a part of your represented by that person. I understand doubt as a sign that you’re a highly intelligent, sensitive person who needs more information about real love and takes the commitment of marriage very seriously. And I understand the relentless screams of a five old year as a symptom that a primary need isn’t being met, and that he’s communicating this unmet need in the only way he knows how. These are just one possible interpretation of dreams, intrusive thoughts, doubt, difficult behavior in kids. My point is that I rarely interpret life by what we see on the surface, and, in fact, neuroscience has now proved what depth psychologists and mystics have intuited for centuries: “The conscious mind runs the show, at best, only about five percent of the time.” (Dr. Bruce Lipton)

This perspective informs every aspect of my life, from the personal to the professional. A couple of months ago we were struggling with incessant, loud (and I mean ear-shatteringly loud) screaming from our five-year old. True to my belief that behavior is symptomatic of underlying needs, my husband and I began many brainstorming sessions trying to unlock the root of the screaming: Was he getting enough protein? Enough food? Sleeping enough? Lack of stimulation? Not enough social time with friends? Not enough exercise? A normal developmental stage of being five? Yet every time we thought we had nailed it and implemented our new plan, the screaming continued. Sometimes I would look at my little one and wonder where the easy-going, smiley toddler that used to light up our house with joy ran off to. And would I ever see him again?

Then our older son attended art camp for a week. Because we homeschool, our kids usually spend every day all day long together. It’s a lot of time for anyone to spend together and we thought that, perhaps, some of Asher’s screaming was because he needed some separateness. This week confirmed it. For three hours every afternoon Asher was either with his daddy or me – running errands, going to Petco to visit the mice and snakes, heading off to the library to return books and checkout new ones. It didn’t really matter what we were doing; it was spending quality time together – holding hands, laughing, and following his rhythm instead of having to negotiate and compromise with his big brother – that mattered. While Everest had had nearly five years of his parents all to himself, Asher has had zero. So this was necessary time. And it was delicious for all of us. His need for focused attention from his parents was filled. Within a day the screaming had tapered off. By day two it had stopped completely.

It was extraordinary to watch how his joy and flexibility came back in spades. He’s a passionate child, so when he’s not happy we’ll hear about in no uncertain terms (as will the neighbors down the block), and when he’s happy his joy fills the house. He has a glorious, full-bodied laugh, and he ferrets out funny stories because he loves laughing so much. We hadn’t been hearing his laughter much during the screaming weeks, so to hear it again was like a balm to our hearts.

But the most amazing development to arise out of this experience happened on our way home from running errands when all of a sudden Asher announced, “I’m not scared of Disneyland anymore.”

My husband and I looked at each other and I turned around to ask, “What do you mean?”

“I’m not scared of getting lost anymore.”

Ever since we returned from our trip to Disneyland last March, Asher has been struggling with profound separation anxiety.

It occurred to us that perhaps it wasn’t Disneyland at all but the fact that we had spent seven days solely focused on the kids without the distractions of work and home. While I was busy filming the videos for MindBodyGreen, my husband was taking the kids for long walks down to the beach where they would play and laugh for hours in the waves, then onto the Queen Mary and the science museum the next day, and a day with friends the next. They were filled up and nourished on every level. They were happy and thriving.

And then the return to real life, and all of sudden Asher wouldn’t let us out of his sight and was screaming like a chimpanzee throughout the day.

Kids don’t know how to communicate directly about their inner needs. It’s up to us, as adults, to care enough to see beyond the symptoms – as challenging as the symptoms can be at times – and dig deeper until we unveil the root of the problem. With kids there’s always a root source. It may not be obvious and you may not even get to it, but unless you’re at least attempting to understand what’s needed you’re missing the child’s communication completely. And what ends up happening is that, by focusing on the symptom like screaming, you send the child the message that their behavior is “wrong”, which is a short internal leap to, “I’m wrong.” On our worst days, my husband and I would focus on the screaming itself and talk to Asher about impulse control and the prefrontal cortex and breathing and oh my goodness… Did we really say all of that? Inevitably on those days or shortly after Asher would say things like, “I feel like everything I do is wrong.” Stab in our hearts, and then the repair work of acknowledging that we all have a hard time with big feelings and that they often come out as anger. When we only focus on behavior instead of searching for the symptom we miss the point entirely.

All of this to say that the world we see on the surface is one tiny sliver of reality. The gift that Freud and Jung brought to modern psychology is the awareness of the unconscious and subconscious, which is everything that exists below conscious awareness. Feelings are not always what we think they are. Longings point to worlds upon worlds of inner needs. When we learn to interpret symptoms as metaphors that stand for deeper needs and longings, the kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional, timeless world of the unconscious opens up to us. We become adept at digging deep and, ultimately, at taking full responsibility for our inner realms. Life becomes less simplistic, but a lot more interesting and, perhaps paradoxically, less scary. For when we’re tapped into the underground river of the unconscious instead of living on the surface, we’re living life from the place of essence instead of image. We’re connected to what’s true and sustainable instead of what’s fleeting and ephemeral. We anchor into the collective unconscious of generations past and the invisible web that connects humanity. It’s a shift in mindset that’s well-worth considering.


  1. This is an amazing post! three months ago i was hit with the ‘what if i don’t love my partner’ doubt out of the blue. I fell apart quickly taking this thought for face value. I am in the most healthiest, amazing relationship with a man who is honest,gentle,loving and supportive and there are no red flags so you can see why i was completely distraught in thinking i had to leave this amazing man because i didnt love him. Your blog has helped me understand that my longing to feel the ‘in love’ feelings again is really just a longing for aliveness which only i am responsible for and a longing to be in love with myself. Although i still have fear thoughts im learning through inner bonding to give no energy to these thoughts and instead just make space for them. I realise now that i held alot of unrealistic expectations about love, that when they didnt meet my expectation i took it as a sign that i didnt love him, which i now know is untrue and that my anxiety has everything to do with me and nothing to with him. So thank you so much for allowing me to see my anxiety from another perspective, you have helped more than you could know!

    • You’re welcome ;). It sounds like you’re doing very deep work on yourself.

  2. This is exactly why I am a student of Jung’s work. Well done, Sheryl.

  3. beautiful article. thank you.

  4. I always see comments from people saying your posts come at just the right time and they are so relevant…well that is so true again this week. I had a dream last night involving an ex and although nothing untoward occurred in the dream, it still shocked me that my partner wasn’t ‘on the scene’. Thanks to you I know not to attribute the wrong meaning to this, and I know for sure I certainly do not want anything to do with this ex. I am wondering how to let go and have closure however, as he never popped into my head until very recently.

    • Writing goodbye letters to the ex (that you don’t send) can be very helpful. Ritualizing the letter in some way – burning, shredding, cutting, burying, dissolving, think of utilizing the four elements – can solidify the words and help you release whatever needs to be released.

  5. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for yet another timely and inspiring post. One thing that struck me with this post is your reference to exes and our tendency to only see these relationships at face value. I’m 29 years old and have had a relationship since 23 on and off for nearly 6 years, most recently being off for the past year. During these times of being off, we tend to find our way back to each other and as of lately, we are now in mostly a sexual only relationship but with a hope that maybe we have both grown enough now to try it again (the third time).

    I personally have had some addiction issues related to sex/porn and alcohol which I believe have contributed to our past relationship failures. Today, more aware than ever about this aspect of myself but it’s not been completely conquered. My ex is in a very good place today and is very leery of going back into a relationship that my repeat a cycle/not end in a long-term, loving, intentional and mature relationship.

    Do you have any advice on how to get to the real, underlying meaning behind our “relationship/love dance” and how we can move forward in one direction or the other?

    Thank you 🙂

  6. Hi Sheryl 🙂
    I can relate to your son a lot here.

    My anxiety flares horribly when two things happen – (1) My husband totally gets submerged in work, which causes him to be very disconnected and not help with the house. Which causes me a subconscious feeling of abandonment.(2) When I get overwhelmed by not being able to maintain the perfect house, be the best at work, be the perfect wife, etc. which causes me a huge feeling of failure (shame).

    Your son is little, and screams because it’s his way of communicating. My anxiety is my IC screaming. What I’m learning is exactly what you write about in this. My flares are telling me something is off inside me, and I need to tend to my hear. I’m just learning to channel the flares and literally ask what I need whether it’s from him, or me.

    I’m also learning, it’s okay to need. I think we get so stuck on thinking we shouldn’t need people to make us happy, which is very true. But when you love someone, sometimes you do need them… to feel their touch, to hold their hand, to laugh a little, spend quality time, to feel connection. Sometimes that’s all we need to help us come back to the light.

    Anyway, that was long winded. But GREAT post. Applicable in so many ways.

    • Hi Amy 🙂 –

      YES this: “Your son is little, and screams because it’s his way of communicating. My anxiety is my IC screaming. What I’m learning is exactly what you write about in this. My flares are telling me something is off inside me, and I need to tend to my hear. I’m just learning to channel the flares and literally ask what I need whether it’s from him, or me.”

      The work is to connect to core needs/longing/fears – but it’s the needs that are at the core. Needs were sideswiped as kids for so many; consequently most people have a hard time first knowing what they need and then feeling worthy enough to ask for what they need, whether from their own self or others.

  7. As always, I appreciate your insight. My own Asher has been having crying (real crying), screaming breakdowns. He’s almost 7 and I know that often he follows the up/down development of most children and so I think “okay, this is normal” but its VERY HARD to accept. I want to shout “be quiet and go away from me” but probably wouldn’t do it that nicely. I’ve been working on ME and saying “ok I want to be around you and help figure out what’s going on but that screaming has to stop” and I’ll go sit next to him to let him know I am there. last night it was because I would not let him watch the ipad during dinner. and then he said I never let him use the ipad! and I was like “um it sat next to the bed all day with no one touching it” but really – reasoning isn’t helpful at those times (I have to remind myself). so I just said ok let’s calm down…when you’re calm we can talk. and not right after…I let a little time pass and then I’ll say “you seemed really upset, what was going on?” and sometimes he can tell me and sometimes he has no idea. this morning he was very upset too. then I start to think it might be him getting sick. so I just hold him and hopefully am available for him to feel safe to let me know, IF he ever knows…so my hard thing is letting him express while also limiting the yelling. his new thing besides yelling is to start huffing and puffing (literally) and tell me “I’M REALLY MAD AT YOU” and its a little bizarre (the huffing and puffing is like the big bad wolf!) but I just say okay and move along. He also likes to tell me I’m the meanest mom EVER and other very typical things…that sorta make me laugh (but I don’t laugh for him to see). growing up I had very abusive parents and there was no talking back…I know I thought a lot of the things he says but never said them out loud. I’m glad he feels safe enough to do that.

    • All of these behaviors are expressions of how safe he feels, Nina. The huffing and puffing made me laugh as we have some pretty bizarre manifestations of anger here as well – like hissing and growling like a cat!


    This post came to me at the precise moment when I was thinking, “gosh, why was my husband so upset with me ALL DAY yesterday over such a small thing? Why didn’t my apologies help? Why couldn’t I make it go away? Why couldn’t HE make it go away?”

    Maybe there is a deeper need or longing that kept him in that irreversible funk. Maybe it’s time I stop expecting him to “turn it off” and “go back to normal” so I can continue enjoying my day. Time to dig deeper, for both of us!

  9. As I read your words I could feel my anxiety melting away and my body being filled with an inner piece.

    Thanks Sheryl

    • Wonderful to know, Lisa. Thank you.

  10. Dearest Sheryl,
    A beautiful blog. We learn from our children and they learn from us. I remember growing up being the eldest with 2 younger twin brothers. The only way I got attention from my parents was to cry and have tantrums as I felt my brothers, friends, relatives got the attention first because they were twins. I felt left out and jealous. I was never spoilt but I always felt and knew my parents loved me so much. Even if they were busy..Children know you love them so much when you spend time with them and listen to them.

  11. Thanks, Sheryl.

    This part, especially, spoke to me:

    “Feelings are not always what we think they are. Longings point to worlds upon worlds of inner needs. When we learn to interpret symptoms as metaphors that stand for deeper needs and longings, the kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional, timeless world of the unconscious opens up to us…. Life becomes less simplistic, but a lot more interesting and, perhaps paradoxically, less scary.”

    I’ve been finding that the less literally I interpret my anxiety, the better I am able to combat it.
    I still am not really sure what my core, inner needs are that aren’t being met… but… at least I’ve moved away from taking myself so literally… or so seriously!

  12. Hi Sheryl, I cannot tell you how much comfort I have found in your work, just through the blog posts alone. I finally feel like I am understanding what is going on inside of me, as the things you speak of (relationship anxiety and such) are no where to be found in modern culture. I am considering taking one of your e-courses and just wanted to know which would be most appropriate. A little backstory: I have been in a relationship with a wonderful guy for almost 6 years and we are still very young (20s). Although we have had some wonderful times, many periods of our relationship have been plagued with my doubt. He never gave up on me and has always supported me through all of my anxiety. He is hardworking, caring, kind, giving, joyful, patient, brave and strong. Nothing short of wonderful. However, I of course have the thoughts that, “What if he isn’t the one? Why is he irritating me so much when he is just being silly? Would someone else make me happier?” And just various things that set off my flares. However, when I am connected to myself and feeling good, the idea of marrying him makes me ecstatic. I want to be able to sustain that, knowing what real love is, as I take a marriage commitment very, very seriously. Not just waiting around for feelings. I have ALWAYS (like since I was a young child) been described as very sensitive. I have nearly always worried. I react and feel things more deeply than pretty much anyone I know, which is both a blessing and a curse! Anyways, thank you SO MUCH Sheryl for shedding light on such a sensitive issue. Your work has saved my life and my mind and my relationship many times. You are a gift. Any advice you have on potential courses would be wonderful! Thanks.

    • Welcome to my site, Ann. The Conscious Weddings E-Course was MADE for you!

  13. Sheryl,

    Thank you for this post! It came to me today during a struggle with our youngest boy…well it was with myself really. Our family has been sick for so many months now and so we are all running thin and low physically and emotionally. Yours words ” it is up to us as adults to care enough to see beyond the symptoms” really hit home. At these times especially I realise how much harder it is to get beyond the symptoms and stay flexible.

    I also know that when I am sick and rundown and am struggling to have my own needs met, I find it so hard to stay responsive to the children and their needs. My own cup is empty but I don’t have the chance to fill it because I am focused on the childrens needs. Obviously guilt ensues… Not useful of course….working on self compassion.

    What I find so hard to sit with is that we are all imperfect people and parents and for that reason our children will all be imperfect as well. I find it so hard to know that I won’t meet all of my childrens needs even if I try…effectively I will inevitably screw up kids as my parents did to me….how does one sit with at??

    • “What I find so hard to sit with is that we are all imperfect people and parents and for that reason our children will all be imperfect as well. I find it so hard to know that I won’t meet all of my childrens needs even if I try…effectively I will inevitably screw up kids as my parents did to me….how does one sit with at??”

      For me it’s a spiritual question with a spiritual answer: we remember that we’re all here to learn and grow, that our children’s souls picked us on some level because they needed our gifts AND our faults to help them grow. All we can do is attend to ourselves as best we can, and bring a lot of self-compassion and a bigger perspective. Sending you prayers for healing. I can’t even imagine being sick for months. And yes, when your well is dry it’s very hard to show up for your kids. If you can take even ten minutes a day to attend to yourself, it will start to re-fill your well.

  14. Sheryl,

    I really need your help. I am going to purchase the e-Course next week after my payday (and birthday!) on Tuesday, but in the meantime I feel I am at the end of my rope and I don’t know what I can do to prevent me from breaking up with my partner. I didn’t even sleep last night because I kept having these “waking nightmares” of all our “differences,” of everything wrong with us or ANY way that we can’t relate to each other (none of these are realistic, by the way, and after I have fully woken up I realize this), but suddenly I can’t remember what drew me to him in the first place. I feel like maybe I am settling for the first great guy I’ve dated, or maybe my feelings prior to this were a lie and I just liked him because he gave me attention, and moving in with him and moving across the country to move in with him was a mistake, etc etc. Then I keep thinking, “oh god, what if he’s not ‘marriage material’? What if he won’t grow up fully? What if he’ll never be clean enough? What if he’ll never be good enough with money? What if I’m just TELLING myself this is anxiety, but really it’s my instinct to leave?” Last night I was laying next to him in bed and couldn’t feel anything. I felt completely numb to him, like I didn’t even know him, and couldn’t stop thinking about all these things that would make us different from each other and would make us break up, or wouldn’t give us the right chemistry, and couldn’t for the life of me remember what I loved about him or what we had in common, even though everyone has always told us we perfectly mesh together and are perfect for each other. I want to marry him some weeks, but then I get PETRIFIED of the thought and can’t see us going anywhere, and then I think, “oh gosh, is this the end? Maybe we’re great together but not meant to get married…maybe I don’t want to marry him and I just can’t face it…this all feels so real.”

    I know you don’t always respond to each comment on your blogs and that you are very busy. But I don’t know what to do. Since I can’t pay for the e-course until next week, and I’m waiting on a therapist to call me back this morning who specializes in OCD (which I’m praying to god this is a flare up and not my real feelings; I have had OCD since I was a child), I feel trapped. I feel like I need to run away. I kept fantasizing last night of taking the dogs and just driving out of state, and I felt so guilty for that. Why was I even having that thought? Did I really want to leave him? Then I would get these brief feelings of calm, before I started trembling and panicking again, and I would think the calmness meant that was my truth and I can’t do it anymore. But thinking about that makes me so sad. He is such a wonderful person, supportive, working his tail off for us to have nice things and to be financially comfortable, since we pretty much live paycheck to paycheck right now. I know I obsess over his issues with money–he and I actually both have the SAME issues when it comes to not knowing how to budget at all, but I conveniently seem to disregard my own issues with finances–and I worry that we don’t talk about the future enough, or I’ll always have to nag him about cleaning because he’s more cluttered and messy than I am, and I fear that means we’re mismatched. Even though I tend to be a bit cluttered myself, it’s just that I can’t tolerate mess once I see it as much as he can. He just doesn’t notice it, and this is a way he has ALWAYS been. It never really bothered me before, but now I’m more obsessive about neatness and I think I’m looking for things to be wrong with him, so I project and I nag constantly, and then I fear I’m nagging him because we’re really not compatible. Part of me says this is just OCD honing in on his “flaws,” but since I know real couples can struggle with things like keeping the house clean I fear that will be something I will wind up resenting him for. Or I feel resentful any time I have to do something for him, even though I used to want to do things for him all the time. My mom was in a controlling, abusive relationship with my dad my whole life (she’s still with him), and he used to make her do EVERYTHING and would do nothing for her. My partner does many things for me–cooks for me, holds me when I’m upset, etc–but for some reason I only focus on any time I have to go out of my way to do him a favor or do something for him, and I get angry, fearing that I will be sacrificing everything for him. Is that normal with relationship anxiety? Or am I just not suited to be with him (or anyone)? Sometimes your site makes me feel SO much better, but since this spike is different than other spikes–as it always is, it seems to morph each time a new spike comes–I can’t exactly find anything that matches it and I’m terrified that means we’re done. I know he’s been working a LOT lately, so I don’t see him as much, and when I do see him he mostly just wants to relax because he’s so stressed out about work and money. He just became a supervisor at work, and now this means he has to do overnight shifts sometimes, and has to work on weekends. The fact that this irritates me makes me feel so selfish, and perhaps I’m just looking for reasons to run because things aren’t perfect right now and I can’t handle the perfection.

    I am SO SORRY for ranting. I really hope you address this. I would pay for a counseling session with you to last me until next week when I can get the E-course, but I saw online that your sessions are full. I’m just panicked. I kept thinking last night about hurting myself because I can’t take this anxiety anymore. I threw up this morning, I can’t eat, etc. Part of me feels like I should just run away because this will never get better, and I will never be able to be in a healthy relationship because I will simply ruin it. Help me. Please. 🙁 I can’t cry at work anymore.

    • And sorry to ramble on. I feel like the “crazy person” freaking out on your comments section, and it’s probably not appropriate of me. I just don’t know what to do or how to feel or what is real and isn’t real.

      • Hello Sarah Jean,

        This message may be a little late, but I wanted to respond to you. I hope you are feeling better today.
        I took Sheryl’s e-course (two of them) when I was struggling with relationship anxiety (I’m married now) and I just wanted to say: hold on until you start the e-course. The e-course will help you with all these things you are struggling with. There are others (like me) on the forums with stories incredibly similar to yours. You are not alone, and you will get through this. You do not need to do anything drastic (harm yourself, leave your partner). You can just wait and get more information slowly. The e-course will help you immensely. Just wait for that. Also, you might want to consider that the fact that your birthday is around the corner is responsible for some of this (it might be bringing up stuff that you’re projecting on your partner). Just try to be really kind to yourself and patient with yourself, and, again, the e-course will help you so much!
        Lots of blessing for you until them.

    • Dear Sarah Jean, I also just want to respond. You sound like you’re going through a very tough time, if it helps, I can really relate. I felt the same desperation a year ago. And found Sheryl ‘ s website in the dark of night when the feelings are at their scary worst. I got through it, and am still with my boyfriend and we have a four month old baby. I got through my horrible anxiety by doing sheryls course and by seeing a therapist and talking to one good friend. Sheryls site and course was such a huge support during that time. I’m telling you all this because for me it helped so much to hear that I was not alone , that I may even be normal ! The thing is though, although it’s normal, not everyone has been through something similar, and for those people it is hard to understand. I quickly found out that there were very few people I could talk to about it all. find someone to talk to, but don’t choose the one whose mentality is “doubt means don’t” !!! Also, do consider telling your boyfriend. It may be really difficult to explain and for him to understand, but ultimately it will help to have the support and it will get you closer to each other.
      I hope you had a good talk with the therapist and you’ve been able to buy the course. Have faith in yourself, when the anxiety flares up, make a cup of tea, get out your journal get comfy and write. ..that’s one thing I find helps anyway.
      again, hope you’re feeling better. Hugs!

  15. I so love your blog posts – I will always be thankful that I found your work when I needed it most (before I got married). Whenever my intrusive, anxious thoughts come back, I just think ‘what would Sheryl say?’ 🙂

    I love the idea that everything has a root cause, and it’s up to us to find it instead of blaming the symptoms. I’ve found that most recently when I had a series of small but chronic health problems. In the end, they all come back to ongoing stress. Once I began to relax and remove the stress, the problems began to fade.

    Your children are lucky to have you!

  16. Hi!

    Has anyone had the fear of regretting their relationship in the future due to the doubts you cannot stop. So that you’ll maybe say that you will think that you have missed other chances of finding the right one?

    Best wishes

    • Hi Karina,

      Just to put your mind at rest a little, i too have had flashes of these thoughts, but I really think this is down to hearing other people say cliches such as ‘i was trapped’ etc. In most cases and I’m sure in yours,it’s our choice to be here and in no way is trying to create a healthy long lasting relationship being trapped. Not sure if that helps but i really think it’s more to do with hearing other people voice their regrets and worrying if you could ever be in that situation.

      • Dear Hope,

        thanks a lot for your support. Actually this idea just came into my mind because my boyfriend started worrying that I might regret it one day. Personally, I had not thought about that before.

        All the best. …

        • Karina, that’s the thing with anxiety, it takes on different forms all the time, with me it morphs most weeks, usually into something I’ve heard someone say. I just have to remind myself that I wouldn’t be thinking that if someone else hadn’t said it x

  17. Dear Sarah Jean,
    Like Lydia said don’t give up keep moving forward. We all know how you feel. It hasn’t been easy for me as well.
    it will get easier. This anxiety is a massive bluff ok sweet heart. We are all strong and beautiful women.
    What helps me is relaxing music.. Take care xo

    • Thank you Angela and Lydia. It’s just gotten so bad that i feel it has warped my thoughts entirely. Before when i was worried, I felt like a part of me still knew I loved him and wanted to be here. Now my thoughts keep telling me that my relationship has run its course, that I don’t love him, and that sense of knowing under the surface is gone. 🙁 I feel like I can’t remember any of his good qualities, and I feel trapped. Last night I kept waking up because I had convinced myself I didn’t love him, that I was lying to myself and forcing me to be with him, and that it wouldn’t work. That a marriage would fail, that moving in together was a mistakeand that iI should take all my things and run away to my mom. I ask myself if this is right and all I can think is “I don’t know anymore,” any that thought terrifies me.

      Are there women in the recourse who obsessed over their partner’s flaws? I don’t just mean shallow flaws like appearance, but who obsessed over how their partner functioned as a person in general? I think lately I have been using perfectionism to push him away. He came from a family where his mother did everything for them, and he’s just learning how to be responsible for things. He works his butt off working two jobs and getting his degree so he can provide for me and we can have nice things, but all I obsess over is that he isn’t responsible enough with chores, that I have to remind him to do things like get his oil changed or pay a bill, and that I’ll have to do that forever and therefore we’re doomed and he’s not “marriage material.” But this stuff didn’t bother me so much until I made a comparison in my head to me and my mom. My mom had to take care of everything and run everything in our house growing up and she became very resentful of it, and I get so scared that that will happen with us. So I obsess over all our tasks being divided 50/50 perfectly (how realistic is that?) And if at any time I feel like I’m doing more than I should, I freak out and get angry. We went to a wedding shower last night (it was coed) and all of the husband’s seemed so mature and responsible and I kept freaking out thinking “H will never be that way, maybe I should just end it, it’s not right and I’ll be just like my mom.” And I feel like my mind is making a decision for me. I know these feelings are unfair but they’re SO REAL I don’t know what to do. I fear I’m settling or lying to myself because I just don’t want to go through a breakup. And where normally I used to be able to tell myself “but H is amazing and I know I love him and don’t want to lose him, in spite of the anxiety,” I feel like I don’t believe that anymore. I feel like those real feelings are totally gone. I know living together is a learning experience and can be very hard, and that different people act in different ways. But now I fear I’m meant to be with someone else, or we’re just friends because sometimes I feel nothing for him. Yet I know I was happy with him just weeks ago, but this powerful projection I’m stuck in feels unstoppable. I hear about women dumping men for these reasons all the time, so I can’t help but think “maybe I need to end it, maybe I love him but don’t love him enough, what if we’re not compatible for marriage and he’s just Mr Right Now, and that all those feelings of us getting married our whole relationship were wrong? What if moving in together ruined us and we’re not meant to be?”

      I can’t even cry anymore. I am tense all the time. Sometimes I feel better when he holds me and sometimes I just feel like I need to get the heck away from him, like I feel smothered (even though he isn’t smothering in the least). This amazing man just got out of bed to make me breakfast, and here I am freaking out about feeling the need to leave him. I feel horrible. I just want the comfort I had with him before. This doubt feels so convincing. Please respond. Are there any cases like this in the recourse, or do I just need to leave him? I don’t know what I want or how I feel anymore. I was SO eager to marry him as recently as a month ago, and while he hasn’t proposed yet, I feel we’re headed that way, and the idea of “forever” scares the hell out of me. What if I’m settling for the first guy that liked me? What if I never liked him? What if he’s not as great as I thought he was, even though I feel he’s amazing? What if we’re meant for other people? What if I’ll never be able to handle the idea of marriage, or I’m just leading him on? What if there’s someone better out there who is more in control and take charge? What if I miss dating and can’t face forever with him because we’re supposedto break up? II’m so scared. It feels more real than it ever has before
      This must be it 🙁 and I feel numb about it.

      • E-course, not recourse. I’m on my phone and it kept autocorrecting.

        I also know that I should be patient. He’s trying very hard to stay on top of everything, but I feel like if he hasn’t done X soon enough or hasn’t changed enough or if we’re not responsible enough RIGHTNOW then we’re doomed and can’t get married. That I’ll get sick of it and leave.

        I also fear that because I was so eager to please him and do nice things when we started dating, and I had issues doing things for myself and on my own (because of my own issues; he always encouraged these things and still does) that I feel like I don’t know who I am. I’ve had depression since high school, long before we met, and so my lack of interest in anything and lack of self sufficiency or fear of indeoendence started before my relationship. But it has carried on throughout my relationship and i know it’s not healthy of me. But does that mean the relationship is unhealthy and we need to break up? 🙁 he has been nothing but supportive, independent, and healthy. Truly the best partner a girl could ask for, but I’m so messed up and was obsessed with my infatuation withhim, before all rthe doubting started. So I know I’m not always healthy in relationships, and part of me fears if I get better we’ll fall apart. Is that normal? Does that mean my relationship is doomed? This all stems from my mom’s relationship with my dad, where he made her feel guilty for any independence. So it’s harder for me because I sometimes feel bad. And now I’m projecting all these fears onto a healthy relationship and pushing it away. I am so messed up I feel like he deserves so much better. How can I doubt him? Why do I sometimes feel bored with us? Is it because I’m not workingon me and i feel stagnant in my own life? Does this make us stagnant? Shouldn’t we be happy and working towards exciting things all the time? How can we last forever?

        • I am so sorry to hear that and know how hard it is. I don’t know anything anymore either. BUT don’t make a decision in this situation. You don’t need to decide now. That will help you at least for the moment. All the best

        • Sarah Jean,

          I was honestly just thinking of you the other day and actually wondering how you were doing. I never got to respond to some of your posts but our situations are quite similar in some ways. I had depression since around middle school and anxiety as far back as I can remember. Although I have not been diagnosed with OCD, I do have obsessive thoughts on things that you have previously listed in other posts on this blog. I just want you to know you are not alone. You are a strong woman, and though this situation seems like you are at your weakest, you will conquer over this. I hope that we can actually talk about these things more in depth. Let me know if you want my email. I hope this didn’t come off sounding strange, I just felt like I needed to tell YOU these things because I could hear so much worry as I read your responses to these posts. It breaks me but to be there for someone and hopefully help a little bit through there situation, I think it will help both of us grow. I hope to hear your reply 🙂 in the meantime, stay well hun and hang in there 🙂

          • It is very reassuring to hear someone say they can relate to me. Lately since my OCD has been so bad and so twisted up in my head, my compulsive googling hasn’t been satisfying me anymore because I can’t find anyone who has experienced exactly what I’m going through and feeling, so the anxiety loves to tell me that it’s not anxiety, and that the only reason I’m anxious is because it’s the first time I have to break up with someone. 🙁 I keep thinking over and over again “people break up all the time; this is just your turn; it’s inevitable; hardly anybody winds up with their first serious partner; he’s not perfect, this won’t be a sustainable relationship and it needs to end; find someone better” etc etc. And lately it’s like the thoughts are moving so fast I can’t even tell what the thought is anymore; I just feel anxiety and tension around him, a complete feeling of disconnect, and a very convincing urge to leave. I almost broke it off with him 3 separate times yesterday, and yet during all my freakouts he just held me and calmly told me, “this is your anxiety. it’s okay.” because I was SO CONVINCED that that was it. I kept getting images in my mind of going back to my parents’ place up north, that that would make me happier, thinking I couldn’t be happy or work on myself unless I was single, that I just needed to leave, that I was “calm” and therefore this was my truth, etc. But any time I tried to end it I would start crying, because I don’t think that’s what I want, though I don’t feel as certain about that as I usually do. Right now it’s so bad I can only say I’m about 60% sure I don’t want to break up, but at the same time I don’t feel like I love him 95% of the time.

            However, I think I got a VERY brief moment of clarity last night when I went out to dinner with a girl friend of mine. She was gushing about this new guy she’s talking to, and earlier this weekend when she was talking about him I felt very jealous that I was never really going to experience that rush anymore of meeting someone new, because H and I are so far past that point. Then of course I felt weird, guilty, etc for feeling that way this past weekend, fearing that it meant I wanted to be single and that H was not right for me because I don’t feel like that anymore. That I feel “comfortable” and safe with him, but not infatuated or excited. That I feel kind of “bored.” So I felt horribly sad about that, and confused, even though I told myself it was a normal feeling. I think it really spiraled me into this tailspin this weekend. But last night when she was talking about him again, I got to talking about all the wonderful things that H had said and done when we first started talking that made me fall in love with him; how much of a great guy he was (and is), how perfect we were for each other, how I knew I loved him right away, etc. And for the first time in weeks I was able to feel that excitement again, that love I have for him. I felt more relaxed than I had in days, and more confident in the fact that I am in love with someone who is amazing and who is my best friend. It helps that my friend understands my OCD somewhat, and when I told her I feared that being jealous meant my relationship was wrong, she reassured my that it was normal, and that she even feels jealous of me because she wants what I have with H with this new guy! That all relationships that go through that “excitement” phase are really trying to work towards the solid, loving relationship that H and I have as a goal. That made me feel better and helped me focus on the fact that we DO have a good thing, and that I’m just very scared of forever because I feel like the other shoe will always drop.

            When I went home last night all I wanted to do was curl up with him on the couch and never let him go. I went to bed and for the first night in 5 days I wasn’t waking up every hour with a new panic attack while lying next to him. Unfortunately I woke up this morning feeling anxious again. 🙁 So now I’m just trying to remember how I felt last night without feeling like I was lying to myself or faking it, or that it didn’t mean anything and I still don’t love him. It’s hard for me, because it’s my first serious relationship and I don’t know what it’s like to break up with someone; yesterday there were periods of time where I felt so calm and like I had to do it, but then when I thought about it more I would get anxious again. I think I’m just convincing myself of things that aren’t true so I can make myself feel better. But it’s hard. I fear that this is just the stage I’m going through to end the relationship, and everywhere I look people are breaking up or single or starting off these new, exciting relationships and I feel like I’m lying to myself and settling for the first nice guy that liked me back. Or I see some posts on here where women said they had anxiety but at the same time had a “deep sense of knowing it wasn’t right,” and I don’t know if that’s what I’m experiencing or not and it scares me. That, and the idea of never being single again is kind of scary. But then I have to tell myself he’s so much more than that. Does he have some growing up to do? Sure. But so do I, and I know he’s working on it and doing the best he can. It’s not fair of me to project perfectionism onto him, expect him to change any things he struggles with right away, and then get angry when he’s not 100% perfect and better. And to be honest, I’m not 100% ready for marriage right now anyway. We’re living together and we want to get married, but we’re just not at that point yet because we both have things we need to work on, and I know I need to mature and have a healthier idea of marriage before that can happen. I have this idea in my mind that a marriage is supposed to be a “certain way,” and if it isn’t exactly that way, then it’s wrong and bad and doomed. I’m just now starting to realize how much my parents’ abusive marriage has affected my and my idea of relationships. If I’m not codependent and obsessing over making him happy every second of the day, it’s wrong. If I feel like I need to get away from him or don’t want to be near him at the moment, it’s wrong. If I feel numb and not completely smitten with him 24/7, it’s wrong. If he annoys me or accidentally says something rude to me, it’s wrong. If he tells childish jokes sometimes (even though I used to love his sense of humor) it’s wrong. If he can’t clean up after everything 100% all the time so I don’t resent him like my mom resented my dad, it’s wrong. He has to be a neat-freak like me or it’s wrong. He has to know how to do everything, fix everything, and take care of everything or it’s wrong and he’s just not “marriage material.” In my mind I think husbands are supposed to be in charge all the time (I tend to be the one in charge in our relationship, although part of that is because I am a control freak and try to take control of everything, which is unhealthy), and that if that dynamic is off, or if he doesn’t do his chores soon enough, or whatever, then I “won’t be able to handle it forever” and it’s doomed, or I’ll just end up hating him like my mom hates my dad. And that terrifies me, so I feel like in my head I would rather ruin something wonderful and be alone than run the risk of that happening and of destroying everything about us that I hold dear.

            Sorry to ramble again. I just have all these thoughts running through my head and sometimes they make me feel better, sometimes they don’t. I’m at work trying not to compulsively google things because my boss has threatened to write me up, and I don’t want to lose my job. 🙁 Right now I still have a feeling like something is off or “not right,” or that I need to run away, but I’m choosing to just sit with it and not feed it with worries and questions and resistance. Just because I feel off doesn’t mean anything. I get that with other OCD spikes, too, but the “off” feeling will vary depending on my theme. All of this is following another hOCD spike, so I really should know better!

            Thank you for commenting and for stating that you can relate to me. It really is reassuring to hear that, because I fear so much that anyone I tell about this will say “well obviously it’s not right.” Luckily my two best friends, my mom, and my grandmother all think this is just anxiety twisting everything around into a new type of relationship spike, coupled with a bad depressive episode and a feeling of inadequacy about myself. Not a single one so far has suggested I break up with H, and as usual, H has been nothing but loving and supportive when I feel most guys would say “that’s it, I’m done with this.” He is such a blessing to me, I wish I could feel that and see it more often. I really do love him.

            I would love to share emails, Cait. I am thinking of purchasing the e-course today or tomorrow as a birthday present for myself. Are you on the e-course? I am also starting intensive CBT therapy on Wednesday and will be doing that for about 8 weeks, 3 hours a week. I am ready to do the work that is necessary to feel better, though of course I am terrified of it not working, or realizing that my “truth” is that I will have to leave. It is so scary to let go of a demon that you have had for 25 years! I’m afraid I won’t be myself anymore with it gone and H will no longer love me, or I won’t love him.

        • Thank you, Cait. I have sent you an email (my email address is [email protected])

  18. Well done Angela & Lydia
    People like you 2 im sure help a lot of people.

  19. hi again Sheryl, For the past while ive been doing really well. More confident that i love my partner and that i want to be with him and getting better at not putting energy into the fear thoughts, having much more windows of clarity. Ive also been working on and under-covering alot of the false beliefs i had about love that play a huge role in my anxiety.Finally i feel like ive worked through alot of my anxiety but last night i had a dream that me and my boyfriend broke up. I was extremely upset in the dream over this break up, and so was he and then when i woke i was extremely upset by the thought of breaking up with him and especially because i was doing so good, i dont know how to interpret this, am i lying to myself? is my unconscious trying to tell me that i dont want to be with him?. Around this time last year i was broken up with so i dont know if this may have anything to do with it? In the dream I cant figure out who broke up with who or if something happened to cause the break up, i just remember him saying ‘i hurt you’ which is crazy to me, because my partner is so loving and caring and always supportive and encouraging of me. Im just feeling very disheartened because I was doing so good, and now with this set back i dont know what to think 🙁 your advice would be much appreciated x

  20. Hi everyone,
    I’ve been regularly checking this site to keep me sane in times of real anxiety, and I’m so glad to have been helped by the articles and comments that people post.
    I wanted to share my situation in case this is what’s going on with anyone else. Basically, I was also having serious doubts and anxiety with my 2-year boyfriend, and it’s really getting serious with talk of engagement these days. However, I always found myself comparing him to a coworker and really idealizing the coworker in an unhealthy way. My boyfriend is sweet, understanding, very successful, and treats me well all the time. My coworker is messy, a risk-taker, defies professional “norms”, and is a partner in an entrepreneurial business that I was working for.
    I went and spoke to a councillor about this, wondering if I’m just not being appreciative of him and there’s something I can do about it, or if the coworker is just a better fit for me because I find him so interesting and find his quirks so endearing. For example, I took the fact that he has a messy car as a sign that he’s carefree, and would kind of resent my boyfriend for being such a “stickler” with a clean car and being so responsible all the time.
    What the councillor told me is that I’m going through a kind of delayed adolescent rebellious phase since I was always following cultural norms as a girl growing up. She said that the endearment for my coworker is really less about him and more about me needing to find my own identity separate from my parents and culture. She suggested I go ahead and explore the things I’ve always wanted to do, like learn to play guitar or make a career shift that I’ve been wanting to make, and that things would be more clear after this phase has run its course and my relationship will develop into something it never was before.

    I found it such a relief that its not so much the coworker that I idealized, but the rebellion he represents by being “rebellious” himself. Its also very true that I saw my boyfriend as “too perfect”, as he fits exactly what my culture would deem a good husband, and that made me feel like I didn’t get to “choose” him, but that the opportunity he was chose him for me, if that makes any sense.
    So now I’m looking forward to exploring my interests, maybe getting a small tattoo like I’ve always wanted, and really finding myself and knowing myself more fully, and I am confident that I’ll feel a lot better about him when I’m not putting the onus on him to be my rebellious choice or make me feel rebellious.
    Sheryl, I would love if you could explore this topic further!


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