It’s Time to Heal the Pain that Didn’t Start with You

by | Aug 27, 2023 | 9-Month | 16 comments

Grandma with my brother

We’re living in an extraordinary time on our planet: a time of extraordinary groundlessness and also extraordinary possibility. In our 24/7 media culture designed to light up the amygdala’s fear response, it’s easy to only see the world’s tremulous pain right now, and there’s no doubt plenty of it.

But there are also other streams and currents that speak to a consciousness of equality, interconnectivity, and justice that are growing into beautiful swells. I mention this because whenever we’re in transition, either personal or global, we have a potent opportunity to change structures and interrupt patterns, to see the pain in stark relief and the possibilities for growth and healing that live within the pain.

I’m seeing this on all fronts right now, from the world’s pain to the personal pain that comes into my office. The personal pain that I sit across from every day typically shows up as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, shame, worry, and compulsions.

Intergenerational Pain

There are many ways to cope with the pain of life, but for the highly sensitive population who find their way to my work, the underlying pain typically morphs into anxiety. Why? Part of this is genetic and ancestral, and here’s where it’s important to name and note that there’s an element of your wounds that didn’t start with you. When I ask clients if there’s anyone else in their family who struggles with anxiety and shame the answer is always yes. Always.

We’re all descendants of a legacy of beliefs, patterns, and behaviors, which means we carry some pain that isn’t ours. Some of these legacies serve us and many of them don’t.

For example, most of us come from a belief system around emotions that says, “Big feelings should be tamped down. If you’re highly sensitive, you’re ‘too much’ and you have to learn how to ‘buck up, get over it, and move on.'”

This belief system may have served the human race well when our physical survival was more at stake, but it no longer serves us. We must – we absolutely must – for the good of ourselves and the planet, learn how to reclaim our emotional lives, hold them close, and revere them as the guideposts and sources of wisdom that they are.

The Gift of Anxiety and Sensitivity

The result of growing up with this rigid and harsh belief system is that many highly sensitive people aren’t aware that their sensitivity is actually a gift and instead experience it as a burden. As I often talk about, a significant part of the healing path is to learn how to transform the burden of being a lightning rod into the gift of serving as a lighthouse.

One of the first steps is recognizing that some of your anxiety – or other manifestations of pain – didn’t start with you. It lives in your genetic code and the learned responses that you grew up seeing. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Your parents and grandparents were products of generations that had virtually no access to the types of resources and information that help us grow emotional intelligence and responsiveness. As we start to move beyond the blame and anger response, we tap into the awareness that perhaps the burden of the family’s pain may in fact shift into a gift once you learn how to work with it and wield it.

This is how we transmute the burden of high sensitivity into a gift.

This is how the weight of a lightning rod turns into the beacon of a lighthouse.

This is how the baton can shimmer into a wand that then helps us serve others.

The Task is Yours

I know right now that’s not how it feels. I know how weighty it feels when the unlived lives and ungrieved losses of generations who came before you have been funneled down to you. But it wouldn’t have landed on your psyche’s shoulders had you not had some willingness to do your inner work. On some level, even if it’s unconsciously or in a realm that we can’t understand, you signed up for the task.

It’s a special thing to be chosen. Again, I know it doesn’t feel that way right now, but when you learn the tools and mindsets that help you transform the burden of shame into the gift of sensitivity, you start to sense into the specialness that you have been chosen not only to serve your entire family lineage – for every branch on the tree heals when you do the healing – but also the human race at this point in history.

And let me be clear: this isn’t codependency. It’s not, “I’ll heal so that you don’t have to.” It’s much more subtle and nuanced than that. It’s that you’ve been tasked with this calling and you can either ignore the call or you can heed the call and give your conscious consent.

Now is the Time

Now is the time, my friends.

Now is the time to harness the potency of this global transition when external structures are crumbling and veils are being lifted, for it’s in this vulnerable time – and if you’re highly sensitive you can’t escape feeling the vulnerability – that we’re able to see our patterns more clearly and we’re given the strength and motivation to change them.

Fear will always enter the picture when we consider changing and healing – and these voices of resistance need to be addressed – but if we let fear call the shots we miss the opportunity to take the baton, turn it into the wand of creativity and spirituality, and change the course of the intergenerational relay.

I’ll be teaching the deep dive template for healing your pain, shame, and anxiety at the root in my 9-month course, Break Free From Anxiety, which will start again for the 5th round on Sunday, September 9th, 2023. Learn more here. 


Note: You can listen here to a webinar I offered 2021 on intergenerational pain and the most common reasons why people are scared to heal.



  1. Yes, this is so beautiful! I love the lightning rod to lighthouse visual. And I love how empowering this perspective is. “I choose to heal what I have the opportunity to heal.”

    Love ❤️

    • Thank you, Jamie! Your comments always land in a very soft place in my soul. ❤️❤️

  2. Simply gorgeous 🥰 thank you Sheryl. So often the work of healing personally and healing the world feel like two overwhelming and separate tasks and one lifetime doesn’t feel like enough. What you’ve distilled here in such a potent way is that the healing we give our conscious consent to is subtly shifting what is possible here on earth

    • Yes yes yes! It’s all healing, no matter where we enter in the river.

  3. Hi Sheryl, if I primarily struggle with COVID anxiety (i.e., I skip out on events out of fear of becoming infected, I feel shame around the precautions I take to protect myself, and shame around my intense fear), is Break Free the right course for me? Of course I already know the fear can jump around— I found you through relationship anxiety and have already taken that course 🙂 But I see that you recommend Grace Through Uncertainty for health anxiety. Mine is not so much that something *is* wrong with me, but that I *will* become very sick if I let my guard down at all. Thank you!

    • Hi K,

      I’ve taken many of Sheryl’s courses and participated in the 9 month Grace through Uncertainty last year. This course was fabulous and enlightening. I loved getting a daily email from her that I read each morning with my cup of tea. Her emails and gentle voice set me up the day. I miss them! The group calls were a great way to get extra guidance and connect with other beautiful souls. I highly recommend taking this course for any anxiety, as she guides you through understanding the wisdom behind the anxiety. Wishing you peace and clarity.

      • Thank you, Cara!

    • Working with the shame is an integral part of this course. My sense is that you would benefit enormously from joining this round and learning how to attend to the fear at the root.

  4. This discussion of intergenerational pain, shame, and anxiety made me think of the recent Disney film Encanto. In the film, all of the women in the younger generation of the family feel suffocated by the rigid expectations of the family matriarch, their grandmother. And all members of the younger generation have magical gifts, except one – leaving her to feel like an outsider who was not worthy enough to receive a gift. The matriarch, in turn, imposes such rigid expectations on her descendants out of anxiety: She is afraid that if things change, they will fall apart; the family she built as a single mother will fall apart. I am curious whether you’ve seen this film and, if so, what your thoughts are on it as it relates to this blog point. I think the film would fit wonderfully into this discussion.

    • Yes, I loved that film and it relates beautifully to this discussion. Thank you for bringing it in, Katie!

  5. Hi, Sheryl!

    Thank you so much for your work. You saved my wedding day two years ago. I was devastated the time before my wedding, having lots of doubts before marrying. I took your relationship anxiety course and was so relieved. I remember reading your material in a bus and just crying tears of gratitude. It was like the words were written directly for me and I was so amazed. Thank you! Now I’m still struggling (and have always in my adulthood) struggled with decisions. It’s like one decision is finally made, I feel relief for some time, and the next one comes and takes over my life. I feel like it’s the same thing or feeling taking new forms. The indecisesiveness. And it’s also an excuse to not live my life to the fullest (e.g I sometimes avoid going to places where people might ask about this decision). Right now it’s the struggle to choose a name for our beautiful, amazing little daughter. And the anxiety is even bigger because it’s a very public decision (people ask a lot about it and want to use the name). She’s now already a year old and I still struggle and think about it every day. We gave her an official name for the papers but still struggle to find a name we really want to use for her. The topic is very urgent to me because I know name is important for a child and she starts to understand quite a lot now. Do you have any recommendations on what course or book exactly should I take or read? I took your “Trust yourself ” also but of course with a child the deepdiving wasn’t so possible as it was the previous time and after I read all the emails and listened your videos, I’m still struggling with this one. I would very much appreciate if you have something to recommend (maybe talking to somebody would be best, but who?). It’s funny my sister had the excact same issue with her last daughter and they actually did change her name when she was two. Thanks!

    • I would recommend going through the Trust Yourself course again, and make sure that you do as many of the exercises as you can. And yes, working with a skilled therapist can help enormously when it comes to repairing self-trust.

  6. Sheryl,
    I’m so happy I found this website, resources and this community. From as early as I can remember I’ve had ocd tendencies/anxiety thoughts. It started out with thinking my house was going to catch on fire, then lead to not being able to sleep at any friends houses (I would always have to have my parents pick me up), every Sunday I would get sick to my stomach to go back to school on Monday.
    My parents, that are still together today, have never had the best relationship. They fought in front of my a majority of my life while I was living at home up until the age of 23/25.
    I have been in the same partner for almost 14 years now, we started dating when we were 15 and have only been with each other. I’ve had these feelings of rOCD/relationship anxiety on and off for a majority of our relationship.
    I would say from about 2020 up until about May/June of this year was so amazing! No anxious and intrusive thoughts about him or our relationship, felt very connected to each other, had a great time together, make each other laugh, have the same values, want the same things etc. we moved back in with my parents in April of 2022 and that’s when I felt like things started to come back slowly for me as far as my intrusive/negative thoughts go. Specifically from January of this year up until now. I had a surgery in April that I kept having intrusive thoughts of “am I going to wake up?” “How bad is the surgery/post op going to be?” And I’ve done this my entire life, especially when I don’t have anything to compare it to – I’ve never had surgery before. Everything went fine! I worked myself up so much that after the surgery I had developed insomnia for about 4 weeks after surgery, I still go through spurts of not sleeping well.
    Anyways, since then my relationship anxiety has come back full swing. We live in NY and have our whole lives but we’re planning a move to Texas by the end of the year hopefully. A time that I want to be so fun, exciting, happy and full of life feels like the total opposite and some days feels like I’m making a mistake. When I think about it, deep down I want to move with my boyfriend, try somewhere new, get a new job, meet new people etc but the questions of “what if” or “are we right for each other?” “Why would I be feeling like this if we were right for each other?” I think a lot of my intrusive thoughts about my relationship also stem from the fact that we have only been with each other so I also don’t have anything to compare it to. I also haven’t seen anyone else say that they’ve only been with this one person that they’re with now so that also makes me nervous and makes me feel like *I am the exception*
    We have gone through so much together and even when I’ve gone through periods around having these thoughts and questioning things, I’ve always had a feeling to not leave. Something has always told me that staying isn’t right but leaving isn’t either. I keep getting this feeling of not feeling safe around him – even though nothing has changed in our relationship except for the moving half way across the country factor. But do I give up a perfectly healthy relationship because I’m having doubts? Or even if I did leave and find someone else down the road, would I still have this relationship anxiety? I guess that’s what keeps me up at night.
    He’s such a good person, hard worker, loves me SO much, wants to move to Texas for a better life for us, we have great conversations, make each other laugh, tell each other everything and are honest and supportive of one another.
    I just wish there was someone/something to tell me “you’re in the right relationship, this is just your anxiety that you are projecting onto your partner” it’s so difficult 🙁

  7. Which external structures are crumbling and which veils are being lifted? It feels as though the planet is moving backwards in time towards fascism and control of segments of the population, and at the same time climate change is threatening us all….it feels really sad and depressing too when the “common person” cannot do anything about it.

    I recognize this post is not about the above…I would just like to better understand the characteristics of the mentioned global transition.

  8. I take my time very slowly with your posts and podcast episodes; they soothe me every time, and yet strangely it takes me many days to feel like I’m ready to take in another one. So I know I’m quite behind and my comment likely won’t be seen..

    I loved so many things in the post (though I did hope you’d spill a juicy “bean” or two for those of us who aren’t able to take the course :). Or maybe this was it? 🙂 ). There’s always something about the tone of your writing that gently reminds me to touch into the painful parts willingly and respectfully – something I always seem to forget inbetween contact with your words, and revert back to fighting the pain..

    But at one point I got a whole-body “No! NO!”, and it was when you said “you signed up for this”. This is triggering for me mostly because in the midst of something very traumatic caused within a spiritual organization I was told by the (very spiritual) teachers there that this wouldn’t have happened to me if I hadn’t requested it on a spiritual lever before I was born (nobody did anything concrete to try to help, btw). I later found this belief to be widely accepted in the ‘spiritual’ communities, and I strongly believe this belief to be blocking the flow of compassion towards a person in pain, because “Hey, they asked for it themselves so that they could grow, it’s silly to feel sorry for them as it was ‘asked for'” (or sometimes even “earned through karma”) – as I have experienced firsthand from the lack of both empathy and attempts at actually supporting me. I know in my cells that this is not where you’re coming from, neither did you refer to ‘people going through trauma’, just to being born sensitive. I just shared why it is especially triggering for me.

    But I still feel that this is just ‘a belief’ and don’t take kindly to it just being ‘stated as fact’. *And* – I think I might have ‘proof’ why it might not be so:
    There were always sensitive people – even in the most remote rural of parts of the most undeveloped of countries, centuries ago – where people, as you mentioned, had no access to any resources to learn anything about emotional responsibility. What would be the point then of ‘choosing’ this sort of wiring ‘in order to help humanity heal’ if there’s no chance for them to encounter something helpful, while their innate wiring is such that it naturally reaches for unhelpful ‘tools’ which just make things worse (like worry, control, compulsions, rumination, etc) and they’d just be set up to suffer their entire lives. What would be the point then of this ‘choice’ then? Heck – even today not everybody in need of your work will find it! The tiniest of minority will, actually. No matter how much of a bright or financially supported or willing-to-work-on-herself kid I was, when I struggled, I was getting *nowhere* because the professionals I turned to didn’t have the wisdom or use the ‘angle’ that you do, and so I suffered. With such a dearth of true pathways to emotional healing even now, not to mention historically, being told we ‘chose this’ is a very very tough pill to swallow for me. Many famous sensitive individuals through history didn’t even make it (poets like Yesenin, who ended tragically come to mind).
    Plus – *everyone* is required to heal, not just ‘us’! We might serve as beacons, called ‘to the front’ before others because we perceive the pain to be louder, but I find it hard to believe that they ‘weren’t chosen’ even though they carry pain as well.

    But I am still willing to step up, take responsibility for my own healing with the added bonus that it serves the world… which I know your main point was ever really about. I just refuse to believe that I ‘chose something on a spiritual level’, that makes me deeply uncomfortable .

    I’m sorry if this sounded argumentative and not loving, it just landed in a painful place.

    P.S. I think your grandma was beautiful and it seems to me that you look alike :).


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