Leaf in the Wind Syndrome

“I’m always comparing my relationship to other people’s relationships. Why does everyone else look like they’re so in love?”

“I have such a hard time making decisions. Sometimes I can’t even decide what to order at a restaurant!”

“I worry about whether or not my family likes my partner. I always care so much about what they think.”

“I believe every anxious thought that enters my brain. It’s exhausting.”

“What if I’m gay? What if I’m a pedophile? What if I have a terminal illness?” 

All of these statements are symptoms of the same core issue: lack of self-knowledge and self-love which result in a lack of self-trust. In other words, when we’re filled up inside – when the waters of our well of Self are full – we have a strong and solid sense of ourselves and so we naturally stop caring what others think, stop comparing, stop needing others’ approval to the same degree and ultimately start to trust our decisions, our agency, and our sense of inner direction.

When my clients are struggling with these issues, I say to them, “You’re like a leaf-in-the-wind!” They get it immediately. When you’re a leaf in the wind, you fly in whatever direction the wind carries you. You have very little self-agency and  inner strength that can help you chart your own course and trust your own decisions. If an intrusive thought like “I don’t love him” enters your brain, you’re at the mercy of the thought. The thought is the wind and your inner self traipses behind like a young sheep following its mother. If your boss offers some constructive criticism of your last project, you go home and not only stew about what you could have done differently but start to feel badly about yourself and question your self-worth.

By contrast, when you’re an old growth redwood tree, your trunk is solid and unshakable. You might sway with the wind but you won’t be buffeted or break. You know who you are, you value who you are, and you trust who you are. By extension, you’re also able to trust your decisions because you know that the outcomes aren’t predictors of your self-worth. You’re able to access the place deep inside that trusts your wisdom – the place beyond thoughts and deeper than feelings. You’re able to hear others’ opinions but ultimately form your own.

How do you become a solid tree trunk instead of a leaf in the wind?

The key is in learning how to reverse the focus of your attention from externalizing your sense of self to filling your well of Self with warm and clear waters. That means that you take time each day, through intentional actions, to learn about yourself so that you can learn to love who you are and ultimately trust who are you. This process of developing self-trust doesn’t happen on its own. It doesn’t happen through reading or watching self-help videos or talking. It happens through practice and action.

Quite often a client will ask me, “Do I have to do these loving actions every day?” to which I respond, “Do you have to brush your teeth every day? Only if you want a healthy mouth. Do you have to move your body every day? Only if you want a healthy body. Do you have to attend to your inner world every day? Only if you want to feel healthy, strong, and solid about who you are. If you want to continue to feel swayed by others’ opinions and bogged down in comparisons, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want to shift into a more solid version of yourself and learn to access the place inside that isn’t blown around by every thought and feeling, then you have to take action.”

Inner work is just that: work. The problem is that most people have a negative association with the word work. We think of work as boredom and drudgery, as something we have to get through in order to do what we really want to do. We think of the endless hours in boring classes watching the hours tick by or the endless hours sitting at a desk waiting for five o’clock.  But true work – work that fuels your soul – is closer to play. True work may be challenging, like raking up a pile of leaves, but it leaves you feeling accomplished, inspired, and satisfied. Part of the resistance people feel to committing to the daily practices is that they imagine it’s going to feel like drudgery. It doesn’t have to feel that way. For me and for thousands of people who have gone through my courses, inner work feels more like an adventure and a process of discovery, a journey through the labyrinth of Self that includes hidden pathways and mysterious caves. Guided by the headlight of curiosity, we alight on the sparks of insight that help us put the pieces of our inner puzzle together as we begin to make sense of our lives and rediscover the hidden crystal of self-trust that awaits us in the dark caverns.

Another spoke of resistance is that nobody taught us how to do inner work. We learned math and language arts and history and writing but was there ever a course on Self? Of course not. We balk in the face of what we don’t understand. We feel overwhelmed by a blank sheet of paper if we don’t understand the assignment. This is why I created my Trust Yourself program: to teach you the roadmap for inner work that you never learned in school. Together, we embark on a 30-day journey of learning and discovery. Together, we piece together the strands of your inner quilt that were shredded into disparate shards years ago so that you can taste your wholeness once again. Together, we remember what it means to love ourselves and trust ourselves.

My eighth round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt is open for registration and spots are filling fast. I hope you’ll join me.

41 comments to Leaf in the Wind Syndrome

  • Sally

    Love this Sheryl – thank-you <3. I'm off to uni today (a place where I often feel like a leaf in the wind) and will keep this article in mind.

  • Katie

    Sheryl this post resonated with me deeply as I am definitely someone who is a leaf in the wind. I make everyone’s story my own, the silliest example I have is being friends with someone who cheated and broke up with her boyfriend, this friend is obsessed with health and fitness, going to the gym all the time. And I genuinely fear working on myself, getting fit and feeling good about my body just incase I end up like her!!!

    Someone also said to me “you shouldn’t be worried about loosing weight because the only person you have to impress is your boyfriend, and he doesn’t care about your weight” this opened my eyes to the extent of people’s squewed beliefs about relationships. That you shouldn’t feel negitive about yourself if someone loves you. Like what about loving myself and feeling good about myself for me (which will improve my relationship)

    Inner work is something that is very forgein to me as I’ve never had a strong sense of self or felt like I’ve had my own “thing” How do u reccomend I start to work on my inner self, yoga has always been something I have wanted to try and have heard it is great for stress and anxiety, is that a step in the right direction ???? Also does anyone have any journaling tips, I feel like so far my journaling hasn’t been very productive

    • Yoga is a fantastic place to start, Katie. And if it’s possible for you to take the Trust Yourself program it will guide you through what inner work looks like every step of the way.

      • Katie

        I’m just afraid that I won’t stick to it, I’ve taken part numerous hobbies throughout my life and none have ever stuck. But I suppose now is the time to start kicking that habit. I’m looking to take the break free course first but maybe if there’s still more work to do (which I’m sure their will be) I’ll sign up to trust yourself

        • Lacey

          Hi Katie, I am currently struggling with that workout part too. I myself used to work out to look my best and fit but that was always feeding into my ego. So at that time I was chasing egotistical men (which never worked out). My husband does not have an egotistical bone in his body (which having a little is a good thing, or at least that’s what I think) Sheryl says, be turned on by kindness, but that’s hard to do always. So my struggle is that sometimes I feel like my ego has been deprived because I am in a lovingly and happy relationship, but it’s holding me back to who I really am because I fear of losing more physical interest becoming egotistical again, (the physical interest area could already use some improvement). I feel like it would make it easier if he was into fitness, but he doesn’t have the time. So I too am looking for a way to solve this

          • Katie

            Me and my boyfriend always speak about going to the gym together, he’s generally fit, plays football etc etc. I think I’m just afraid of becoming self centred or getting attention if I have a nice body and realise I don’t want a boyfriend, a lot of my friends are very attractive and use their bodies as a way to get men, I’ve never ever been like that even when single but when I’m anxious I do get afraid that I’ll all of a sudden turn into someone like that. I don’t struggle with psychical attraction but more just sexual interest, it dropped when my anxiety heightened but I’m hoping that when I have the money to work through the break free course that the loving feelings will come back, stress will be less and I’ll be able to feel comfortable and ready to engage in sexual things.

            I think we just have to take the plunge and go for it and hope that improving ourselves then fills our well of self and improves our relationships.maybe boosting ur ego a bit when it comes to appearance might make u feel more comfortable when it comes to intimacy too??

        • Lacey

          I mean losing more physical interest in him, is what I meant.

    • Krista

      Hi Katie!

      Oh my god did your words resonate with me. So I’ve been in a relationship for 3.5 years. I love my boyfriend with my whole heart (still waiting on the ring though, lol) and during our time together I got comfortable and let myself go. I gained 45lbs!!! Anyways, last July I made it a point to work on myself and needless to say, I have dropped that weight and then some, feeling unbelievable. However, looking good was obviously a good way to get men so now any attention I get from a guy I don’t want and I get scared like “what if I want to pursue someone else because I can get whoever I want?” And literally ANY conversation I have with a man, I feel the need to tell my boyfriend out of some form of guilt. For example, recently I started a new job. All the guys there are young and attractive. One of them happens to sit next to me. He’s the type of guy I used to go for, just your egotistical type guy. Needless to say, any conversation I have with him I think “what if Im gonna be one of those people that has a work affair?” “do i like talking to him?” “what if i hung out with him on lunch break?” and the list goes on and on and so does the guilt

      • Katie

        Yes!!!! It’s very hard to deal with I am the exact same, I can’t even go out on a night out or if I feel like I want to go out with friends on a night out it makes me think, you just want to be like them and be single. Even tho I know I don’t. Even if I’m planning a nice outfit in my head, a thought will pop up like “who are you trying to impress” it’s horrible.

        Have u taken the trust yourself course or the e course?

  • LovingKindness


    I have been waiting on Trust Yourself to open since last year. I truly feel this is the next stage in my personal growth. Break Free was enlightening because the deeper work made me realize it was not about my partner — it’s how much agency I’ve given other people over my happiness and how little I trust or truly love my Self.

    I look forward to growing with you in this course!

  • Ng

    Well this arrived on time. This is so good. Its funny because when i fill my well im head over heels for my fiance and on high for myfriends. Its when im tired and impatient that i question myself, my fiance and my friends. Im learning that filling my well makes me feel better about everything.

  • LightAtTheEnd

    I often feel too exhausted and challenged to do the ‘work’…but you are so right. It’s all about the perspective you hold and the relationship you have towards doing the work. I hope to develop a more positive relationship with it so that I genuinely find it playful and excavating. I want to feel energised as opposed to drained. It’s all about state of mind.
    I feel this is key to stop feeling a bit ‘stuck’ and though this post I’ve decided to hold more gratitude towards it.

    Thank you.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, As per usual another real blog. I remember when I first met my husband, anxiety hit me hard, it was a shock to my system. I was consumed with the physical symptoms and emotions that all i thought about was getting through the day, i just wanted to keep strong not only for me but also for my husband. I was comitted to him, i didnt wanna give up thanks to you I didnt. Having doing all the courses I learnt so much about myself and about real healthy relationships. I am in a safe and healthy marriage. Today i have been questioning myself am i in love or do i just love my husband like a friend, this thought hasnt popped into my head everyday. Am i in the ego state mind? I dont feel anxious, i hate feeling like this..

  • Angela

    What do u recommend? What stage of the work am I at? I feel great Sheryl, I just keep hearing people say if your not in love your in the friend zone. You know i have been so positive, but today I feel like im the hollywood expectations. My mother the other day, if your not in love, you will never be. I told her love can grow.. i guess im a little worried, do I need to be?

  • Jade

    Sorry to ask another what if, but what should I do if I believe my anxiety is caused by me doing something others would think is wrong? My partner and I essentially live together but have kept it secret. We also have been sleeping together but are both involved members of a church and Christian families, and consider ourselves christians as well. I think we’re a fairly healthy couple, and we’re good people, we just also like sharing a bed, and I feel so much guilt and anxiety over it, mainly because of what I’m worried others will think. What should I do? Or what could help? I don’t personally believe what we are doing is inherently wrong, which makes it even more frustrating.

    • That’s exactly the point of this post, Jade, as well as my Trust Yourself course. The work, then, is to learn to let go of caring what others think since it’s clear that you don’t believe that what you’re doing is wrong. We do this by learning to fill our well of Self.

  • becominglove

    Hi Sheryl, thank you for offering this post. My sense of who I am and what i value about myself is finally starting to grow. I am seeing this in my dreams and in my lived experiences of having conviction in myself where needed. A lot of this relates to my sensitivities and the depth of my feeling. I now know that these traits are some of my best qualities, as well as those that bring challenges and in all honesty are too much for some people, some of the time. There is a lot of irony in that, as it is those very traits that also enable me to be my most loving and compassionate self. I feel like the work has saved me, whilst also dragging me along kicking and screaming at times 🙂 I still care what people think, I still grieve and I still really struggle with putting my priorities in a different order e.g. myself, my partner, my family and so on. But I am so grateful for the flame of conviction within myself, that I know myself, I know I am not perfect, and I know that I have amazing traits that have both light and dark sides. I also know that being highly sensitive, anxious, contemplative, analytical, empathetic and so on, makes me me. If I know how to care myself, I can get through it and hopefully now I can start to thrive in a whole new way.

    Blessings, love, strength to everyone xxxx

  • Newly Married

    I struggle with having a perfect image in others peoples eyes and me thinking or feeling that someone else is talking about me in a way that its not good or truthful or in a way that i don’t present myself drives me crazy, i basically feel i have to be perfect in other peoples eyes i been struggling with that ablot lately because i have found that there is people who gossip about me and i feel like running away from this place to go love in a place where no one knows me or about me. Do you suggest that this is also anxiety and perfectionism Sheryl. Its so hard for me to not feel this way.

  • Custard353

    I am actually just starting to get this. I have always been a ‘leaf in the wind’ kind of person, all my life. Since finding my loving partner, feeling my severe doubt and depression and ultimately finding this website and undertaking personal therapy, I believe I am getting nearer and nearer to having a solid sense of self.

    I used to feel distraught if people thought my partner was ‘boring’ or ‘unattractive’ etc, etc. Now I just remind myself of MY reasons as to why he is perfect for me; I keep this with me and I feel so sorry for other people who haven’t had the gift of doubt to make them realise that real love is not the shallow notions that our society has us believe, but something much deeper. I never really believed it at first, but the anxiety truly is a gift and I hope that all of you struggling come to start to feel the happiness and peacefulness that I am finally feeling.

  • Kristy

    I’m worried that I’m no longer able to differentiate between my thoughts on my fiance, and other’s thoughts. For the past year, I’ve been so hyper aware of his flaws from seeing how others see him, that that’s all I can see now. He can be somewhat egotistical when talking about himself, and I feel like he’s not very intelligent, and I’m trying to decide if that’s a red flag or not. He’s wonderful and kind in other ways, but he has his moments when I feel like I can’t love him – increasingly so lately.

    Do you think this course, or Break Free would be a better option for me? Or if any of these things are red flags?

    Thank you <3

    • Lack of “intelligence” is not a red flag, but being narcissistic may be. It can be hard to see clearly when anxiety is in the way, however, so for this reason I encourage you to take Break Free. This article may also help:


      • Katie

        This post totally spiked me. My boyfriend is confident, much more than I am. I would not say cocky but he is sure of himself in most situations, this tends to irritate me like if he’s right about something factual and I’m wrong or if he’s trying to help me with something like driving which I am struggling with due to anxiety, I get super defensive and angry, assuming this is just a projection though.

        Anyways yeah this spiked me big time and I’ve spent today googling “how to know if your boyfriend is a narcissist” and “how to know when someone has a big ego” and mentally comparing him to these checklists, I even asked him today if he thought he was a narcissist, which perplexed and made him kind of upset with me.

        His confidence didn’t bother me up until anxiety, so I am going on the fact that I’m seeing through fears eyes at the moment.

  • Madison

    Sheryl, what is your comment on the transition from high school to college? I have an amazing partner who is everything ive ever wanted. He wants to have a future with me, but I feel like Im going to break up with him when i go

    • There’s no reason to break up, Madison, as long as it’s a healthy and loving relationship. I encourage you to learn more about transitions by downloading my free e-book on the home page.

  • Madison

    Thank you so much! I am planning on taking the break free course as relationship anxiety is something I struggle with. Do you believe it will help me in this situation?

  • growinglove

    One thing I find confusing is, it began with a lot of doubt and anxiety. Now I still feel tense around my partner, when we see each other I’m either hyper focused on his appearance, if he’s being affectionate with me I want to pull away (I’m not an overly affectionate person). He’s going abroad tomorrow for 11 days and when he said bye that’s when it hit me that he’s going away for a little while, and I wanted to cry. But I can’t help but feel like I don’t actually LOVE him. A lot of the time I feel like I’m protecting him like he’s my child or he’s my friend or even like a brother sometimes, though not entirely cos the thought disgusts me. I really want to take Sheryl’s course, but currently I need to save up for that. I genuinely do think I won’t be able to move forward in this relationship.. it makes me sad. The other day after being sexually intimate I felt closer to him and saw him as I would like to see my husband- but also parallel with the thought that I’m living in a fantasy. I feel like things won’t get better and that I’m actually forcing myself… 🙁

  • Someone

    Hi Sheryl, thank you for your never-ending support. I sometimes wish that my anxiety would concern my partner’s appearance, his voice, intelligence or whatever. My anxiety goes to my deepest fears, which, I guess, however, it always does.
    Me and my boyfriend often have arguments about sex. He starts them. I speak kindly and calm but he gets really cold and unsupportive. The arguments are about that I dont want to have sex with him. Even the arguments themselves are shocking to me. I want a calm and kind conversation whereas he appears so hostile.
    I am extremely ambivalent in my thoughts. I can go from “He is a serious threat to my well-being”, “Does he push me to have sex?” “Do men think that they own women?” to “Deep down I know that he is a good person” in a very short time and my rational side (inner parent) believes everything. It is truly exhausting to be so ambivalent. I feel like I am crazy. This relationship is a shock to my nervous system, as written above.
    Are the issues I described red flags? My boyfriend is truly kind and caring in everyday life.
    Thank you.

  • Someone

    Thank you, and I am happy to hear that it is not an obvious red flag.

  • Eli


    I hope I can get some feedback regarding my “issue”! MY boyfriend has been unemployed for a couple of years now. However, he does some consulting work as a Graphic Designer. I like to consider myself as driven and ambitious. My sister and I have been roommates for quite sometime but just recently she has bought a new house and moved out. I am stressed about doing it on my own. I guess I want to see about asking my BF to move in but my anxiety (if that’s what it is) makes me think that it’s not right to ask just because it feels more like a business transaction and it’s the wrong reason. He has been great and helping me as much as possible but I guess I keep questioning myself. Am I afraid to let go of my independence? Will he ever be able to support us financially? Will I walk away? I guess how can I talk to him without him feeling like he’s not doing enough. Any help would be appreciated!

  • Lisa

    Hi Sheryl and everyone else,
    I started posting a lot on here recently hoping to hear your thoughts on what I’m going through.
    I have a lot of those “What if’s” but mine are all around “what if you’re settling down too early”, “what if you need to go and experience more things”, “what if you’d rather be single right now and just convince yourself not to or are too scared of breaking up”
    I’m 25 and have been dating my bf for about 3.5 years. he is the best and everything I ever wanted in a guy but now these thoughts are really strong. we moved in about 8 months ago and they are really strong at the moment. I’m crying all the time because I feel bad/guilty and scared. I don’t know what exactly i’m scared of but I just don’t want to hurt him in the future by breaking up. I’m really confused, I don’t know if this is real or not, anxiety or truth. I love him, I know he is right for me but I can’t seem to push the though “what if there are things you still need to do” away. It’s terrible and I feel awful. I saw my mom regret having children too early missing out on a lot so maybe that is where this is coming from. She also kept telling me not to settle down too soon when I was about 6 years old. Does anyone else have similar thoughts? Is this anxiety or real?

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