Separation Anxiety and the Fear of Death

by | May 24, 2015 | 20s, Anxiety, Anxiety Collection, Intrusive Thoughts, Relationships, Trust Yourself | 63 comments

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMany of those who fall on the anxious-sensitive-creative spectrum and find their way to my work describe a common experience: struggling with separation anxiety as a child. When a client shares with me that she dreaded going to school, hated the beginning of each new school year, couldn’t bear going to sleepaway camp or even a friend’s house for the night, and struggled with the transition into college, I look at her with a smile and say, “You’re in the right place.” Alongside struggling with perfectionism, having difficulty making decisions, and being more exquisitely attuned to the emotional tenor of life, separation anxiety is part of the profile of most people who struggle with the myriad manifestations of anxiety.

Far from being something to feel ashamed of, I see separation anxiety as evidence that my clients as children had a healthy attachment style and were aware of the deeper, existential nature of our life on this planet. Usually the separation anxiety includes a loving relationship with their parents and the fear that, if separated, they or their parents will die. This isn’t always the case (sometimes they describe an unhealthy relationship with primary caregivers), but for the most part my clients echo each other to a tee: I was always scared of death. I still think about death every single day. I was terrified of my parents dying when I was kid. I’m still scared of them dying (especially my mom). I’ve always had a hard time with changes and transitions. I used to cry on my birthday because I was getting older. From from being a sign of dysfunction, these statements are evidence of our most primal attachment needs, as Sue Johnson writes in Hold Me Tight: “The need for safe emotional connection to a few loved ones is wired in by millions of years of evolution… Love is the best survival mechanism there is, and to feel suddenly emotionally cut off… disconnected, is terrifying.” (pp. 46-7)

The fear of becoming separated from one’s tribe is a primal fear that extends back to the days when we lived in the forests or in the wild. For if a young child became separated from his mother – his source of food, his tether to emotional sustenance and comfort, the person that would keep him physically safe within her fold – he could die. Even though kids know that they won’t physically die when separated from a safe caregiver, it still feels like death. For this reason, separation anxiety is one of the most heart-wrenching feelings a child can experience, as it cuts to the core of their sense of survival.

Some of my earliest and most vivid memories are of crawling out of bed and dragging my green cotton sleeping bag with big pink flowers outside my parents door, where I would lay it out on the maroon shag carpet (yes, it was the 70s), snuggle in with my German Shepherd guardian angel, and go back to sleep. I desperately needed to feel closer to them, for even the short distance between my bedroom and theirs felt like a yawning chasm against the dark silence of night. Heeding the dire warnings of the day, they didn’t allow me to come into their room with them, so I settled for as close as I could get and spent the night in a narrow hallway pressed against their door. (Years later, my mother wept when she read The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff and realized that my need to be close and her instinct to pull me into bed with her were healthy.)

The ramifications for how insidiously this culture messes with mother-instincts is far-reaching and dire. For when a mother denies her instincts, a child’s innate ability to trust her innate needs is interrupted and instead turns into shame. “What’s wrong with me for not being able to be at the birthday party like everyone else?” the child assumes when she cries at the door, holding onto her mother’s skirts and begging her not to leave. The mother may long to stay with the child until she feels safe, which may mean for the entire party, but the voice of the culture emanating through the projected judgement of the other mothers glares in her heart, and she walks away. Both mother and child are in agony, both denying what they know is needed: attachment and connection until the child feels safe enough to be on her own.

This doesn’t apply to all children, of course. Many kids are just fine separating and joining the party or running off for the first day of school. But for those who aren’t – the highly sensitive ones – we need to adopt a mindset that encourages parents to attune to the unique needs and rhythm of their child instead of following the herd. We need to stop telling parents that they’re “coddling” their child when they stay closer for longer. We need to stop judging kids for being “too sensitive” and instead recognize that, for the highly sensitive child, being separated isn’t just a minor incident, but literally feels like their organs are being turned inside out, the emptiness and loneliness so great that it feels like death.

It makes sense, then, that this separation anxiety would be activated around major transitions as an adult, like going to college, starting a new job, moving, and getting married. What remains unhealed inside of us will release around similar events, so with each separation the original wound around separation is reactivated. The work, then, is to learn to repair that sense of separation and disconnect by growing our own loving adult self, learning to connect to the invisible cosmic web that is beyond death, and, when possible, attach firmly to safe others.

It’s not a parents’ job to attend to that high need for contact every second of the day and night. One of the things I’m teaching my older son, now that he’s ready to separate more but still feels the disconnect and loneliness, is tools and practices for connecting to his own source of guidance and comfort. I teach him visualizations and meaningful rituals that can help anchor him into the greater flow of life, the sense of oneness that lives inside and all around him. My husband and I have been source for him for many years, and we know we can’t continue to be the only tether and anchor. So, over time, hopefully he will learn to anchor into the well of his own being.

We all must do this. We all must attend to the empty and scared places inside of us, the holes and wounds that we carry into adulthood by virtue of being sensitive souls whose needs weren’t quite met. This isn’t an exercise in blaming parents at all for, as I said, most of my clients who describe this experience of intense separation anxiety and fear of death had basically loving parents. Rather, it’s a recognition that, even in the most healthy of homes, the culture that we live in fails to hold us in the bigger web, teach us the skills and rituals that will tether us to a sense of oneness, guide us to attend lovingly to our big feelings, and encourage us to attach to healthy and loving others. Ultimately this is what needs to happen to repair the fear of death. It’s no small task, but it’s doable and necessary if we are to live in the fullness of life.

2019 update: Our older son is now almost 15 years old and has no fear of separation and very little fear of death. He’s a pilot, he’s independent, and he loves engaging fully with life in every way. 

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63 Comments

  1. This post brought back a lot of memories – especially my first sleepover. It was only across the street but I still had to call my mom to check in and say goodnight!

    I’d be interested in the visualizations and rituals you teach to your son – I am an elementary teacher and many of the kindergarten students struggle with being away from their parents, even this late into the year. I want to be sensitive to their emotions, but often have a classroom of 20 other students who need attending to. Maybe there is some sort of whole-group activity or conversation we can have at the beginning of the year? Any references you can share for helping my littles cope would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for everything you do – your work always inspires me and shifts my perspective on society, emotions, and love.

    Reply
    • My strongest recommendation is to teach a mindfulness practice for kids. There are many people are bringing mindfulness into elementary schools. I would suggest doing a Google search to find an organization that might be able to guide you toward implementing this.

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  2. Thats beautiful Sheryl, Wow, your words brought me to tears. I take my hat off to you and your husband. Its not easy for parents to use the tools which comes with skills you put to action on a daily basis. Especially in this busy life we lead. I am sure my parents didnt have the skills and tools to attend to our every need they made mistakes but not intentionally. They did the best they knew at the time. They just didnt know how highly sensitive me and my brothers were. There was no manual back then and still not now. I am proud of the person I have become thanks to my parents.

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    • There are no perfect parents, and there is no manual. All parents do the best we can, and then we learn, as adults, to fill in the deficits and repair the “mistakes”.

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  3. How would you suggest getting over the fear of death?

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    • It’s a multi-spoked wheel: 1. letting yourself and attend to big feelings 2. creating meaningful, daily rituals that you anchor you into time and space 3. developing a habit for managing daily loss (like Tonglen) 4. filling your well (when you are full and joyful inside it edges out the fear of death)

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  4. Hi Sheryl!

    Along with relationship anxiety I’m also transitioning into college. I just finished my freshman year and my anxiety with my partner started then; it’s been a difficult and incredible journey.
    I’ve learned so much about myself as an individual and my relationship because of my anxiety and this article made me realize even more so that I am a highly sensitive person. As a child I would often have anxiety attacks when thinking about death, I would ruminate on life and my relationships to my parents and what would happen to me when they passed, or where would I go when I pass. I also had an attachment to my mother and this has carried over to my relationship. Seeing my partner with his friends when we are apart and simply being apart from him at all feels like a threat to “our pack”. This article has helped me feel less alone in my journey and I thank you for that!

    Anna

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  5. Timely for me, as my toddler cycles in and out of separation anxiety. While it can be draining for me emotionally (I often find myself worn and overstimulated by the days end) when I consider the alternative I’m more than happy to sit with him while he falls asleep, and let him decide how much to interact with other kids. It’s a good challenge for me as well to find times (read: nap time!) where I can rejuvenate and care for myself. So draining. So rewarding. Thanks for your words and reminders that a healthy attachment’s other side is fear of separation.

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    • Yes, Sarah, finding times to replenish yourself is ESSENTIAL for all parents, and especially those who are following an attachment model of parenting.

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  6. Hi Sheryl
    Thanks so much for todays post.
    Do you think this is why I struggle with travelling? I have terrible anxiety leading up to going on a holiday, whilst on holiday and a few days after till I calm down.
    I’ve had holidays where I can eat or sleep for the whole time I am away.
    I was like what you mention it the post, I hated sleeping out, I didn’t go to school camps I avoided anything like that. I only slept at my Dads and my Nans and home with Mum.
    I still do. I would rather come back no matter how late it is.
    I have 3 weddings over the next 2 years (Bali, Vegas and down south) and I have to attend all as I am a bridesmaid and the thought sends my head to a dizzy sick anxious feeling.
    I want to go, I really do, but at the same time I am petrified.
    I did have a period in my life where I was fine with sleeping out and I travelled to Europe for 8 weeks with only one night of feeling off.
    I think I was “preoccupied”.
    I cancelled my trip to America when this all started 2 years ago, ever since this started I cant stop thinking about travel and the thought of someone suggesting a camping trip or holiday worries me.
    What can I do to make this go away. I want to travel, I want to explore and enjoy life. I want this to go away and I know I am strong enough to beat this stage but I would really like some advise on how to go about it.
    Thank so much.
    Amy 🙂

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  7. This!
    Modern world, stop messing with the normal instinct of motherhood!
    We dumped our first pediatrician who informed me when I went to soothe my crying 4 month old that ‘I was being too responsive’. (?!?!)
    I hear from people in earshot talk about how ‘we don’t want to coddle him/her’ when speaking about their children.
    We were advised ‘don’t let her into bed with you-you will never get her to sleep in her own bed’.
    (That is fallacy.)
    When my daughter and another child were having a moment over a toy sharing situation and my daughter was upset, the other parent saying to me ‘don’t go over there, let them work it out-they need to learn these things’ as I walked over to help soothe her and her friend, and smooth over offer a teaching moment for both kids about sharing.
    (They were 3.)
    I see and hear it daily.
    I am far from perfect, but for me the experience of significant non-attachment growing up innately firestarted an uncontrollable drive to do the polar opposite. I have a sensitive child, but I already see she has far more emotional bandwidth and skill at working through the emotions than I did as a child.
    And I attribute that to her getting alot of emotional attention from my husband and I.
    You can not ever hug or attend to a child enough in my opinion.

    Reply
    • Bravo, Marybeth. The more I learn and read about attachment the more firmly I see that it forms the cornerstone of nearly everything: how we tolerate emotions, how we navigate relationships, how we feel about ourselves. It’s KEY.

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  8. Hi Sheryl
    Thanks so much for todays post.
    Do you think this is why I struggle with travelling? I have terrible anxiety leading up to going on a holiday, whilst on holiday and a few days after till I calm down.
    I’ve had holidays where I can eat or sleep for the whole time I am away.
    I was like what you mention it the post, I hated sleeping out, I didn’t go to school camps I avoided anything like that. I only slept at my Dads and my Nans and home with Mum.
    I still do. I would rather come back no matter how late it is.
    I have 3 weddings over the next 2 years (Bali, Vegas and down south) and I have to attend all as I am a bridesmaid and the thought sends my head to a dizzy sick anxious feeling.
    I want to go, I really do, but at the same time I am petrified.
    I did have a period in my life where I was fine with sleeping out and I travelled to Europe for 8 weeks with only one night of feeling off.
    I think I was “preoccupied”.
    I cancelled my trip to America when this all started 2 years ago, ever since this started I cant stop thinking about travel and the thought of someone suggesting a camping trip or holiday worries me.
    What can I do to make this go away. I want to travel, I want to explore and enjoy life. I want this to go away and I know I am strong enough to beat this stage but I would really like some advise on how to go about it.
    Thank so much.
    Amy

    Reply
  9. There is SO much in this post, thank you!

    Thank you sharing that piece from Sue Johnson and the primal fear of being separated from one’s tribe. I think about death everyday but I also have this fear of being the last one left on earth. I think this makes sense given what you shared and dare I say OKAY since love and connection is wired into us. Just like you describe the pressure of not coddling too much, I feel this pressure that I shouldn’t depend or long for other’s connection too much. I know I need to keep working on the balance of tending to my connection to myself and building connections with others.

    I find that even being around one other person gives me more motivation to do things (especially around the house). We don’t even need to be interacting. Could this go back to my early attachment? I don’t think I had the healthiest attachment to my parents (no blame, just reflection). I remember feeling loneliness from an early age and trying to work through things on my own. To this day my family can often spend time together without engaging past the surface with each other.

    I don’t particularly remember experiencing separation anxiety when I was younger. I can remember emotional difficulties and anxiety around transitions starting when I went to high school though. I have felt loneliness from an early age and always tended to try to work through things on my own. I just fear needing to live alone one day and not being able to cope because I have already experienced this. I think it may be the loneliness and maybe it goes back to how I felt as a child?

    Reply
    • Yes, I would guess it’s connected to how you felt as a child: the disconnect from you family and the longing to connect on a deeper level. We MUST depend on others; we’re wired for it!

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  10. I am interested practical ideas about healing this. Your article raises excellent points with insights that resound. I am so glad to hear I’m not alone in fearing the death of my mother (even tho she is pretty self-centered). Now I need the practical ideas – that would be helpful. Do you offer these in your courses?? Is meditation practice one daily practice? Thanks!

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    • I’ve shared some tools in response to Linda’s question above, but I’m sure there are many others. Yes, meditation is one daily practice, as is journaling and anything else that turns your attention inward and helps you anchor into yourself, others, and life in a meaningful way. I teach this in depth in my Trust Yourself 30-day course, which I will be offering again in July.

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  11. Seeing, in print, what I formerly thought were my mysterious childhood idiosyncrasies is so validating and healing. As far as I’m concerned, though, these blog-induced moments of understanding and compassion for the self are so minute compared to how you helped me heal the wounds and ignored places inside me.

    As an adult, I’ve often wondered, “Why is this (insert any change, any transition, anything sad, any life event- good or bad!) SO much harder for me to deal with than for other people?” and there are still days when that’s frustrating and sad. But through your blog and online community I have learned that what I once thought to be my “cross to bare” is a unique gift that allows me to connect deeply with people, to feel incredible depths of happiness, excitement, and love, and to bare witness to how my higher power takes care of me and others without fail. You are teaching me and an entire world-wide community how to harness a gift that can be so, so painful into something sometimes painful, but always beautiful. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thank you, dear Rae. It’s truly one of my greatest joys to teach people about the gifts of sensitivity. So many people feel like it’s a burden until they learn to wield its power, as you are so beautifully doing. Thank you.

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  12. I would like to echo on Amy’s feelings of traveling and the fear leading up to it, on it and even after getting home. I cannot shake it. I’ve cancelled trips and if I happen to go on any because of my kids sports, I’m just a mess. I don’t eat, I’m grumpy, I’m tearful, I’m shut down, I’m miserably moody. And I know it. I literally make myself panic from not being at home or in my surroundings! I HATE it! What is this and why can’t I shake this?

    Reply
  13. Thank you for another great post, Sheryl. I was wondering if you offer any private counselling?

    You remind me a lot of myself — or rather, I remind myself a lot of you (and the younger you). I’m 23 years old, over-achieving (in a good way), sensitive, spiritual person. I had an anxious ‘breakdown’ when I was 20 — panic attack, followed by months of anxiety, from which I’ve made leaps and bounds. I have had relationship anxiety off and on for the last year or so (boyfriend of 4 years).

    The last few months I find myself having thoughts about someone else. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any one address ‘feelings for someone else.’ During a period where my boyfriend and I were separated, I had a fling with another guy who was a total gem, handsome, debonaire, sensitive, deep, highly intelligent. Now that my boyfriend and I are back together, I think about him a lot — thinking about how things would be if I chose him instead. I also feel that my thoughts about him arouse me much more than thoughts about my boyfriend (like way more). I’ve asked my boyfriend for space to “figure out my feelings” but 3 months later am still in the same place (confused about whether to commit to him or just be single). I decided to get back together with my boyfriend and commit to him despite the burn of this anxiety about committing to him and “closing off my other options.” My anxiety keeps telling me that I’m only staying because I can’t cope with being alone or that I’m influenced by his financial situation. When I think about the other guy (or when he sends me a message), more anxiety ensues about my choice.

    My psychotherapist, although she has been helpful with my other anxiety-related issues, tells me that at the young age of 23 I should just focus on my career/studies (law school bound) and not worry about a relationship. She says it’s natural I’m experiencing this anxiety and confusion because I’m young and simply not ready for a 1 on 1, that I should wait a few years to settle down, focus on my needs, ‘live life’ and not close off my other options. I find these suggestions tough, because truthfully, I just want to feel ready to commit to my precious, thoughtful, hard working, loyal boyfriend (– or do I? I don’t even know! doubt central).

    Do you think this is an off-shoot of relationship anxiety or do you believe that I really should break free to go find myself, date the fling, be on my own in my early twenties? Would love to work through this with you in therapy. Let me know xx

    Reply
    • Hi Emma: My counseling practice for ongoing clients is full, but I’m now offering single, premium coaching sessions. If you’d like to learn more please contact my assistant, Tina, at [email protected].

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  14. Hi Sheryl,

    Your posts really do speak to me and make me reflect on my own life and situation. I am 26, engaged and suffering with depression amongst other things. I have made a lot of changes in the past few months that have caused my life to feel ‘upside down’ and unsettled. I chose to cancel the wedding we had organised for August this year, I have decided to change my job as a teacher because it’s caused me a lot of stress dealing with particularly vulnerable children and to top it off we have moved out of our house and now living back with parents- making me feel even more out of control (literally).

    This is just on the surface level. I have been seeing a counsellor for a while now and she has been digging deeper into my childhood. Reading your article, I can remember lying awake at night being terrified that my parents would die. I am a middle child and my younger sister was always in and out of hospital with speech, ear and nose problems and would get a lot of attention. I spent a lot of time by myself just pleasing myself I suppose. I was always a daddy’s girl until she came along. Don’t get me wrong, we are quite close as a family but I am exploring a lot of my anxiety surrounding my relationship with my dad and the innate need to feel close to him and loved by him. This anxiety has spilled over into my relationship in recent years and I constantly worry that he doesn’t love me anymore.

    As my dad was in the RAF, we moved around a lot and I have actually lived in 14 different places. I am also wondering how much this has affected me in the long term as every time I have moved I have felt a great loss and sometimes even lost best friends in moves. I find it very difficult to let people in fully for fear that they are also going to do the same to me. A lot of my anxiety over the house move has brought back emotions of loss and uncertainty of what the next chapter is going to hold – something that should be so exciting is just filling me with anxiety.

    I am wondering how much I have been affected by separation anxiety to a certain extent. All your posts speak to me in some way. Please keep writing!

    Charlotte x

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  15. Wow, goosebumps. Thank you so much for this post, Sheryl. I regularly resonate with your work but this post resonated so whole-heartedly.

    For months after I started Kindergarten I would get so upset going to school that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I remember crying so hard and not wanting to let go of the hand of my grandmother or sister or whoever was dropping me off. My teacher would make me stay in the coat closet until I could stop crying (sometimes hours) and I remember watching my emotionally pained grandmother drive away while I grasped to the window crying. The school counselor would always try to “figure out what was wrong with me” but never came to any conclusions. I would also get so nervous staying over at friends or relatives houses that I would become physically sick.

    I feel so blessed to have found your work and feel that sigh of relief that so many years of beating myself up for “not being or feeling things like everyone else” can come to an end. That my HSP is something that connects me to the world and people in a very special way and that is a true gift.

    With so much gratitude,
    Katie

    Reply
    • What a horribly heartbreaking story, Katie. My heart breaks for little you, and I hope you have or can “time travel” back to her in the coat closet and give her the love and comfort that she so desperately needed.

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  16. Hello Sheryl!

    Thank you so much for posting! This is beautiful! When I was a little girl I always had a hard time separating from my parents when school started. Not only that, but I have an identical twin sister who is my best friend and they insisted in having us separated. That was really hard. Now I am going through similar pain because we live in different cities for the first time. Of course I show my anxiety and fear in projections on my relationship. Transition is very hard. Again, thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Sheryl,

      Have you ever heard of the unveiled bride blog? I found it on Facebook and a lot of fears that she went through in her marriage are similar to my fears and I’m not even married.

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  17. Hi, it is so very comforting to see that I am not alone on the journey to understanding my uber sensitive nature. I find it interesting that most all of the issues Sheryl brings to light have been a part of my life. Can anyone direct me to the most fitting course of Sheryl’s if in fact I am dealing with a multitude of these issues including relationship anxiety?

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  18. Hi Carmen,
    Thats sad carmen for you and your sister. My brothers are fraternal twins. Im the eldest and i remember my brothers were put into different class. It was painful for me to watch them get separated. When my mum dropped us off it was so hard for her to leave us. Sometimes she would laugh and other times she stayed until we stopped crying. Other kids would tease us and call us babies, sooks. Childhood memories will never be forgotten. My brothers were so attached to my mum, I was as well but not as much. I was an attention seeker. I loved my sleep overs and my cousins place. But my brothers wanted to stay home all the time.

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    • Thank you for your response, Angela! How is everything going with you?

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  19. Hi Sheryl,
    I experienced separation anxiety as a child, mostly centered around my parents’ divorce. I was always afraid my mom had been in a car accident or something bad had happened that would take her away from me. Now, as an adult, I find myself battling separation anxiety with my boyfriend. The weekends are not bad since we usually have a lot of time together. But when we see each other on a week night and I have to wake up early to go to work and leave him, it’s very painful and makes me very sad. It almost feels like I will never see him again. I try to ask my inner child what she needs and it’s hard to come up with answers. Telling myself “everything will be okay” doesn’t seem to work. I am curious if you have any strategies for how to deal with separation anxiety in the moment.

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  20. Hi Carmen,
    Your welcome:) At the moment I have my brother inlaw staying over. The problem is i dont feel comfortable with and Im sure he dosent feel comfortable with me either, so u can say i am feel a bit out of place. He is a good family guy but very reserved and not friendly. I an from italian background and my husband is indian punjabi. Me and my family are warm and welcoming and him and his wife are not. Selfish people and rude. I cant stand it, thank god he is not staying long. My husband is so different to his brother. I guess if he was like him i wouldnt of married him. I know we are all different and i do accept people for being shy or reserved. But they are definitely not shy. Just arrogant.I have to be like a mouse while his asleep as well. This morning he woke up and told me off for talking loud on the phone in the kitchen. His wife told me he is a deep sleeper. So i thought he didnt hear me. I apologised i feel bad about it. How r u progressing ?

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    • Oh wow! Sounds like a rough time! I am progressing slowly but surely! The fear isn’t nearly as bad anymore and I really enjoy spending time with my boyfriend so I know the fear isn’t because of him. 🙂

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  21. Carmen, thats fantastic

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  22. Sheryl, do you think dreams have anything to do with anxiety? I’ve been experiencing doubts about my partner for a long time now and I keep having dreams about the end of the world. I googled it (I know I should stop doing that, but I do anyways) and it says that it can be interpreted as the fear of losing a romantic partner or someone else equally close. Do you have any blog posts about this? I’ve noticed that my anxiety seems to be much worse in the mornings.

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  23. I know Sheryl can’t answer all these comments, so if anyone at all could respond, that would be great. I was just wondering if relationship anxiety can actually make you feel like you want to break up with your partner. My anxiety started out when I questioned if I loved him enough. I tried to work through it and it seems to make it worse every time. At first I just thought that the love was no longer there, but that I still wanted to be with him. This week I have a new fear: that I don’t even want to fix it. I thought, “We have to break up. There’s no other way around it.” And was surprised to find myself not that anxious about it at first, but the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I’ve cried and I feel so empty. But it feels like it’s the right thing to do. Why do I not want it to be the right thing? Not wanting to be alone? Not wanting to be single? Not wanting to hurt him? (This is the most likely probably). Could it still be relationship anxiety, or have I just came to a realization finally? I’ve been dealing with this for six months. Is it possible that my mind is exhausted by it and looking for a way out, or am I just denying it to myself? I just don’t want it to be true. I want to want to be with him. We’re so good for each other and he’s such a good person.

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    • Could these things have to do with self-esteem? Could I be unaware of it if it were? It also happened when he started opening up to me. Before I was the one who wanted the relationship and he didn’t want to be in one. When he did, my feelings shifted or something, but I don’t think it’s because I was afraid he would hurt me, unless it’s possible that I’m just not aware of that. I just don’t know what I want anymore or what to do.

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      • Yes it’s highly possible that you’re not aware of your underlying fear of being hurt or rejected. Most people have it and it can take some digging to connect with it.

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    • I can relate to this. Every time there is a different fear.. Like it is looking for the best way to get your attention. With me it also started with the feeling or idea that there no longer was love, but I wanted to be with him. When I was reassured that I wanted to be with him and I read some posts on this site I was calm, but also empty. When I was trying to understand this emptyness, the thought ‘do I not longer want to be with him/ do I don’t want it to get back to the way it was?’ And another time it was ‘Maybe I will have these fears the rest of my life..?’ But I don’t want to leave him and rather have (hopefully less of) these thoughts/feelings. And the next time ‘You want to be alone’… It goes in all different directions, but this also makes them less reliable or something, because they are looking for different and mostly contradicting ways to push me to walk away from my lovely partner.. But even though.. it is very hard and when you have solved one thought the next one will line up..

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  24. It’s awful, isn’t it, Mary? I never know what to think of my thoughts and which ones to actually rely on. My fear right now is that I want to love my boyfriend, but that I’m not capable of doing so.

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    • That one also wandered my mind Some time ago.. Accompanied with the thought that he deserves someone who is Capable of loving him As musch as he loves. At this moment i have the thought that I am not Capable of working through this like all the other people here are, that I will give up any time soon. It is just so hard to not know when this will end.. I see improvement.. But it is little by little.. I’m scared that for me it is just the sad trueth..
      What i realized is that our current fears are mostly due to self doubt, you are doubting your capability to love and i am doubting my capability to work on this.. Maybe we shoulder learn to trust ourselves and belief in ourselves.. But this is one of my main problems since i was a child.
      How long have you been holding up with these thoughts and fears and how are you working on it?

      Reply
  25. I’ve been dealing with it for about six months. Like you, I feel that maybe it’s true that I don’t really love him. I’m definitely a person who doubts themselves too. I always have been. I think maybe someone if this has to do with self-esteem. I feel like I just don’t want to be alone and don’t want to hurt him. I suppose I’m not doing much of anything to work on it except reassure myself it’s okay and read Sheryl’s blog to make me feel better about it and understand it. What about you?

    Reply
    • I am seeing a therapist who helps me practicing mindfulness and journaling, in wicht I have to write down my thoughts and make them positive. It helps, but it is a slow process. This site also has been Very helpful!! Were it six months of dwily anxiety or do you have had days/ weeke without it?

      Reply
  26. It’s been pretty much daily. There were maybe 4 or 5 days where I didn’t feel like the problems were just smothering me until recently. Lately, I’ve not been as anxious, but I’m still not loving, and that scares me. I just feel really sad about it when it comes to mind. It’s almost like my mind’s been blocking it the past few days, but today it kind of started back.

    Reply
    • It’s really tough and it’s just sad that we have to go through this.. but we are going through it because we want to stay. I have some good couple of days, and these days I recognize that when I think about my thoughts or I get the thoughts that it’s only that I am scared that it will be my trueth one day.. So I am very scared of losing him.. So it’s like I’m preparing myself for the day it will happen.. but it does not have to happen because this is a great relationship with a compatible partner. This is my clarity at the moment and it makes me value my boyfriend more. I hope this clarity will help me when there well be worse days..

      Maybe you should try to look for help and what works for you (mindfulness, therapy, read this site). I hope you are doing fine.

      Reply
  27. Thank you so much for this post ! It brought tears to my eyes as I remembered all those times I struggled / feared / cried / screamed at going away from home / having friends leave after staying over / sleepovers / going to school — you’ve made me understand my younger self a bit better and I will do my very best to see that my son gets all the attention he needs from me. 🙂

    Reply
    • It makes me so happy to hear that you are attending more lovingly to all of your children: the inner one and the outer :).

      Reply
  28. I cannot believe that I’ve lived 44 years and this finally explains parts of my anxiety. I knew my mother moving to another country when I was 9, returning and being emotionally cut off with her alcoholism was the cause but not in such depth.
    So glad you are here to explain!

    Reply
  29. Great post! It’s nice to hear that separation anxiety doesn’t have to be shamed and that it can stem from a loving relationship with your parents!

    I have a couple of questions for you on this though. 1. How do you know when the right time to cut off your child is? And whenever you still feel like you have a million needs, are you referring to your inner parent that can help meet those for yourself?

    2. I’m a huge fan of your work and love reading/learning all of this stuff but sometimes it feels like I’m clinging on to this identity of being sensitive or creating more pain/emotions for myself when I’m trying to be aware and tend to every thing that comes up inside. Do you see that with any of your clients when they start to dive in more?

    Reply
    • Jessica: I’m so glad the post and my work have been helpful. These are excellent questions but more than I can adequately answer in a blog post. Have you read “The Wisdom of Anxiety”? I think you’ll find some answers there. :).

      Reply
  30. I love your work! I am dealing with a great amount of anxiety and separation anxiety from my parents and their home I lived in. I recently bought a house 3 months ago with my fiancé and the anxiety has been so awful to where I don’t even want to go home. Just want to run back to my parents house. I had my first ever panic attack in my new home and I think a lot of the anxiety at my house revolves around that. Have your other clients experienced this?

    Reply
    • Yes, this is extremely common. Transitions trigger anxiety, and buying a house is a massive transition that often triggers early attachment wounds around security and safety. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read my new book “The Wisdom of Anxiety” as it will help you make sense of what’s happening and give the tools to work it through.

      Reply
  31. Hi Sheryl, we are going through a very difficult time with our 6 yr old boy who has over the past few months grasped the concept of death and what this really means. He seems to have a fear that runs deep particularly of losing us, saying things like ‘can I be buried with you when I die, I don’t ever want to be apart from you’ and ‘do you have another life when you die, I don’t want to die’. such big thoughts for a little person! He has separation anxiety when going to bed and going to school and we are having a lot of very challenging behavior which my instincts tell me stems back to his need for attention and connection with us…filling his bucket which is never full enough. He has also developed obsessive worries around touching things and germs. we get 100 questions a day about whether its ok if he touches something or can he get sick and shows anxiety around unknown things that others may have touched with germs. This could be because he is worried about getting sick/death etc or a habit he has developed which gives him the constant attention he is craving. Or a combination! It’s really hard to know how to respond. We are currently trying to strike a balance between listening/acknowledging his fears and encouraging him to trust his own instincts/knowledge and not giving it too much attention as he gets really carried away with run away thoughts and doesn’t even seem to listen or care about our answers before asking the next question. Our concern is that these behaviors are becoming very obsessive and habitual in nature. your article really resonated with me as I have been trying to instill mindfulness, body awareness etc and I feel at the heart of it all is a deep need for love and connection both with us and life itself. I would love to hear your thoughts around the obsessive behaviors or if you offer anything that may be of help or of any rituals or practices that may help him to feel connected/grounded in life. Thank you for taking the time to read.
    With Gratitude,
    Dani

    Reply
    • My heart goes out to you and your story is VERY familiar. Keep doing what you’re doing, and make sure that you’re spending enough one-on-one time with him so that he feels securely attached. There are no easy or fast answers, but what I can tell you is that the more you make room for his feelings while growing healthy rituals AND the more you can look for his sparks of passion/interest and encourage those, the more the fears and anxiety will pass through. If you haven’t read my book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, it will help as there’s an entire chapter on parenting.

      Reply
  32. Hey Sheryl;

    I very much identify with this post. Do you have any posts about dealing with separation anxiety in the case of breaking up?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • I have a course on breakups which you can find through MindBodyGreen.

      Reply
  33. Hi Sheryl,

    I’m 35 years old and your post identifies me to a T! Since I was aware enough to do so (age 4ish) I’ve struggled with the idea of growing up, death, being separated from my parents etc. Another post you wrote about your son reminded me of myself too; that he was afraid (actually sad) that even the smallest things changed. I find myself experiencing grief often over even the smallest things. Marking the passage of time (think photo memories like “On this day” in your phone or Google photos) makes me very sad. So much so, I wonder how parents (I have dogs but no human children) can bear the thought of their children growing up. All of this is complicated by the fact that I have mild cerebral palsy that makes me walk with a slight limp. The world has always felt “unsafe” because of it, compounded or exacerbated by my HSP tendencies. After combing through the comments here, it seems that the best place to start is your book. Please let me know if you have other recommendations for starting points. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Welcome to my work and yes I recommend starting with my book!

      Reply

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