The #1 Reason Why People are Scared of Inner Work

by | Feb 5, 2023 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, Relationships | 41 comments

Note: You can watch a video version of this topic here.

If you were drowning in the churning waters of relationship anxiety and I held out a rope and said, “Grab hold! This rope will teach you how to lift yourself out of the currents of your suffering. It asks only one thing of you: the willingness to look square in the eye at your source of suffering…” would you take it?

Some of you would grab hold immediately (and already have). Others would think about it for a while, and eventually come around to grabbing the rope. And many others would know that the rope is there but be so terrified to take it because of one thing:


You’re afraid of what you’ll discover.


You’re afraid that if you take the rope – which, in this scenario, is my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course – you’ll discover that your intrusive thoughts are true: that you really are gay or that your “truth” is that you have to leave your loving, available, well-matched partner.

This is the #1 reason why people don’t sign up for the course (and all of my courses). Yes, resistance and fear will throw every other roadblock in the way: I don’t have the time. It’s too expensive. I don’t really have relationship anxiety. But underneath those common lines lives the much deeper fear that by focusing on what you’re most afraid of, the fear itself will become a reality or you’ll discover that it’s “true.”

The irony of relationship anxiety is that embedded inside the perseverations that you’re with the “wrong” partner is the fear that you’ll have to leave. Why would you worry so much about leaving someone who you “know” is “wrong” for you? Because deep down, way beneath the fears, you know that your partner not only isn’t wrong for you but is very, very right for you. And by “right” I mean that you feel safe, you feel supported, you feel loved.


And you know, when you’re seeing through clear-eyes instead of fear-eyes, that this is someone with whom you can learn about love.


But fear tells you otherwise. And if you don’t understand how fear works, you’ll grab hold of those dangling vines, which quickly lead you down the rabbit hole of despair.

We know many things about fear.

We know that it is designed to try to keep you safe from the risk of loving, which includes the risk of being vulnerable and the risk of loss.

We know that fear distorts perception, as I wrote about here.

We know that fear can determine your thoughts and feelings, which means that just because you have a thought that doesn’t mean it’s true and just because you have a feeling that doesn’t mean you need to act on it.

We know that fear can feel very much like “gut” or “intuition”, and that when it comes to relationship anxiety, the million-dollar question is, “How do I know that this isn’t my gut telling me that I’m in the wrong relationship?”

We know that fear can sound very, very convincing, but that underneath every intrusive thought that your partner isn’t enough is the fear that you’re not enough. 

We know that the more power you give fear, the bigger it gets.

This means that by giving into the fear that is telling you that if you take a course like this you’ll discover that your truth is you have to leave, you’re actually throwing logs onto that fear-fire. By avoiding the thing you’re most afraid of, that thing itself grows into a wildfire.

Conversely, we know that the strongest way to reduce fear’s power is to take action. Action diminishes fear. This means that just by signing up for a course on relationship anxiety you’re looking fear in the eye and saying, “I see you and hear you but I will not listen to you. I’m ready to fight for love.”


I know what it is to fight for love.


I know it because I walked through the fire of relationship anxiety decades ago when my husband and I first started dating, and I know it because I’ve walked alongside thousands of people as they’ve traversed their own fear-realms so that they could commit to real love.

And now, only once a year, I’m leading a live version of my signature Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, so that I can walk alongside you. Over eight weeks, you’ll receive lifetime access to the entire course, a 2-month membership to the highly active and moderated course forum (and an option to stay longer), plus weekly emails from me to help guide you through the material, and four coaching calls where you’ll have a chance to ask questions and hear from others who are in the exact same anxiety boat.

There may be nothing more healing when it comes to anxiety than to hear from others in real-time who are struggling with your same struggles, for nothing normalizes the shame voice that says, “You’re the only one” faster than person-to-person contact. (Also, keep in mind that as most people can’t attend every live call for my courses, the calls are recorded and you’ll receive the same benefit by listening to the recording afterward.)

The self-paced version of this course is always available, but if you know that you struggle with discipline and learn more effectively in a real-time, guided format, this live version is for you. Over two months, we’ll delve into the material together (and there’s a lot of material; this course is dense, deep, and thorough), and I’ll be there with you every step of the way as you turn to face your biggest fears and slowly, gently, and effectively, find your way back to love.

If your #1 reason for not taking the course is the fear of what you’re discover, here’s the lifeline:

What you’ll discover is YOU:


Your gifts, your beautiful, sensitive heart that you had to seal over and shut down long ago to survive, and your gold. The magical paradox is that when you discover your own heart, you’ll also find your way back to your partner’s heart, for the more you embrace your essential goodness, the safer you will feel to let love in. This is one of many mindset shifts that the course teaches.

Help is here. You don’t have to suffer alone, and with effective tools, information, and support, you don’t have to suffer at all. A roadmap is waiting for you, and the guide is here. Take my hand, and let’s begin.

To learn more, read testimonials, and sign up, click here. The live version will start on February 26th, 2023, and I very much look forward to meeting you there.

Note: The four call times are as follows (subject to change). Keep in mind that only about 1/4 of the participants on the live rounds are able to attend the calls, and the recording will be available immediately afterward. 

Call 1: March 2nd at 1:30pm ET

Call 2: March 14th at 2:30pm ET

Call 3: March 23rd at 4pm ET

Call 4: April 13th at 12:15pm ET



  1. Thank you so much! The course has been amazing so far! And I’m sorry to show up here so often with questions! I guess my question is whether or not being anxious about your relationship being boring and whether not I like spending time with him (even though he’s the most incredible partner and person – I’m so blessed to have him) I hope that this is normal for the excitement to go down a bit and the mundane feelings about spending time together are normal as I really do love him for his heart and soul- for who he is truly and fully. Thanks for everything Sheryl!

    • Yes, of course it’s normal, but more importantly, every time you seek reassurance about the same question you’re actually reinforcing those neural pathways in your brain and increasing your anxiety. Keep going through the course and this will become more clear. Section 3 on intrusive thoughts will be particularly important for you.

      • Thank you Sheryl! It’s just so difficult sometimes when I feel so irritated or bored with my partner and my thoughts just scream “ugh just break up!” but when I look at what I love about him he’s most amazing man and he’s amazing! It’s incredibly frustrating and confusing…

  2. Hi Sheryl–What are your thoughts on relationship anxiety manifesting as OCD (or is it vice versa?)? I’ve been in therapy for my OCD, with lots of themes around my relationship, and find that I’m really afraid to do the work to stop my compulsions of seeking reassurance and overanalyzing because of exactly what you’re describing.

    • Relationship anxiety and R-OCD are two terms to describe the same thing. I prefer not to speak in terms of diagnoses because relationship anxiety is not a “disorder” but a very wise manifestation from the unconscious inviting you to turn inward and heal old wounds, correct cognitive distortions around love, and expand your capacity for growth.

  3. For anyone on the fence, I took this course 7 years ago when I was engaged and in the throws of intense relationship anxiety. I am eternally grateful for the day I had a panic attack and found my way to this course. I remember feeling like I couldn’t afford the course but I didn’t know what else to do because I couldn’t continue on the way things were. So I took a chance and bought it. 7 years later, I can say without a doubt that this course put me on the path of loving myself and enjoying my life and all its blessings. Now I’ve been married for six years and have a beautiful baby girl who I am trying to model everything I’ve learned for. I credit this course and Sheryl’s work for shining a light when I needed it most. Thank you so much Sheryl for everything ❤️

    • Thank you, dear Caitlin. It’s always so good to hear from you, and thank you so much for taking the time to express your gratitude and offer encouragement amidst your full life. Sending you much love!

  4. Hang in there, KH. Anxiety and fear have a way of sounding like the only truth possible. It must be so hard for the two of you to be stuck in two different countries!

    I had to do long distance with my boyfriend for a full year while we were in different countries, and it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But we both grew so much because of it; we learned so much about ourselves and how to keep ourselves happy, even if the other person is not there. I know it sucks right now, but you will get through this.

    You are strong, and this is all part of the journey… I tend to feel annoyed at people when I am overwhelmed by my own emotions and need to take time for myself but am not doing so. I hope you will take time for yourself and that you’ll give yourself time to grow, to learn, to make mistakes, and to learn again. Sending much love your way. <3

    • Hang in there! I had annoyance of my husband flare up after having a baby and a wise friend told me that when you’re annoyed, something inside you needs tending to – I think Sheryl would agree. This time of distance is a perfect time to tend to yourself and like Sheryl is saying, it doesn’t have to mean leaving your partner. It can just mean drawing closer to yourself and your spirit. God bless you on your journey!

  5. The purchase didn’t come through on our end! I hope to see you there.

  6. Dear Sheryl,

    Thank you for what you do! I’ve been looking through your blog for a while now and I’m grateful for your “stay”s in a world of “leave”s. But I would like to ask something. I was reading last night and trying to internalise your method in dispelling intrusive thoughts, and it came to a point where I ended up messaging my ldr partner that I love him. But now (that was last night), I thought about it and thought “did I just do that to defy my fear or was it my way to escape my inner work? did I do that because I had enough of too much what ifs? was it a genuine act, or one out of impulse? is that the small beam of light coming from my Self?”
    I wonder if I acted on my truth and the anxiety/fear/ego is just trying to creep back up, or otherwise. Some guidance would be helpful, please and thank you!

    • That sounds like anxiety creeping back up :).

      • In that case, I was likely in a moment of dispelled fear/anxiety. Glad to know the openings to my truth/s aren’t as unreachable! Thank you!

    • Hi Marie, just wanted to add that as you work through your relationship anxiety and commit to what Sheryl calls “loving actions” in a relationship, you’ll find you have less anxiety about how you feel when you’re doing certain things. It’s okay to say “I love you” even if you’re not feeling love that very moment, just like it’s okay to kiss when you’re not feeling affectionate, etc. The feelings won’t always be there, and these actions water your relationship and make it stronger, rather than just doing things when we feel a certain way. Sort of like going to work: lots of people don’t feel like starting, but once they do, they find they feel good about it.

      Also I want to add that defying that fear voice is the goal. So if saying “I love you” makes you anxious because you’re not sure if you’ll feel love when you say it, say it anyway, and you’ll slowly weaken its power over you. It’ll feel wrong, and you’ll be anxious, but keep doing it, and it will get better. It’s the whole concept of exposure: avoidance tells the brain that that thing is dangerous, and strengthens the fear. Facing the fear will feel bad at first, but teaches your brain that it’s not dangerous, and it learns to soften and relax. I always compared it to an monster that seemed so much bigger and stronger in my peripheral vision than it did up close. I hope that was helpful! ?

      • Hi A! Thank you for this! I’ll keep it in mind. I am taking some baby steps and I know I’ll get there.

        In what I wrote, I was in a spin of worry and felt better and so I messaged him, and then the morning after was wondering if feeling good after reassurance and acting on that feeling (in which case I messaged my partner my I love you) made it a genuine thing (a genuine good feeling or even a glimpse of my truth with clear eyes). I think going back to it now I realise that it really is a matter of action, choice, and practice. It’s curious how the mind (and fear, and ego) tries its best to protect us from the vulnerability. I know that feeling is not the strongest anchor, but action during the good and bad feelings are. And I’m coming around to apply it.

        Oddly as well, I felt a sense of getting tired of going in circles and just making a choice anyway (which is to stay and learn to love and live and grow through). I guess that’s also progress in itself?

        Cheers to positive, healthy change and genuine, real love in all of us!

        • Yes, you’ll get there little by little! Small changes are big changes, especially at first. When I really started tackling my relationship anxiety, the anxiety fought back full force. I had to learn to relax into it and not be a quest of constant certainty and reassurance. A good piece of advice given to me on my healing journey was, “Whatever your anxiety wants you to do, do the opposite.” So if you’re anxious and telling yourself you shouldn’t kiss him, say I love you, etc, do exactly that. Move *toward* what anxiety wants you to move away from. Action is the anchor. We rarely feel like doing what we should (how many people want to exercise at 6am, eat all their veggies, etc), but in deciding to do what we should whether or not our feelings align – that’s when the real change happens. I wish you all the best! You’re doing much better than you realize:).

          • Thank you! And for the kind words! I believe in the power of genuine real love in all of us. I also believe I ruminated enough of one event (ha! sometimes we just need to see what we need to see, eh?) There is beauty in uncertainty.

            I hope for your continuous genuine growth as well! We’ll all grow through.

            • You’re welcome! I know – once you see how much your mind has been spinning on something it kicks you into gear. Might as well find the beauty in uncertainty since it’ll always be there 😉

  7. THank you for this post. Ive had anxiety on off since I got engaged in september, but also before that, but its been more frequent and scary since september. Weve been togther for coming up 12 years, and have two kids. And when anxiety hits, its that exact intrusive though that takes hold ” what IF the truth turns out to be what I fear, that I should leave” I dont want to leave. But I feel guilty about having had anxiety about our relationship on and off. When the anxiety is at its worse, the intrusive thought on repeat is “if this feeling keeps coming back, surely its true and you have to act” . I calm a bit when I remember that even before my boyfriend I was prone to overthinking, being highly sensitive, and feeling anxious and depressed. Ive learnt so much since finding your blog 6 years ago, and maybe part of this being anxious is in my dna…but I have to admit that I really hope not. Cause when im triggered and spend days in a hell hole of relationship anxiety, what I most wish is that I dont spend the rest of my life that way..Im waiting for my “breakthrough”. Am currently reading your book- which is giving me oinsight which is giving me hope.. but do you have any advice about the guilt that I am feeling?

    • Hi Cecilia, my advice is to allow yourself to feel the guilt but understand that it isn’t meaningful with relationship anxiety. It’s part of the package, really. You feel guilty about your intrusive thoughts, staying with your partner when you “should leave” because otherwise you’d be “lying to yourself and him.” (The quotes are just what your anxiety likes to tell you.) Guilt with relationship anxiety just seems to be another way that fear keeps us captive. It feels so uncomfortable that we determine we “must leave” since our guilt (or anxiety, which we often confuse with our gut instinct) says so. Hope that helps!

      • Thank you for all of your wise, generous, and compassionate support, A. It’s much appreciated and it’s clear how much you’ve learned and grown through doing your inner work.

      • Thank you so much for your reply A! I’m here with a fast beating heart feeling the chill of anxiety , thinking about what I wrote here and thinking that feeling guilty was a REaL feeling. It’s four a.m. Seriously thank you so much for your compassion and wise words, like Sheryl said. I really appreciate it. Feel like I have so far to go on this journey these days. But will keep working. Think I need compassion for myself, all aspects of myself, and to throw myself into acts of love. That will be my goal for tomorrow. Thank you.

  8. SO excited to buy this course. Finally told my boyfriend about it and it was a tough conversation but he is so good and so supportive. He’s ready to propose but asked me how I feel about getting engaged sooner vs later. Should I put off engagement until I work through some of these things?

    • You’ll have a better sense of that after you go through a few lessons of the course.

  9. What does it mean if your fear is that you’ll be forced to stay rather than have to leave?

    • Hi JW, without knowing the details of your situation, it sounds like it could be related to attachment. Dismissive avoidant or fearful avoidant attachments often fear being in relationships for various reasons, even though they both crave intimate connection. Attachment theory has been really insightful for me!

  10. This is a little off topic, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions about nighttime anxiety, which is something I’ve struggled with my whole life? Also, I got the 7-day free anxiety course last fall, but never got around to doing it, and I can’t find it in my email and it won’t let me register for it again because I already got it.

  11. Hi Sheryl, I’m excited about this! Just to be clear, does the $100 discount coupon code not apply to the current member signup because it is already discounted? I’m assuming so because the live code didn’t work. For current members, is the fully discounted price $150? Thank you.

  12. Hi Sheryl,
    I’ve been struggling with relationship anxiety with my boyfriend for a long time im scared I don’t love him but i really want to love him he’s the first man to treat me properly also I have always struggled with enjoying sex even with past partners but because i don’t enjoy it with him my mind keeps telling me it’s because i don’t love him when i know its a problem i have within myself i really want to get better and enjoy my relationship. I have been worrying that maybe im a lesbian or an asexual does this sound like relationship anxiety to you

  13. Hi Sheryl,
    I am in a very bad way i get constant intrusive thoughts that i don’t love my boyfriend and that i need to leave I’ve recently started worrying about the fact that im in an interracial relationship which is not an issue to me at all. I really want to love him and be happy. I have always struggled with physical intimacy even before i got with my boyfriend but now I’ve convinced myself its because i don’t love my boyfriend. He’s kind, loving and supportive I don’t want to lose him. Does this sound like anxiety to you. What do you suggest

  14. Relationship anxiety can really put you in a depression. I was feeling better last week and had some sort of breakthrough, only to be followed by a week in despair right back where I was. It’s truly exhausting and I’m only in my first year of marriage. I don’t know how I’m going to go on like this for the rest of my life. My biggest trigger and depressor is seeing other couples that truly embody what I would define as true love. Like why did they find it and have it and we didn’t? It confuses and honestly irritates me. It was my hearts deepest desire and this is what I end up with. I don’t even feel like I love him half the time. Then I often think, why did I even marry him then? Why do so many people have these great loves that clearly both people are inlove with each other and say the most wonderful beautiful things about each other, then there’s me… I can barely think of things I truly find amazing about him. It’s like I’m more annoyed than anything. I hate myself for it. Couples seem in awe of each other and I can’t seem to even imagine what that must feel like. Isn’t that sad? Again, I think, maybe I am the exception? Your mind really does go to thoughts like “you shouldn’t actually feel this way if you’re married and claim to have found your person, you’re with the wrong person” I get so down about the way I feel that I don’t see the point of this relationship at all. I think also, am I faking this relationship? Though something (that something is the Holy Spirit) has always pushed me towards him and keeps me hanging on. It’s like I know Gods hand is on this he’s been leading and guiding me which is also why I get so confused because I ask him “why is this your will for me, why do I feel like this? Why is this happening??” I keep getting reminded of “lean not to your own understanding” it’s just hard because it’s like deep inside I know God has been leading me and pushing me keep going and to “just trust” but I just don’t understand why. Now I have I no choice to stick it out anyway, I’m married!
    (I’m sorry for the truly depressing comment, this is real time feeling so defeated) I needed some place to let it out. Thank you for “listening”

  15. Sherly if I cant afford this course will the open your heart be a good course to take?

    • Right now the two courses are the same price because of the Memorial Week discount. The sale will continue through Monday.

  16. I found Sheryl’s fantastic blog in a moment of ultimate despair. I had never felt anything like it before – anxious, depressed, apathy, sadness, disconnect, boredom, loneliness, numbness – you name it, I felt it and vacillated between each emotion and feeling every few days. It was like the light had been turned off in my world.
    Thank GOD that I was addicted to googling (never good but on this ONE occasion haha) because I never would have known or understood what I now know to be relationship anxiety.
    If anyone is on the fence, live or self-guided, please commit and take this course. I teetered for a while too, it didn’t seem like a “me thing to do” but it turned out to be the best and most loving choice I could have ever made for myself.
    Please don’t be scared because everything truly will be ok. It is not a quick fix, I wanted that too but later down the line, you will absolutely appreciate why it cannot be that way. I cannot thank Sheryl and all the other course members and moderators for all the love, support and guidance on this journey xxxxx

  17. People who are introverted, dependent, and shy are more likely to develop phobias

  18. Hi Sheryl – I know this is a very old post so I hope this comment reaches you. I believe all that you have said. The issue I’m struggling with is that when I was 16 I was in a 5 year relationship where I had severe religious anxiety. I thought God told me I wasn’t meant to be with this person and I was immediately thrown into darkness. Anxiety, fear, you name it. I wasnt able to be present at all. For 5 years I struggled with that but I knew I didn’t want to leave this person. I didn’t know he’d to deal with what I was experiencing in a healthy way either, I was so young and so scared. However, as time went on, it became more clear that me and this person weren’t well aligned. We did end up breaking up, messily, and the whole thing felt like wasted time and only solidified the anxiety I was experiencing. I am now married to my husband, who I love. I am working with fear through Tonglen and I have cried so much the last two days. And now after all this crying the fear/resistance I am experiencing is, what if I keep going and do find out my truth is that me and my now husband aren’t aligned? I experienced anxiety before and it turned out me and that other person weren’t aligned and ended up going separate ways. I thought I wanted this other person only to realize I didn’t. What if this happens to me and my husband?

    • For clarification and perspective: I was going to stick it out with the previous person, do the work we needed, because we did care for each other. But he ended up giving up, that’s sounds negative but I don’t mean it negatively, and I met my now husband right at that time and never looked back. It was just so clear, and still is, with my now husband how much we connected and respected each other. This fear seems to be trying really hard to be convincing.


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