The One Essential Question that Lives Inside Relationship Anxiety

by | Oct 1, 2023 | Break Free From Relationship Anxiety | 192 comments

September 2023 update: If there is one blog post I refer to more than any other when someone asks about relationship anxiety, it’s this one. Why? Because at the core of relationship anxiety lives this one abiding question, and when we can address anxiety at the root, the top layers fall away and true healing unfolds. 

One of the most challenging elements of anxiety is to understand is that the anxiety is projection. This means that the parade of intrusive thoughts that tortures the anxious mind and sensitive soul are actually pointing to areas inside of you that are crying out for your attention. This is such a reversal of our literal, read-everything-at-face-value culture that it can take a while for the shift of mindset to sink in.

There are many areas that need our attention: old pain from early abandonments, loss of loved ones, faulty beliefs that form as a result of being the child of a narcissist or suffering from bullying or teasing, unrealistic expectations about love and relationships that we absorb from the mainstream culture, fissures of psyche that were created because we didn’t receive the guidance, tending, and rituals necessary to cross over life’s transitions successfully (going to school, starting menstruation, adolescence, graduating, first sex, getting married, having a child, etc). We cannot be human without suffering from the pain of loss.

It’s become increasingly clear to me as I walk through life tending to highly sensitive souls that the simple act of being alive – of navigating big and small transitions of all kinds – can be traumatic. For the highly sensitive person who feels everything, daily living can either feel like an assault or a symphony. And often both.

This tends to show up in spades when it comes to relationship anxiety, for nowhere are we more vulnerable than in our intimate relationships (both romantic and friendship). We can say that jumping out of an airplane or hiking to the top of Mt Everest is risky – and it is – but the emotional risks we take when we open to others is unparalleled.

We can perseverate on a myriad of questions when it comes to relationship anxiety. But there is one question that underlies almost every other spoke of the wheel, and because it hides deep inside the inner recesses of our hearts it’s very difficult to identify and even believe. What I’ve seen over and over again, including in my own process, is that nearly all of the following projections –

  • Do I love them enough?
  • Am I attracted enough?
  • Is she smart enough?
  • Are they funny enough?
  • Am I in love enough?
  • Is he handy enough?
  • Is he manly enough?
  • Are they social enough?
  • Are they witty enough?
  • Are they beautiful enough?
  • Do we have enough chemistry?

– are designed to mask one question:

Am I enough?

What a brilliantly designed and complicated labyrinthian maze our psyches can be! Instead of feeling and experiencing our deepest insecurities directly, they mask in the reverse.

Instead of asking, “Am I smart enough for you?” we end up asking, “Are you smart enough for me?”

Instead of daring to peer into that most vulnerable region of our hearts and saying, “There’s a place inside of me that’s terrified of being rejected and abandoned. There’s a belief inside that says I must be broken in some way and I must be too dark for anyone to love,” we defend against this exceedingly raw feeling by focusing on our partner’s or friend’s areas of perceived lack.

It’s an effective defense mechanism because when we focus on our partner’s “enough-ness” we put ourselves in the position of power; if we’re constantly wondering, “Do I love you enough?” we don’t have to touch down into our deepest pain, which, if it could speak, would say, “Am I enough to love?” It’s a “power position” because the mindset behind it says, “If I reject you first, I don’t have to expose myself to the risk of being rejected.”

Now I can hear my readers denying and dissenting: “I’m not scared that my partner will leave. I’m not scared of being rejected. My partner is as solid as a rock; she’ll never leave. And I feel pretty good about myself. I like who I am. I’m not afraid of being exposed as not enough.”

I urge you to suspend disbelief and breathe into those first layers of dissent as you remember that it’s impossible to be a human on this planet without having some fear of loss and rejection. Why? Because we’ve all been hurt in some way. We’ve all been shut out of the hearts of our caregivers for any variety of reasons. We’ve all been rejected by friends, spurned by lovers, overlooked by teachers or employers. To be human is to experience loss and hurt, and once we know how painful it is to lose someone we love or feel rejected in any way, we spend the rest of our lives defending against it.

Any intimate, real, present, available, committed relationship will activate this place of unworthiness because any healthy relationship will invite you to expose and share your true self. While your true self is NOT the part of you that believes you’re broken, the ego-defended part doesn’t know that, and so it lives with the constant yet carefully hidden terror of being found out. The way it protects from being found out, and thus, rejected, is by convincing you that the other person is broken in some way.

The Pain of Unworthiness

So now we arrive at the question of why would it be so painful to touch down directly into the pain of our unworthiness. For a child to believe that they’re unworthy feels like death. It’s a pain like no other, and one that, as a young person, we rarely touch into directly. Even as children we develop elaborate defense mechanisms – fortresses and shields – to protect against the feeling that arises from the belief that we’re fundamentally unworthy of love. We need love as much as we need food and water. We need to know that we’re good and worthy, and if we begin to doubt our intrinsic worthiness we likely harden our hearts in some way or siphon off the excruciating pain into a more manageable realm of thought.

Fast forward to our current, intimate relationship, and the core belief of unworthiness now manifests as a projection onto our partner’s perceived unworthiness. Because we’ve developed the well-worn habit of siphoning off the core belief, we now siphon it onto our partner. And this is where the true work of breaking free from relationship anxiety begins: the moment when we understand, at the level of our bodies, beyond the realm of thought, that the projections are protections.

At this point we know that we must turn inward, and we realize that at the core of this inner work is a dedicated willingness to break down the fortresses and cross the moats that protect us from feeling into the belief that we’re fundamentally unlovable and unworthy of love so that we can grieve through this belief and begin to dismantle it. Like most pain, it’s not a one-time grieving process. We dip down, feel the rawness of the pain, and come back up for air. Weeks or months later, we tentatively submerge again, cry the cries of heartbreak and loss, and resurface. We may do this many, many times over the course of several years before we soften into a new awareness that we’re okay, we’re lovable, and even if our partner sees our deepest, darkest selves, they’re not going anywhere.

This is how we heal, and this is how real love heals us. As I’ve written many times, it’s not a journey for the faint of heart, but it’s one that yields a richness and depth of intimacy that we can only experience when we soften our defenses and allow our partners to peer directly into the heart of who we are. It’s a journey of courage, of insight, of healing, and – always – a dance between fear and love where love ultimately takes its position as the guiding light in our lives and we learn to live with a softness and vulnerability that creates a closeness with others that we always longed for but never knew was possible.

***

Note: I very much value your comments as they pertain to each post and I love hearing about your insights and breakthroughs. However, if you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, I know it’s tempting to ask for reassurance or guidance, but unfortunately, I’m not able to offer advice in this format. I encourage you to read through this Collection, consider the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, and, as always, work with a skilled and loving therapist who can be a guide and witness for your healing. If you’re struggling with other anxiety themes, please see my book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, and read through my hundreds of free blog posts on a variety of topics.

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Is my doubt about my relationship an offshoot of my own anxiety or is it a warning that I’m with the wrong person?

Many people wonder what “relationship anxiety” is and if they are, indeed, suffering from it. They also desperately want an answer to that million-dollar question.

The answer to this question is contained in the assessment. Fill in your information to receive an immediate answer (and a lot of reassurance just from going through the material).

192 Comments

  1. Thank you, I can see what wonderful work you’re doing here:
    Something else I’ve been having trouble with the last couple of days is I worry that I don’t really love my partner and what if I’m wasting/ruining his life for him. I look at him and worry that I’m ruining his chances and pure loving happiness. I th n feel sorry for him because everyone deserves to be happy and loved and I’m just worried that I’m taking that away from him. I don’t by any means want to leave him, but the last few days that’s been on my mind. I don’t want to waste his life or anything, that’s not fair on him. Is this a common thought?

    Reply
    • This is a very common offshoot of relationship anxiety, Yvonne. Everyone does, indeed, deserve to be loved AND he’s a grown man and can choose for himself whether or not he wants to stay. Your task is to focus on working through your own anxiety. You don’t have to do his work as well.

      Reply
      • He doesn’t have any anxiety (that I’m aware of) he loves me very much, he tells me all the time and I’m pretty sure he has no trouble in knowing he loves me and what love is. I just worry with “what if I don’t really love him and I’m just staying with him because I don’t want to leave, I’d be wasting his life away” but at the the same time it would also be wasting my life. & the fact I don’t want to leave I guess says it all. I’ve got a work colleague who’s into girls and I’ve started with “what if she likes you, what if you like her, what if you want to cheat” I’m assuming these are all common thoughts with this line of work.

        Reply
        • Hi Yvonne

          I’ve worked through the Breakfree from Relationship Anxiety course and so I’m writing this reply having come through the real dark parts of my anxiety.
          What you decribe about wasting your partners life is a thought I used to have. As Sheryl says, work on yourself and your partner is an adult and has free choice to stay.
          One thing I used to tell myself when I used to get the thought was to tell myself “I choose to stay”.
          I assure you, as you delve into the root cause of your anxiety it can be really hard at times and the emotional pain can seem over whelming, but it’s not, it’s there inside of you anyway; but once you’ve dipped in once, cleared some of the root, come up for air, the next time you dive back in the fear of the emtional pain is not as bad.
          Hopefully you are working through your root cause(s) and if not I highly recommend Sheryl’s course.

          Reply
          • I’ve just realised I replied to an old post 🙂 but, hopefully my reply is helpful to anybody new who might be having the same thoughts.

            Reply
            • It helped me almost a year later 😉

              Reply
              • It has helped me so much as well. Thank you for being vulnerable at a time where I feel so broken. Your shared experience alone is healing. <3

                Reply
    • Hi Yvonne,
      You are not alone. I know my anxieties hurt my boyfriend a lot, as they link to me not wanting to have sex, and other ways I show distrust towards him. This relationship revealed so many new sides of myself it is shocking. I was happy to read Sheryls words that our work is to work with ourselves.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your response Eleanor’s.. Luckily my thoughts don’t stop me from wanting to be intimate with my partner and I’m always cuddling and kissing him, the only time I don’t feel very sexual is when it’s the time of the month.. it’s just scary how real the thoughts can seem. If I had not came across this site I would be believing the thought that my truth is I don’t love him. All week I’ve had no thoughts that have been distressing until yesterday which has sent my mind into a frenzy, I’m trying to see the positive in the fact that this whole week I’ve been fine.. Sheryl what course would you recommend for me if I’m starting to believe I don’t love my partner? The relationship is very healthy and there’s no issues within the relationship (red flags). I have also started worrying “what if I like girls” because I did like one once and we flirted and kissed. But I don’t by any means want a relationship with one. I want to stay with my partner. The thoughts are trying to convince me I do want to be with a girl though. & I am worried that I am starting to believe that I don’t love my amazing partner.

        Reply
        • Yvonne, do you mind if I ask how did it turn out with you? Are you still with your partner?

          Reply
    • I question “are we growing and changing together?” There are no obvious red flags but I see people’s stories who say, “everything was great and they are a wonderful person but I knew it wasn’t my truth.” Stuff like that sends me into extreme anxiety because like those people, nothing is seemingly wrong and there are no red flags.

      Reply
      • I really relate to this comment… Oprah says
        “Life speaks first in whispers. When we don’t listen, the whispers get louder.” So I often think my anxiety is my message trying to lead me to my truth. It seems cruel when others seems to accept that ‘they just weren’t the one’ so easily…

        Reply
      • So i have been having intrusive thoughts about my girlfriend mostly ” do you really love her or are you forcing yourself” and another part of me says that you do love her and you’re just overthinking this but what if im really losing feelings for her, i dont ever wanna put her through that kind of situation and i told her about it and she agreed to wait because she understands me and she loves me enough to never leave me because she knows that i will come back again. But what if i don’t? what if really dont love her? can you please help me i dont want to lose my gf

        Reply
  2. This post reminded me of when my husband got his first job after graduating from grad school. For so long I had been caught in the “is he enough for me?” projection. The moment he told me about his well-paying job, it flipped. It then became, “Are you going to leave me?” These moments of connecting to my core pain can be quite humbling. Imagine a world in which we’re all aware of our own longing to feel seen and heard, to know we’re enough in the eyes of our loved ones. How different it would be.

    Reply
    • Beautiful, Sarah. Your comment inspires me to add that we often cycle back and forth from “Am I enough?” to “Are you enough?” And yes, how very different our world would be if we all knew, from day one, that we’re seen and loved exactly as we are.

      Reply
  3. As always, I love your blog! If anyone is hesitant on whether or not they should take the “Breaking Free From Relationship Anxiety” course, here’s my two cents: do it. I have never once regretted it and it has changed how I view my partner and myself. I refer back to the course work over and over again and it is always such a relief to know that I can come back to it when I start feeling my anxiety sneaking back into my life. So, thank you Sheryl, for creating such amazing courses. I signed up almost 2 years ago and am doing well with my partner and STILL refer back to the coursework at least once a month. I love it so much.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Analise. I’m so glad it’s been so helpful and I love that you go back and refer to it once a month. I’m a huge fan of therapy but one of the things I love about online courses is that they’re always available to you and easily accessible (like at the 3am anxiety spikes!).

      Reply
  4. How the question “am I enough ?” applying to me if my questions does not end with enough?
    Mine is more like .do i love him? Am I even attracted to him,have i ever been ? Yeah i have had quedtion also do we have enough chemistry.
    Sometimes i even feel that there are not much what if’s also. My thoughts sound more like cold fact. 🙁

    Reply
    • The ego will always try to deconstruct and dismantle an argument by pointing out that you don’t have those EXACT words and therefore this doesn’t apply to you. The words are inconsequential; what matters is the essence of the questioning, and your questions – irregardless of the fact that they don’t start with the words “what if” or end with “enough” – are asking about enoughness and are classic questions that define relationship anxiety.

      Reply
      • Thank you very much Sheryl !

        Reply
        • Ugh, Sheryl, I am so glad you posted this comment in particular. My brain is an unbearable taskmaster when it comes to precise wording. I write and re-write so many things on here as my brain doesn’t deem a phrase or wording to be ‘factually correct’. This is especially tough when I am expressing some kind of struggle, e.g.

          ‘It was really hard’ ‘it really hurts’ ‘I’m finding this really difficult. Any expression of struggle or pain and my brain interrupts with, ‘why are you saying that? It’s not that bad, that’s not how you feel. What’s wrong with you, why are you lying? You’re a fraud.’

          P.S. I have purposefully resisted the urge to re-word anything in this comment.

          Reply
  5. Hi, thank you for yet another great post. I have true fears of abandonment. But the thing is, they are justified. My boyfriend cannot stay in an asexual relationship in the long run and this awareness makes me feel that I have to have sex with him in order to keep him, which completely ruins my sex drive. Life is hard…

    Reply
    • If he can hold on for a couple more months and allow you to take the Sacred Sexuality course there may be some shifts in the relationship in this regard.

      Reply
      • Yes, I hope that he can hold on. I am truly grateful for this upcoming course which I hope can help me a bit.

        Reply
  6. This is just a great, deep and wise vivid reminder of it all! It directly touches the heart, it nicely reminds me that “although you are doing much better now through working painfully throughout the break free course and enjoying a much happier relationship, but still; there is a silent fear that you are trying to keep denying and silently turning your head against it, and reading this, just nicely reminds me that this is very ok, and it is part of the long-living anxiety that needs patience and time (more than just what i did so far) to diminish more and more.. not necessarily disappears.. but that becomes just mild and ok to be!”

    Thank you
    Mohammad

    Reply
    • YES! This work does take time. We soften in layers and we heal in spirals, and over time and with dedicated practice, we allow ourselves to open more fully and come closer to love.

      Reply
  7. Thanks you for this post. Every time I go deep into myself I always come down to fear of being abandoned and the feeling that I’m not good enough. My bf is amazing. We have lifestyle differences:he’s a blue collar guy that drinks alcohol more than I do. I can get very caught up in that fact. Is it a red flag? Not a red flag? Is it projection because I was really hurt by an ex that was an alcoholic and lost his life from alcohol? Probably. I have to look at facts:nothing in my bfs actions or attitudes leans toward addiction: no lying, no hiding, no cheating, no avoiding me to drink. These were all things I lived through with my ex.
    What I have is a deep history of rejection, which started with my dad when I hit puberty. Rejection from peers, my mom not being emotionally available during my formative years, teasing and body shaming from extended family. Of course I project and analyze everything about my bf.

    Reply
    • This is where it becomes very tricky, Molly: when the present situation mirrors the past in some ways. It sounds like you’re doing a great job keeping yourself in reality in terms of what is true with your current partner, but I know how challenging it is, especially when you have multiple areas of pain. Stay with it and hang on.

      Reply
  8. Thanks for these thoughts. A clarification about which I’m curious is (and perhaps other relational-worriers reading this entry may wonder, too–) what constitutes red flags? If we waver in are assuredness of our perspective within a loving relationship, well how do we confirm that we are in a relationship that is (however defined) red-flag free?

    I perceive myself to be in a very loving and healthy relationship, and this is affirmed by those closest to me, but in times of worry I then wonder by what markers one can define this? (As if the relationally-worrying soul doesn’t have enough to fret over already!)

    I am also curious to hear other’s feedback on Yvonne’s comment. To my understanding, fretting over wasting your partner’s time indicates a deep regard for their well-being, and well, a deep *love* for them. Curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks,

    Reply
    • The basic red flags are: addiction, abuse, betrayal, unresolved trust issues, irreconcilable differences regarding lifestyle choices (having children, religion, money – and I must say here that it’s fine to have different religions and different money styles; what matters is coming to an agreement regarding how you will handle these differences).

      There are also more subtle red flags, like being with someone who displays many narcissistic traits and possibly has a narcissistic or sociopathic personality disorder. This would be apparent if your partner is a compulsive liar, doesn’t prioritize you, and clearly isn’t ready to give up his or her adolescent lifestyle (i.e. a man for whom it’s more important to golf than to attend a family event).

      If you and those around you know and affirm that you’re in a healthy, loving relationship, then you are.

      Reply
      • Sheryl if you don’t mind ,what would you say what are unresolved trust issues ?

        Reply
    • Wow, thank you so much for this insight! I started experiencing relationship anxiety 2 years ago and have done a lot of working through it but it has only just occurred to me that the work extends beyond my romantic relationship. I have a hard time maintaining friendships because I fear they will reject me anyway so there is little point in me trying to make an effort. But now I see where this may be stemming from so thank you so much.

      Reply
      • I’m so glad you made that very important connection, Grace!

        Reply
  9. Thank you, Sheryl.

    “Because we’ve all been hurt in some way. We’ve all been shut out of the hearts of our caregivers for any variety of reasons. We’ve all been rejected by friends, spurned by lovers, overlooked by teachers or employers. To be human is to experience loss and hurt, and once we know how painful it is to lose someone we love or feel rejected in any way, we spend the rest of our lives defending against it.”

    I’m still working on breathing into the rejection and hurt.

    More layers to go 🙂

    Reply
    • Keep breathing, Lovingkindness. You’re doing great.

      Reply
      • Thank you, as always, for your kind words, Sheryl. I am eternally grateful for young your compassionate wisdom.

        I think it may be time to revisit the fundamentals of the Break Free course, as I have been slipping back into believing the thoughts and shifting out of mindfulness these past few days.

        I am really seeing these layers and spirals you talk about — just when I think I’m done, I peel back another layer and sink deeper into the self that needs attention.

        Reply
  10. I read this and was like aha! I knew it was my fault and a result the hurt from childhood bullying, losing my mom at 16. But then, I wonder, but wait! I am a good person, why do I own this? My boyfriend is amazing, we are 51 and have been through our share of life experiences. He loves me and shows me how he loves me through his kind words, helpfulness, loving ways. I have never felt more loved. Yet I am unable to genuinely return that love, and I don’t know if it is anxiety? It makes sense and certainly if there’s a problem to own, I am the one to own it….but he also doesn’t have a job or financial security. He can provide for himself when he needs to, but I have enough for both and he makes his part of the relationship up with the amazing things he does for and with me. I am sure I will never find another man like him, and I don’t want to lose him. Yet, I struggle every day with “is he right for me?”

    Reply
    • Sounds like classic relationship anxiety to me, Karen ;). What I’m seeing more and more in my work is the dynamic where the woman is the primary breadwinner, and I think it’s a fascinating and powerful call to both sexes to redefine how we’ve seen our roles since the dawn of humanity. Clinging onto the thought, “Is he right for me because he doesn’t make X amount of money?” in another offshoot of the same line of questioning I’ve outlined here.

      Reply
      • Hey, I am 24, M. My girlfriend of 5 months is the kindest, most loving, most supportive, most patient partner there is.

        During our first date, I kept thinking “she’s all I ever wanted, I feel so happy.” Since the end of our first date, an extreme wall of fear has come in. Texting her had since felt irritating and unfulfilling. But I gave us a chance at a relationship. We had long distance for a while, over which just her voice, appearance, or the thought of being in a relationship with her became nausea inducing, but I hung on. Hanging out, i often become depersonalised, completely blanking out, and repulsed. Yet, I automatically love her through action and treat her very tenderly, in spite of all these negative feelings. I have kept fighting against intense repulsion, nausea, chest pains, and panic attacks. I have also come to question my sexuality, finding all men triggering, and feeling like I am able to connect with them in a way (I feel a certain sweetness, massive euphoria, and a certain sexual energy, including tingling feelings in my genitals) that I cannot with females. With her my behavior (sexual and romantic) seems completely disconnected with my emotions (cold, numb, apathy – opposite of all those warm feelings I experience with male friends.) it is as though I act like I love her (she tells me she feels my love vividly) when in reality I feel hollow, repulsed, even.

        Relationship history: this early-emerging fear / disgust / indescribable “run away” feeling has appeared in all my previous attempts at a relationship with a female. I have, thus, never entered an intimate relationship until now. But I want to give this a chance because she is such a great person, and she completely understands and is willing to support me through my anxiety.

        Trauma: till the age of 2, I was raised by my maternal grandmother, who suddenly committed suicide due to depression. I have no episodic recollection of this.

        I’m taking the Break Free of Relationship Anxiety course and am learning a lot about fear. I keep fighting but I’m always hanging on the edge. There have been a handful of moments of clarity throughout the past few months where I felt genuine gratitude and love for her. These are moments when neither of us are talking and we are just side by side and i am able to quiet down and feel love for her. I keep hanging on. I would appreciate any encouragement and affirmations.

        Reply
        • Tom: I’m so sorry for the depth of your pain and trauma. I can feel it in your words. I’m glad you’re taking the course, and I hope that you’re also in trauma-informed therapy. Relationship anxiety is a doorway into our unlived lives, intergenerational trauma, and ungrieved pain, and we need support to peer into those places of pain. You can do this, but it’s going to be hard to do alone. Sending encouragement as you continue to make your way through.

          Reply
  11. Thanks for these thoughts. A clarification about which I’m curious is (and perhaps other relational-worriers reading this entry may wonder, too–) what constitutes red flags? If we waver in are assuredness of our perspective within a loving relationship, well how do we confirm that we are in a relationship that is (however defined) red-flag free?

    I perceive myself to be in a very loving and healthy relationship, and this is affirmed by those closest to me, but in times of worry I then wonder by what markers one can define this? (As if the relationally-worrying soul doesn’t have enough to fret over already!)

    Reply
    • Ann I definitely have this same worry-point.

      I know there are the obvious red flags (physical/verbal/emotional abuse, anti-social behavior, narcissistic behavior, etc.) that everyone pretty much agrees on, but there are also some things that are a little more relative. I personally struggle with feeling heard and included in my relationship and I teeter on the edge of “are these just normal communication issues and we’re just trying to learn each other’s communication style” or “is he a narcissist who is just incapable of listening”. As I type it out it sounds stupid, but it’s so hard for me to see past this that I feel like I have to talk myself off of this edge every day.

      Does anyone else have some perspective on this?

      Reply
      • Kathy, I DEFINITELY agree with every word you just said. Although I don’t have an answer or know how to move forward, it feels really good to know I’m not alone in these thoughts/this confusion. Thank you for sharing

        Reply
        • My thoughts and troubleshooting exactly. My partner doesn’t and most likely will never express his love in words. In clear moments I have no doubt he does love me. My worry is that this might still be a red flag as I desperately want to hear him say those magical three words of his own accord and not when prompted by me. Will I learn to understand and welcome the other ways he expresses his love or are we just to different?

          I’ll look into the course on ROCD, hoping it will help me resolve this.

          Reply
  12. Thank you for this. I just want to add some encouragement for anyone journeying through this painful state of “am I enough, will my partner reject me when s/he sees the real me?”

    My husband was born into a deeply abusive family (who themselves had been abused dreadfully & were in turn just living as they knew how). He was removed into care at age 3 & then spent years being further let down & rejected by the care system. He was drawn into drug addiction & crime as coping mechanisms for the unbearable inner pain he constantly felt from having been abandoned into care so young by his Mum,

    At age 26 my husband left his home city & moved to another town to enter a long term residential addiction recovery programme. For 2 years he lived in an amazing community which accepted & emotionally held the men as they went through daily counselling & groupwork to process their inner wounds. The rehab held them safe within very clear tight boundaries (regular drug testing, strict behaviour codes, work duties to contribute to community life) as they healed.

    My amazing husband went through that messy, painful healing journey & I met him a few years afterwards. He still carried the scars of rejection and, coupled with my own fear of rejection, we had our ups & downs getting the relationship going.

    Then when he proposed to me I started panic attacks & an excruciating period of doubt & relationship anxiety which caused me to cancel our first wedding date & schedule a later one. Through all this potential rejection he held firm & said he believed I loved him & he would wait for me. After the wedding my anxiety worsened to the point I needed medication, & through all of this my amazing husband held onto me & helped me.

    We have been married 5 years now & expecting our 2nd child. I am so grateful to have met my husband & he is my dearest friend in the world. I have never loved or been loved like this, and I know there is still so much more to come in the years ahead as we both heal even further.

    So .,. Healing is possible. It’s messy & long journey but it’s wonderful.

    Reply
  13. Ps I forgot to say: Sheryl, it was 5 years ago after getting married when I was lying on the bedroom floor weeping after a panic attack that I discovered your blog. I read every back article on there & have read every weekly blog since. The relief of finding your work & someone who understands & articulates relationships anxiety was immense. Thank you for the bottom of my heart for your blog.

    Reply
    • I have been really scared for the past few days. I had this quiet kind of a realisation in the morning one day that this relationship does not meet my basic needs and that is why it keeps the anxiety pot boiling. It didn’t and doesn’t seem like an intrusive thought. Because my relationship with my partner is a bit unusual. He is separated from his wife but lives in the same apartment because he wants to co-parent their son. This limits his availability to me. In addition to this, he is also someone who’s sexual orientation is different than my own, as he seeks sexual liaison outside of our relationship too. He is also unwilling to move in with me at a later point in life, but says that he wants to come back to me like he comes back home. He sometimes gets a bit too rigid in protecting his space and it leaves me feeling abandoned, especially when I am going through something tough. He has problems with apoligising too (he takes too long). In the meanwhile, he just hangs around and waits for me to come back without really doing anything actively to accompany me as I work through my anxiety. I mean imagine him standing a few feet away from me and coming back every few hours to check I am doing, expecting me to deal with it. This makes me feel abandoned, anxious, scared every few days. And even though I love him dearly, and he loves me too, i feel like I should leave. Because I can’t spend my lifetime like this. But then even this decision is called into question when there is a spike in anxiety. Resultantly, I feel stuck. Both he and I have experienced trauma in our childhoods. Does this look like an intrusive thought or a red flag? Will anyone pls help me? I tired of feeling unsafe and anxious and I feel I am also misleading my partner by telling
      him that I would like to be with him forever.

      Reply
  14. This really spoke to me, thank you. Its exactly one year until my wedding and my projections have been going haywire to the point where it feels like I’m living with a dangerous wild animal

    Reply
    • I’m so glad it was helpful, J. It’s quite normal for projections to amplify on anniversaries (even pre-anniversaries!)

      Reply
  15. This is alot to take in especially when you have overwhelming anxiety, doing the work has helped me, breathing, crying, journaling, and sharing my thoughts on these incredible blogs. I know its hard for us highly sensitive people. Tomorrow is always a better and clearer day. I feel tired from work that I dont feel like using the tools, Sheryl.. but I know its the only way to push forward. Im warrior I keep telling myself. There are setbacks if i slack off, I know this.. but its ok.. im managing it and Im learning day by day. Xx

    Reply
  16. Sheryl what course would you recommend me to get based on tbis..

    I’ve been with my partner nearly 2 years, we did have a mini break up a few months into the beginning of the relationship, he did say he didn’t love me but then a week later we got back together. I’ve had thoughts about wether I love him and if I feel the way you should feel if you love someone, and if I don’t feel love then I must not love him etc. I’ve never doubted wether I want to be with him, I’ve always known since the beginning that I want to be with him and I still know this now, I have had a few thoughts like “don’t know if I want to be with him anymore” but I know that’s garbage. We have no problems in our relationship (red flags), on good days you kinda forget about how it feels to have a bad day until you’re having one. I’ve had a good week and then I had some thoughts yesterday and it’s thrown me off, I’m worried that I’m starting to believe that I don’t love him, I’m worried that because I don’t feel love that it’s finalising my answer for me. My thoughts aren’t “what if I don’t love him” or “do I love him” they used to be but the last few months they’ve gone to “I don’t love him” and it scares me if I’m honest. I feel sorry for him that I’m having these thoughts and I also get thoughts like “what if my truth is I really don’t love him, I’m then wasting his chance and being in a real loving relationship” he’s such an amazing person that he deserves the world. I don’t want to lose him though. & when I say that to myself I get the whole “I’m just scared about what my life would be like without him in it” and tbh I am scared about that because that’s something I don’t want to have to figure out.

    Reply
  17. Must share this quote with my fellow warriors. There’s a promise for us in these words. Thanks Sheryl for cultivating this truth so patiently and consistently in our lives.

    “In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” – Timothy J. Keller, “The Meaning of Marriage”

    Reply
  18. Thanks for your timely post Sheryl. I’m recently married and very happy being newlyweds compared to the anxiety I felt during our engagement period. Recently my insecurities resurfaced at a family party. I kept feeling like my husband was quiet and distracted when sitting next to me and like he couldn’t wait to talk to my dad and the other men around. He was so animated and in the zone talking to others and I felt like he wasn’t even in the least concerned with where I was or with including me in his conversations. I felt like as a newlywed I kind of wanted others to see us bonding more or at least to connect wot my husband with others to deepen our bond and common interests through conversation. I’m s very verbal person so I feel like this is one of my stuck spots when I see my husband bonding with others in conversation more than he does with me. Immediately I project and start convincing myself he would rather be talking to other people than with me because he and I have less in common. He gets so excited to talk to my dad especially and it’s like I’m not even there sometimes. I know it sounds silly and jealous/petty, but I guess I’m just scared that I need him more than he needs me or that he doesn’t find me as interesting or that he will lose interest in me. I wish I didn’t get caught up in this negative mindset but it gets me very upset and makes my I securities flare up. I have trouble communicating this to my husband who truly cares and feels bad when I get like this but he doesn’t see what he did wrong or why it bothers me. He reassured me that I’m the perfect wife. I guess I just want the validation that he sees me as his friend to have fun and meaningful conversations with that aren’t one-sided. I wish I knew how to combat this stuck spot so I wouldn’t feel so weak and jealous. I guess I need to do more self-work. Any advice would be helpful 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi, Laura,

      I’ve been married almost two years. I remember just a few months in that my husband’s attentiveness towards me lessened and I felt let down. Although I was disappointed, I recognized that change in a relationship is constant. This realization allowed me to move forward knowing that both of us will always be changing in some way. Keep moving forward!

      JaNae

      Reply
  19. Thanks for the post Sheryl. I’m working very hard to peel off the projection of attraction and attended each one of the spokes…however I haven’t seen anything shift. I am journalling every day and started doing water colour which is definitely helping centering myself. I’m not experiencing anxiety as I used to though.But I’m starting to think I’m the exception :(. All I’m hoping for is that with time these thoughts will stop banging my head all day as they do and I stop checking. I’m not sure what else to do to peel off the projection…

    Reply
    • Are there any windows of time or moments of the day when you’re not stuck in your head and you can see your partner though clear eyes?

      Reply
      • There are. Very short though, they may last for a few minutes…
        A couple of weeks ago on a Friday after work lasted for the whole evening. Maybe after work on Fridays as my mind has been focused on teaching gets clear.Saturday morning they were back. They are so short though.

        Reply
  20. Hi! So, I’ve been dealing with some relationship anxiety for the past month. I’ve never had any doubts until then. Today, I was googling about this topic (reassurance, maybe?) and I found out an article on TinyBuddha about obsessive love. In this article the girl said that after a year she started to feel like she didn’t wanted to be with her boyfriend, and that later she realized she actually didn’t love him because she didn’t love herself. They break up.
    What if this is my problem? What if I don’t actually love my boyfriend and just want the idea of love and not the person? What if I’m a horrible person and just used my boyfriend for this whole time? Help 🙁

    Reply
    • As you read through my site, you’ll find a very different mindset than the stories that populate the internet.And as you build self-trust, you’ll be able to discern which mindset resonates most deeply with you.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply!
        So, what you’re trying to say is that if I have more confidence in myself, I’m gonna be able to see things more clearly/positively and not be influenced by the media? That I’m gonna be able to trust and believe in the love I feel for my boyfriend?

        Thanks once again!

        Reply
        • YES, that’s exactly what I’m saying!

          Reply
          • Thank you very much for your kind words and your amazing posts!

            Reply
        • Hi Sophie,
          How did you go? Did things work out with you and your partner?

          Reply
  21. I’ve read this post some 8 times today…each time a little more filters in…this is so my STICKING point…my ego determined to say that this does not quite refer to me…I’ve never really considered it to be me that’s unworthy…! It seems to simplified that projection is literally the very opposite of what your feeling….
    I continue my challenge, but my inner self trusting your words. Truth water for the soul. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Projection isn’t always as simple as the opposite of what you’re feeling, but for the sake of this article I’ve named it as such. Regardless, knowing your story, I urge you to soften into the layers inside that feel unworthy, less than, overlooked, unseen. I know they’re in there ;).

      Reply
  22. I LOVE this one, Sheryl. Really felt like you were speaking to me with the enoughness question. I know that’s where my pain and fear truly lives and my mind is so good at convincing me it is elsewhere. One question that’s been haunting me lately (i’m 6 mos pregnant and so, of course, anxiety is visiting me now after some time of peace) is this: if I can “trust my gut” when it comes to things like the health of my baby or my professional path or other things in my life, why can’t my relationship be more intuitive? Is it because these other things don’t call on me to reveal my core self and vulnerability? I’d love some guidance on how to meet this question. Thank you so much, Sheryl, for being our guide on these winding paths.

    Reply
    • You answered it yourself, Jessica: there is no area in our life that exposes our core vulnerability, especially around self-worth, as much as our primary relationship. It’s a question that comes up a lot in my work, and it’s essential to draw the distinction between the different areas of our life so that we can continually refine our ability to separate “gut” from “fear.”

      Reply
  23. Now I can hear my readers denying and dissenting: “I’m not scared that my partner will leave. I’m not scared of being rejected. My partner is as solid as a rock; she’ll never leave. And I feel pretty good about myself. I like who I am. I’m not afraid of being exposed as not enough.”

    “I urge you to suspend disbelief and breathe into those first layers of dissent as you remember that it’s impossible to be a human on this planet without having some fear of loss and rejection. Why? Because we’ve all been hurt in some way. We’ve all been shut out of the hearts of our caregivers for any variety of reasons. ”

    I grew up being a parentified child to my father who suffers fom extreme anxiety and OCD, and being rejected in many ways by my mother for most of my adult life. I feel like I have to work for her love. I fear losing them tremendously even despite all of this, on a daily basis. I feel like I panic about one of them dying at least once a week. Yet I don’t have these fears for my spouse at all

    I struggle with this all the time. If my partner left or died, I think I would be temporarily sad but then ultimately relieved because then I may have a chance to find someone with whom I truly feel a stronger connection/more alive with. Or I could never date again and never have to deal with RA again. When I try to think of the reverse if Im enough to love, I would at first say yes but ultimately say “no”. I honestly dont know why he loves me so much. Hes everything I ever wanted (minus the aliveness, which I know Im really responsible for), and I don’t think I could get any better honestly. Yet I don’t fear losing him I really wish I did, like I fear losing my parents. Have I gotten so used to protecting my heart I shut him out?

    Reply
    • Sometimes we fear losing those we’ve never fully had more than those who are fully present. In this sense, the fear of future loss is really a projection/protection against feeling the current pain around your relationship with your parents and the fact that they’ve been incapable of parenting you in the ways that you’ve needed.

      Reply
    • I too have had these thoughts before…and have felt sooooo ashamed. Thank you for having the courage to ask. Why on earth do we think we would feel ‘relieved’ at the thought of something so sad!!!!
      But it’s there….and I wonder the best way to challenge/successfully deal with this thought…
      Thanks for sharing x

      Reply
  24. Sheryl what course would you recommend me to get based on tbis..

    I’ve been with my partner nearly 2 years, we did have a mini break up a few months into the beginning of the relationship, he did say he didn’t love me but then a week later we got back together. I’ve had thoughts about wether I love him and if I feel the way you should feel if you love someone, and if I don’t feel love then I must not love him etc. I’ve never doubted wether I want to be with him, I’ve always known since the beginning that I want to be with him and I still know this now, I have had a few thoughts like “don’t know if I want to be with him anymore” but I know that’s garbage. We have no problems in our relationship (red flags), on good days you kinda forget about how it feels to have a bad day until you’re having one. I’ve had a good week and then I had some thoughts yesterday and it’s thrown me off, I’m worried that I’m starting to believe that I don’t love him, I’m worried that because I don’t feel love that it’s finalising my answer for me. My thoughts aren’t “what if I don’t love him” or “do I love him” they used to be but the last few months they’ve gone to “I don’t love him” and it scares me if I’m honest. I feel sorry for him that I’m having these thoughts and I also get thoughts like “what if my truth is I really don’t love him, I’m then wasting his chance and being in a real loving relationship” he’s such an amazing person that he deserves the world. I don’t want to lose him though. & when I say that to myself I get the whole “I’m just scared about what my life would be like without him in it” and tbh I am scared about that because that’s something I don’t want to have to figure out.

    Reply
  25. Is it normal being really scared that if this anxiety keeps being there for too long, my partner will eventually get tired and leave me? And also being scared that some day, I won’t be able to fight anymore and give up?

    Reply
  26. Hi Yvonne. I feel your anxiety and pain. If you read through all of the blogs and comments, you seem to have a very similar situation to a reader Katie. I bet you could get some good advice from reading Sheryl’s responses to her! Good luck and best wishes.

    Reply
    • Oh really? I’ll have to have a read through some more blogs. I’d like to get a course though I just want to know which would would benefit me more from loss of the feeling of love etc. Very interested in purchasing but as I’ve seen in a blog on here about people being worried about getting it incase it reveals they have to leave, this also applies to me

      Reply
        • Okay I will definitely look into that. Just 2 questions regarding it, with the course do we have times to communicate with you or other people through it? And does the course have a section all about unwanted thoughts and the loss of the feeling of love? I will look more into the course tonight.

          Reply
          • All of your questions are answered on the course page.

            Reply
          • I’m going to be purchasing the course, it sounds just what I need, I am just getting a thought like “you’ve had thoughts about not loving him for near on 2 years now, I think it’s your truth not anxiety” is it normal to have thoughts for that long? I would like to think if it really was my truth I wouldn’t of stayed this long and then I get the whole “you’ve only stayed for such and such a reason” but in these 2 years on unwanted thoughts, I’ve occasionally had the week or more of no unwanted thoughts and just pure bliss because in the moments I finally thought it was gone but then it comes back. & then thinking that I get thoughts like “you’re just trying to pretend you love him and pretending the thoughts arent true” I have to admit I think I’m pretty deep in the anxiety/unwanted thoughts that im scared I’m that deep that I won’t be able to come out of it. I ruminate so much, at least my whole day and this last week I’ve had such strong break up urges but I refuse to break up because I really don’t want that. When I’m around my partner I just get this urge to shout “I don’t love you” or “I can’t do this” I am scared. This all started when we had a break and he said he didn’t love me. And now he tells me he loves me all the time and he makes it look so easy and then there’s me screaming in my head. I’m going to get the course and hope it helps me. I’m just very scared on what’s going to be on the other side.

            Reply
  27. Yes, definitely read through. She was also afraid to take a course because it may uncover “the truth.” I apologize as I don’t know which course you should take. My take away from Sheryl is that you should look from within and often times with work we will understand so much fear comes from anxiety.

    Reply
  28. My main spike is im too young/not ready yet, how does this projection tie in with the principle described here?
    I can’t really see the link between this and me not being enough

    Reply
      • I’m 25 and this isn’t my first relationship but my anxiety is hanging it’s hat on it anyways. We’re not engaged or anything but I can def see is getting married and all that. If I had to describe all my feelings in one brief thing it’d be cold feet times 100 because the thought causes so much anxiety at times. I’m scared of growing up

        Reply
        • Check the Archive, Sheryl has a specific post on the ‘too young’ spike. x

          Reply
  29. Hi Sheryl, I was wondering if you sent out emails this week about this post, I didnt received the email I usually get when you send them?

    Reply
    • I did send out my weekly email on Sunday night. If you don’t receive it this Sunday please let me know.

      Reply
  30. I wonder..if Sheryl would like to answer this…it was since Freud that neurotic people cannot love. I wonder if that’s what it’s all about with RA. And we can learn if we work hard enough to love a little, to untangle our problems, but maybe we’ll never feel the love people who are not neurotic feel.
    This is my sad conclusion after meeting many people who don’t have this problem. They can love, easily and strongly. My love will never be like theirs.

    Reply
    • Freud said some pretty wacky things, and this is one of them. First off, high sensitivity should not be confused with neurotic. Secondly, it’s not that you can’t love; it’s that you’re so aware of the risk of loving and so capable of HUGE love that you erect barriers that try to protect you from this risk.

      Reply
      • Thank you. That’s the same thing my therapist told me and I never quite get it: that it’s not that I cannot love but that I love too much…weird.
        My problem is I can fall in love really easily but after a short while I loose the feeling and it turns into rejection, hate etc. It’s quite traumatic for me and for the other.
        I’ve got a family history of my mother who left me at her mothers at 2 month old and took me back several years after that, but couldn’t connect with me because she didn’t recognise me as the child she knew anymore. My manners repelled her.
        I guess it has smthing to do with my problems but don’t know if I’ll be able fix it.

        Reply
  31. Hi Sheryl
    My spike is mainly around not being ready/ too young. How does this link in with not being enough?
    I can’t really see the connection, maybe it’s obvious but I can’t really link the too.

    Reply
      • I’m 25, not really too young but my anxiety is hanging it’s hat on it anyways

        Reply
  32. This makes so much sense. I’ve noticed a lot that I sometimes project what I actually feel about myself not only on to my fiancé but others around me too, not vocally of course it’s always all in my head. Once this fades I start to notice maybe a few days later that the roles reverse, what if I’m the red flag? What if she doesn’t love me enough? What if Hurt her?
    Naturally this is what’s causeing me to then come up with reasons to run away. I’m guessing both are the egos way of protecting me from feelin the raw pain of unworthiness?

    Reply
    • ” I’m guessing both are the egos way of protecting me from feelin the raw pain of unworthiness?” YES! You got it.

      Reply
      • Thanks Sheryl your work is incredible and your words have helped me and many others so much ❤️

        Reply
  33. Sheryl,
    I have been doing SO WELL the last month and felt like I made a major breakthrough in my RA and it is now back with a vengeance (as it tends to do…) How do I TRUST myself if I am scared my TRUTH is to leave? I have been fighting this for over a year and I want to be happy with the man I am with but my anxiety creeps in and takes over some times. Any words of encouragement? I have taken both Breaking free and Trust Yourself. Thinking back to making decisions and feeling in my body, my stomach drops when I am anxious when I think both of staying and of leaving. I feel like i can’t trust my body feelings in that scenario.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • As I often say in my courses and my blog, the healing path occurs in layers and spirals, and resistance likes to pipe up with a vengeance just when we’re feeling more clear and strong inside. I recommend that you go through both courses again from the beginning and practice the tools you’ve learned for how to respond to the fear-based questions that are plaguing you now.

      Reply
  34. Is 18 too young? i have a lot of anxiety about my age

    Reply
    • Too young for what? It’s certainly not too young to date.

      Reply
  35. Have you ever posted anything or plan on posting something about having alcoholic or addicted parents and their role in the anxiety one is feeling toward their relationship?

    Reply
  36. I am projecting so much of my own fears insecurities and emotions onto my boyfriend right now. I am so angry and irritable it is not so unlike me. I can feel myself projecting and being angry and horrible but I feel like I don’t have a mechanism to stop it. I’m still struggling to be able afford the break free course but I am currently on a low dose of anti depressants and am about to go back to a counsellor hopefully. Does anyone have a step by step guide or do anything special to stop themselves projecting ??? I’m getting to my breaking point and I think my partner is too, he cried over it and says that I’m just “always angry or getting on at him”, him crying was a huge eye opener for me and has scared me slightly because he is not the type to show such a level of emotion.

    I just feel so unlike myself at the moment, I am not the person that this depression and anxiety has made me become. HELP!!!

    Reply
    • Whatever your projection is, maybe give this a try:
      First of all you neeed to know when you’re in a projection, once you realized it name it. Just say to yourself ‘I’m in a projection, and the lines I’m telling myself aren’t the truth. Just say it to yourself you don’t have to believe it. And once you done that just get out of your head and try to pay attention to how you feel. It’s hard but when I do it, and force myself to stay there and not start ruminating about my thoughts or lack of a certain feeling, I feel a lot of fear and sadness. I try to stay there as long as I can,so basically make myself feel uncomfortable as long as possible because these moments turn out to be the most eye opening for me. You might cry, or just something to journal with and will feel better. It doesn’t always work, sometimes I can’t get out of my head. But when it does work it’s powerful. Feel the feeling, but do the right thing. So when u feel irritated or annoyed with him, feel it, accept it but don’t let it take over. Move towards him anyways and be loving anyways, even when you don’t feel like it. This is what I do

      Reply
  37. I mean is 18 too young to be with someone you think you’d like to spend the rest of your life with

    Reply
    • It’s not too young to be in a committed relationship but, in my opinion, it’s too young to get married.

      Reply
    • Hi Sheryl
      Why do you think 18 is too young? I have been with my boyfriend since I was 16. Is there something wrong with that?

      Reply
      • I don’t think 18 is too young to date but – in my opinion – it’s too young to marry. That’s just my opinion.

        Reply
  38. Does anyone else have a hard time with not being attracted to their significant other?

    Reply
  39. Hi Sheryl,

    My main source of anxiety is that I can’t stop thinking about a guy I was infatuated with for 3.5 years before I started dating my now fiancé. I’ve had this pattern (throughout all of my young adult life) of meeting someone and before ever knowing the real them, I gather some little information that I do know, create a fantasy of who they are in my mind and it’s almost as if I worship that fantasy. They become “my dream man” in a way. And I always thought there’s no harm in doing this… either they will end up liking me and that will be the beginning of how the love story begins, or I will drop it when someone better comes along.
    Only – now the better man did come along. An incredible man who is my best friend and who I genuinely think is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. But the thoughts of my previous obsession are still there every day – lots of times, in intrusive ways. I am constantly comparing my fiancé to the “fantasy” of this guy – where there was much longing, where I kind of thought I could “save him,” where the chase/wondering how he felt about me always made me feel alive. And there was always what seemed like a chance between us, or at least my fantasy was that he was always into me but never made that clear to me.
    It sounds crazy saying it out loud but our mind makes us believe a lot of things. I don’t want him to keep taking up space in my mind. It’s so much energy to combat these thoughts. He showed up in my dream last night. But going through the Break Free course, I am trying to be curious instead of judging it all. “what message does this have to tell me? What message is he carrying in this dream?” I believe I look to him as being “handy/capable of taking care of things” (which ultimately means taking care of me) which is something I fear my fiancé lacks. I am hoping by writing a letter to this “fantasy” – it will break the chains that seem to keep me enslaved to these past thoughts. I just want to move forward with who I have and not be in chains to my past patterns that are no longer serving me.

    Reply
  40. Katie M,

    If you look at this and the past few blogs, you should read Katie’s comments and Yvonne’s comments and Sheryl’s responses.

    All 3 of you sound nearly identical in your problems. All have 2 year relationships and are struggling to understand if you love your boyfriend or not and are afraid of the “truth.” Definitely get the course!! Best wishes to you.

    Reply
  41. I’ve just got back home from lunch with a girl I met through work, she is fairly new to the area and doesn’t know anyone as she moved to the area with her boyfriend, so we had lunch and it was nice etc and we started talking and it started getting a little personal, I opened up about my thoughts and that and she believes that the whole “butterfly” feeling should be there the majority of the time and she was saying that she’s been with her current partner for 5 years, her boyfriend before that she was with him for 4 years and there was nothing wrong with their relationship they just fell out of love. This spiked me cause and it’s got me thinking “if people can just fall out of love does this mean that’s what’s happened with me towards my boyfriend”. She was also telling me that she has in the past slept with 2 girls but they were like drunken activities etc, she doesn’t label herself as anything but she also doesn’t see herself wanting to be with a girl or anything, she was quite touchy with her hands when she was talking like touching my arm which made me feel a little uncomfortable as I’ve only really met her today but I guess she’s just a very friendly person but it’s added to my head like “what if you like her, what if you liked her touching your arm etc” I think it’s time I got the course.

    Reply
    • I don’t know if it’s the anxiety making me think I liked her touching my arm but all I’ve been thinking since then is “if you liked her touching your arm and you had a thought about kissing her, that means you definitely don’t love your partner” the girl is happily in a 5 year relationship with her boyfriend, I have no idea why I am making such a issue with all of this, but now I’ve just been left thinking what if I could of kissed her? I would of cheated on my partner.. before all these thoughts I’d never of thought anything like this. I’ve never cheated and I don’t plan on ever doing so but it’s just got me worried that maybe I’m capable of doing so?

      Reply
      • I read so much of myself in your comments. I know how you’re feeling and it’s horrible and I feel for you. I think everybody in life is capable of cheating, we are all human. I think it just comes down to our choice on wether we do so or not. It sounds like to me that you’re thinking so much about every detail on this lunch with this friend that your thoughts are making a scenario out of everything.. you didn’t want to kiss her and cheat, it’s your fear telling you that you wanted to do that. If you was already in an anxious frame of mind before going to lunch with her then I’m assuming that throughout the lunch your anxious mind is going to pick up on every little detail and turn it around into intrusive thoughts. Reading through your comments you was having a bad day with your thoughts anyway the day before you went for lunch, so I can probably hear fear saying “but what if I felt like in that moment I could of kissed her or wanted to” no, you didn’t but that’s what fear is trying to convince you. You said yourself that you’d never cheat and you don’t plan on doing so. You’re in an anxious frame of mind so it’s just fear piping up.

        Reply
      • Hi Yvonne: As I’ve shared with Bee below, my blog isn’t meant to be a forum. If you purchase the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course, you’ll receive access to a highly moderated, very active, private forum where you will receive all of the support that you need. I know it’s tempting to use my blog as a place to receive reassurance but that’s not what it’s intended for – and it actually won’t serve you to do so. You need the course information so that you can learn how to attend to your inner worlds if you’re going to break free and find your way back to love.

        Reply
  42. I have just purchased the break free course, I’m just waiting on the email to tell me how to access it. I am so so scared that I just want to cry. I’m scared I’m going to find out I don’t love him and have to leave. My head just keeps saying “what have you done, you shouldn’t of done that” I really hope to god I don’t find out I don’t love him.

    Reply
    • I’m on lesson 2 so far about HSP and I do have to say that I feel calmer, I’ve learnt so far that when I was younger I never used to like going over to a friends house for a sleepover, and if I did go I couldn’t wait to go to bed cause then I knew that when I wake up I would be going back home to my mum. A part of me feels that I’m scared of losing my partner, he obviously broke up with me a few months in, said some not nice things one being he didn’t think he loved me and he thought that maybe his ex and himself would of been able to work out their problems. I was a mess over hearing this. We obviously got back together and we’ve been together since, he did a lot of grovelling but we was in a long distance relationship. A part of me thinks that maybe all my intrusive thoughts on wether I loved him or not started happening because where we were far away from one another I was scared I was going to lose him again. & now we have been living together at his parents for over a year, the first time I’ve ever moved out/away from home/my mum so it’s a completely big transition for me. Especially starting a brand new job and new surroundings. When I watched your video on the course I was welling up quite a lot through it, I kept looking at the photo frame on the wall of me and my partner and I felt myself saying “I love him, I don’t want to lose him” I’m starting to believe a little already that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel I’m in. Reading through the course I still am getting a thought like “you kissed a girl before and had a crush on her so maybe you are gay” so I’m really hoping that there’s a lesson in this course around thoughts like this. Thank you Sheryl for what I have come across and learnt so far.

      Reply
      • Hi Bee: I’m so glad you purchased the course. I encourage you to write down all of your questions, comments, insights that arise as you’re going through the material and bring them to the forum when you receive access in 3 weeks at that time as my blog isn’t meant to be a forum. I’m so glad you’ve started your inner journey and I have no doubt that it will benefit you enormously.

        Reply
  43. I have just started reading Being in Love by Osho/Rajneesh. I do not like the way he categorised all men and women and parents into what seemed to be negative filters. I thought I’d start reading it because it mentions a lot about love and how it is a verb. But it sent some alarm bells to me after reading the Introduction which was shortly followed by a short passage which said Love cannot be cultivated. I think this book gives a lot of mixed messages- I won’t lie, I haven’t finished the entire book but am definitely sceptical about it after reading what I have so far. Has anyone else read this book or heard of it? I believe Sheryl mentions similar points about love being a verb, but definitely comes from a more compassionate and open minded place. Which is what I am more drawn to, rather than absolutes such as what Rajneesh had written about.

    Reply
    • It’s important to tune into what speaks to you and what doesn’t. This is one way that we develop and repair self-trust.

      Reply
  44. Every week I am reminded how much this website, community and you, Sheryl, are important to me. I always struggle to fully get my head around projection, but I guess I have been only doing this work for 18 months. I often feel like I can spot other people’s projections more easily than I can my own. I’m struggling quite a bit lately as ‘anxiety’ (though it feels more like discontent and restlessness) hops between different subjects. I am definitely projecting my ‘lack of’ onto my partner right now. I guess I am struggling with a ‘death’ of sorts – leaving a brand new job, moving in with my partner (AND truly realising he can’t be my life support anymore), letting go of the fantasy of being thin and ””’healthy””’ by practicing a lifestyle of Intuitive Eating.

    One thing I wanted to ask you was about setting limits for inner work. As most of us have tendencies to create obsessions around many subject matters, I find myself getting obsessed by excavating underneath my thoughts and more often than not, failing to find anything. This leads to self-judgement and the feeling that I am the exception and that this work doesn’t ‘work’ on me. To manage this obsession, I thought about putting limits on inner work (listening to the mp3, reading the site, journaling etc.) like, 20-30 mins morning and night – what do you think about that? Paradoxically, my self-examining I am still living in a – different kind of, but still obsessive – headspace.

    Reply
  45. Hi there! I want to ask you guys if anyone has ever experienced relationship anxiety from the beginning of their relationships? I have but it has been going on for three years on and off but the last three months I am really struggling. Everyone tells me that my issues are within but my mind keeps on trying to convince me that I am in the wrong relationship. I am starting to believe it now. I dont want to loose this guy. He is everything I have prayed for. I would appreciate your thoughts

    Reply
    • It’s very common, Lindi. Relationship anxiety can start on the first day or show up years into the relationship.

      Reply
      • I’m realizing how intrusive thoughts and fear of intimacy lead to me sabotaging and eventually leaving my marriage. It was a 17 year relationship.

        It’s been 18 months since my divorce. I’ve been in a spiral of shame about it. I don’t know which of my thoughts to believe anymore.

        I’m also in a new relationship. He’s very loving. We both recognize the baggage we bring… i’m trying not to let my previous experience color my current experience.

        But the anxiety I feel around my safety and security are overwhelming. It’s been very difficult to work, focus, (self-employed) – the pandemic didn’t help.

        How do forgive myself and move forward?

        Reply
  46. Hi sheryl,
    I was just wondering how you define the “true self”? I understand (for the most part) the ego, but what about the true self? I most often hear of it in terms of consciousness but is there more to it? Sometimes i don’t know if I resonate with the idea of being just an “awareness”. I’m sure I’ve over-simplified the concepts but would love to hear your take

    Reply
  47. Thanks!

    Reply
  48. Hi Sheryl,

    I have been dating my boyfriend for 6 months and have constantly been worrying about whether or not I actually love him. The idea of marrying him used to make me happy and now whenever he tells me he wants to marry me I feel like I’m lying to him when I say it back. I also feel like I’m constantly irritated with him and I don’t know why. I just keep having bad thoughts about him and this site makes me feel like it is just relationship anxiety but I don’t know if it is for sure. One moment I love him and the next I can’t stand him. Its very tiring and I don’t know what to do.

    Reply
  49. Dear Sheryl, Thank you for your words of wisdom. Each and every time I read your blog it centers me once more.

    Around 18 months ago I was at a breaking point. My wife of a few months and I were sleeping in separate rooms. She was disgusting to me. I was so focussed on so many small perceived imperfections and all I could ask myself was, do I love her? It eventually became I don’t love her. What have I done?

    One sleepless night I began to google and came upon one of your blogs. Tears flowed from my eyes and relief filled every pore when I came to realise I was not alone.  Many years before I struggled with thoughts such as I’m gay, I’m a serial killer, I’m a paedophile, I’m going to kill myself, I’m schizophrenic. The list went on. I felt I couldn’t trust myself. It was eroding me from the inside. How could I share these thoughts with anyone?

    Eventually I shared them after having a physical breakdown. I told me dad who got me to a doctor who got me to a shrink. There I began taking Z***** and became numb, but in time the thoughts left and I felt free. I’ve not thought that stuff again since some 10 or 15 years later.

    What I did bring with me was an inability to maintain a relationship. Lovely girl after lovely girl and each time I messed it up because of how I perceived them and how I perceived my lack of the feeling.

    With my now wife I had a honey moon stage of about 3 weeks before picking her to pieces. For the first time ever though I told her my judgements. I told her I didn’t think she was attractive. I told her I didn’t like the way she ate. I told her to didn’t like her laugh. I told her so many cruel things and yet she stayed. I hurt her so much yet she stayed. She accepted me.

    For just over 2 years it swayed back and forth for me. Judging her, seeing her as ugly. Seeing her boobs as too small. Seeing her as beautiful. Knowing she was the kindest most loving person i ever met. Picking on her for her breath or how fast she was eating. Eventually it became too much for her not long after our honeymoon. That was when we were in separate beds amd arguing and when I came upon your work and where I purchased the break free from relationship anxiety course.

    The course and your blog helped me see for the first time what I was doing and better still provided me with some real tools for finding relief. For steering myself out of it. I shared all of it with my wife and she too and she came to realise that she too was on the sensitive side of the spectrum. She is so grateful that I found you and words cannot express the gratitude and love that I have for you and for everyone here who is struggling with this stuff.

    I still get thoughts and sometimes I share them. Having my wife know about the work is great because she reminds me that im projecting. Most of the time though I’m now able to catch myself in the projection and name it for what it is. I see it as a sign that there’s something within me that needs work. Like I need to do more music (That which brings me the greatest sense of aliveness)

    I love the question What is this thought trying to protect me from feeling? This has been so useful when I’m in the thick of it. It helps me to see that my anxiety is my friend.

    Another thing I did last year was abstain from all alcohol for 99 days,  and this year I did 120 days. Since then my relationship with it has really changed. I can really feel how it affects me now. I can feel the anxiety being created.

    All I know is that I wouldn’t be here where I am without you and your work, and for anyone reading this, if I can turn it around I know anyone can. We all just need to learn to love our beautiful sensitive selves and make sure we spend time only with those who appreciate our true self. It takes work time and time again but look to it like a long walk. Nothing overly exerting yet a journey that will take time. So enjoy the steps you take and celebrate your wins and appreciate what you have right now even if it’s not what you want. You will get there as long as you keep moving forward.

    Do the course or courses too!!! Xx

    Reply
    • Dear Brent: Thank you so much for sharing your story, your insights, and your process. It’s clear that you’ve done extraordinary work on yourself and what a blessing that your wife has been able to walk this long walk alongside you. I love the analogy of a long walk; that’s exactly what this inner work is about. It’s not a quick-fix or a magic pill. Rather, it’s a spiral, multi-layered exploration through the hidden parts of ourselves that we had to push down years ago and are now clamoring for attention in the only way they know how. I also hear that you’ve taken many concrete actions toward supporting your inner work, like abstaining from alcohol. This is the sign of a true love-warrior! Blessings to you and your wife as you continue along these path of learning and growing, both individually and together.

      Reply
  50. Hi Sheryl, one thing I’m struggling with is, when I get all dressed up I think very pretty. I am blonde, skinny with muscle tone, pretty blonde hair, and straight teeth. And then when my boyfriend stands beside me, I become upset because he has crooked teeth, acne scars on his face, and bad posture. I look at him like he is not good enough beside me and I wish that he looked better because somehow, that validates how sexy I feel about myself. If he were more attractive I would not have thoughts like, “Ugh if only he were more attractive we would look like a power couple”. I don’t think this always used to be a problem, but now I focus on his flaws. We have been together 5 years. He is the only man I haven’t been intimidated by or tried to impress for the duration of our relationship. He’s the only man that has made me feel truly comfortable in my shoes, the only man that has been emotionally available to me. ALL the other men I’ve dated have made me feel as though I wasn’t enough.

    Reply
  51. Sheryl, what I have a hard time with is, I have trouble identifying my anxiety when it feels like I am resisting my partner in a turnoff sort of way. I think about marriage and I’m really happy, but then other times I get this deep feeling of resistance, almost like disgust (not that strong but I can’t find another word). Why is my brain doing this? He’s not discusting, he’s a man I definitely want to marry. My feelings say otherwise sometimes.

    Reply
    • Disgust is a by-product and common symptom of anxiety.

      Reply
      • Thank you for this. I can better understand with this in mind. I purchased your ecourse and so far have nothing but positive things to say!!

        Reply
  52. Hi Sheryl,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, as it has given me a lot of new insight with the anxiety that I have been struggling with. My first relationship ended a couple of years ago out of the blue. Months later this ex-boyfriend told me that he had been unfaithful to me several times. I buried the hatchet and ended up getting over it almost too quickly… I am now in a wonderful relationship with the most honest, caring and loving man I have ever met. We have been together for about 8 months but one thing I struggle with is intrusive thoughts that are centred around wanting to leave my partner. I know that I love my partner and can see a future with him but sometimes worry that if I have these thoughts then it’s a sign that I should leave. How can I begin to break down my fears? I would appreciate your thoughts, thank you.

    Reply
    • If you read through my site from beginning to end, most of your questions will be answered.

      Reply
  53. Hi Sheryl,

    I have recently found your site after starting to read your book The Conscious Bride. My fiance and I have been together for two and a half years, engaged for 6 months. We plan on getting married next October. Last year I had major panic attacks in the summer time where I would have intrusive thoughts that told me I did not love my fiance and that I should end the relationship. These thoughts scared me which drove me it to the panic attacks. I had attributed it all to being on birth control which messed my hormones up REALLY bad. We got through it and he stuck by me with every thought and anxious moment. My fiance is the best man I have ever met and he always knows when I am anxious and he is able to get me to talk it out and calm me down so well When we got engaged I knew without a doubt that he was the one for me and said yes immediately. He left for a year long deployment in January and this month I have noticed the anxiety has peaked again. The intrusive thoughts are back and it is scary for me. I have been trying to keep my mind away from them, but even when I am trying to think of something positive or a great memory the thoughts continue and my anxiety spikes. I also have self-confidence issues due to past relationships, my parents are divorced, and this is my longest relationship I have been in.

    I know without a doubt this is the man for me. But these thoughts saying, “You don’t love him” “You should end it” “Hes not that great of a person” “You’re bored” “he’s cheating on you” have been popping back up and some times i have a hard time not believing them. He will not be back from deployment until early next year and I am so afraid I will listen to my mind and break it off with him. Which is what I do NOT want at all. Any advice? I just want these doubts to go away. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  54. I loved reading this and want more. So right on. My late husband killed himself and I recently started dating a loving man. I know we love one another but after my loss I feel insecure now that my new man and I are getting a real life together. The anxiety is exhausting

    Reply
  55. Hi Sheryl,
    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3 years and I know the exact date of when my anxiety started (my first weekend at college). I found your blog almost immediately and I’ve been reading through it the past 2 and a half years. I think I’m ready to purchase one of the courses because it’s all just been too much to bear. Right now we’re on a break because I told him all of my fears and anxieties (he’s heard it all before but this time I felt like I needed to pull away in order to think clear headedly). I just wanted to know, how do I determine if I really want to stay or not? I know I love him. He’s so sweet and kind and doesn’t have any red flags. But I’m only 21 and sometimes I think maybe I just don’t want to be tied down? Maybe I just want to do whatever I want to do and not have to answer to anyone? Of course it absolutely kills me thinking about it but I can’t help thinking that at this point the anxiety has been so present that I will never be able to love him properly. The anxiety has just become such an intrinsic part of our relationship that it’s hard to imagine being with him WITH OUT the anxiety. So perhaps I should just be young and have my fun. Any thoughts?
    Thank you

    Reply
  56. I read a lot of things on the ‘net, trying to get to grips with who I am and why I do the things I do, but this is the very first time I have felt inclined to write a comment.

    I am in the middle of a fairly new (three month) online, long distance relationship. A connection has been there from the beginning – we are similar ages (have had very long relationships with kids that have now ended), want to meet someone who truly gets us, and fall in love. We are yet to meet but I am planning a visit in the summer. As you can imagine, a LDR with someone you’ve never met is a hive of horror for a HSP like myself.

    Although we’ve experienced some of the most intense moments I’ve ever felt, for the last few weeks, we’ve also had a rocky road, caused entirely by me.

    Relationship anxiety stepped in several weeks ago and it made me insecure, doubt, question everything he said, re-read over and over again the things he said looking for clues he wasn’t sincere. He is an INFP personality type and just doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with sharing his feelings. I, on the other hand, want to shout them from the rooftops. His reluctance to not reveal much about his feelings started to leave me feeling vulnerable, especially when I’d shared things with him. It felt unbalanced, I guess. So, that sneaky, all-consuming bugger, insecurity, found a nice little way in and started to wreak havoc.

    I finished it several times because it became too much for me then realised I wanted it too badly, apologised and carried on. The first few times this happened, he was apologetic for the things I believed he’d done, told me he liked me and of course he wanted to carry on (I often thought he just felt sorry for me and really wanted to just leave it). But I know I hurt him. I pulled him up on things that hurt my feelings when he was joking and I could literally feel sadness in the words he wrote saying sorry. This made me feel so bad but still, the horrible negative thoughts wouldn’t leave me.

    I know my questioning made him feel uncomfortable and I know that he prizes honesty above all things. He is an introvert and I also know that he thinks that there is no need to explain how he feels. If he is there, he is in it and into it and I should know that (well, it is pretty obvious, isn’t it?). I read and re-read everything I could find out about INFPs in relationships to the point of sheer exhaustion.

    After a few times of doing this pulling out and back in again, I noticed a change in how he was responding to me. He was no longer trying to reassure me of his commitment, which just magnified all of the insecurity I was feeling so much more. It became a thing that happened every couple of days – he would say something, I would take it personally, would stew over it and then let all my frustrations out. I was never rude but I was SO dramatic: how I liked him so much but was ruining it. How he needed to tell me how he felt (it was “do or die”) and if he couldn’t, we would never work. So lots of pressure on the poor guy. It’s no wonder he started to withdraw. The more he did, the more I self-flagellated about how I was a terrible person and spoiling it. But, he was also to blame, in my mind, because his lack of reassurance was not acceptable.

    Wow. What a spoilt brat I sound, eh?

    Reading your posts and comments from readers hit me like a lightning bolt. I mean truly. I was able to see that he had done nothing wrong (nobody likes someone else demanding they reveal their feelings, or anything else for that matter), that it was all in my pretty little over-thinking head. He was reacting to my over-reaction and withdrawing because of it, which made me over-think and analyse all the more.

    I am quite intuitive but as you say, intuition is a quiet whisper, and my fear and intrusive thoughts became so loud that it was impossible to hear anything else. I’d read so much online about how if you are having doubts you need to leave. That if you were anxious, it was wrong. That intuition could be you just wanting something to happen (so my thoughts and intuition that we were somehow connected was just me desperately wanting it to be true and not real at all). It doesn’t help that I am an INFJ, a personality type famed for its intuition. I felt like my body was screaming, “It’s wrong!” but that I wasn’t listening. That the anxiety I felt was a result of me being in so much denial.

    Until I found your site. Oh, what a lucky day that was. It was 6am and I’d just woken with gut wrenching anxiety. I read some posts and I started to allow myself to see my fear and communicate with it (it actually sat in my car passenger seat for a while). It allowed me to see which voices were shouting at me; allowed me to see why: I am worthless, they raged. Why would he want you? You are showing your nasty side, just like your dad did, and nobody wants a person with negative emotions. I cried and cried some more, then I felt drained but totally at peace with myself. I no longer wanted to check back and analyse previous messages. I wasn’t waiting on tenterhooks for a new message to come and writhing around in agony wondering why it was taking so long. I felt a serenity I hadn’t felt for weeks.

    And you know, three days on, it still feels calm. We’ve had the best conversations we’ve ever had. He is warming up again (he never went cold but I knew he had detached a little) and open.

    I did have a panic moment last night when he said a couple of things that didn’t add up to previous things he’d said and my mind went crazy. “He’s lying!” screamed my fear. I did question what he’d said but held the panic and fear in though, and later realised that it was me who had misunderstood. It gave me a wobble thinking that doubt was re-surfacing, that I was going to ruin it by not trusting him. Until I realised that there is nothing wrong with questioning him about something. Asking someone to clarify something is not the same as accusing. And because I did it in a calm, non-accusatory manner, he was more than happy to elaborate and explain. I thought again about what intrusive thought and voice was trying to control me, and told fear to go take a hike and leave me with it. That I could handle it.

    I thought about why I was so keen to mistrust him rather than trust him and while I thought, the most amazing calm came again and the most beautiful words of “trust him” filled my head. I also had that deep breath in and exhale that comes when I listen to and believe in a thought. And so, I’ve made a conscious decision that trust him I will. Go with the flow until he gives me real reasons to doubt him. That we can have something beautiful, if I just allow myself to accept it.

    Anyway, I know I am rambling. Sorry! What you are doing is an amazing thing. You are allowing people not to be fooled or experience wishful thinking, but to really see what is going on. Anxiety is not intuition (although it can bloody well feel like it). Anxiety doesn’t mean your partner is the bad guy. Anxiety comes from a million and one things, most of which have everything to do with you. The man I am involved with has shown me absolutely nothing but respect and honesty. He has never promised me anything but at the same time, his actions show me how much he actually is willing to give me. We need to be able to see the truth, the real truth. Not a distortion of our reality. It’s amazing how powerful our brains are and how much we can convince ourselves of something that is so far off base it’s frightening. I write this with a calm heart and it feels amazing. Who knows what our future will bring? Who knows if it will work? Nobody can tell us that. But if I allow us to have an ven playing field, I believe just about anything is possible. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  57. Hi there! Is it normal to feel this way from date one to 3 months in?

    Reply
    • Yes, absolutely. A significant portion the e-course members experienced doubt from day 1, including Sara, who is included in the one-hour interviews at the end.

      Reply
  58. Hi, I hope everyone is doing well.
    I am in need of some help. (What is this thought trying to tell me) I haven’t figured it out.

    I worry that my boyfriend will cheat on me? That he is to friendly and I feel like he has too many women friends. I feel that when we are together and we are out and about that he is constantly looking at other women. I have never felt like this or worried about this with another relationship, so I don’t know why this is coming up now.

    What is the best way to find out what this means or what its trying to tell me? or is he in the wrong?

    Reply
  59. Hey Sheryl,

    I have suffered from relationship anxiety for 12 years. I put another post up in another thread explaining my story a bit (and mention that I will be signing up to your relationship anxiety course).

    Quick question that relates to this post. I am a personal trainer and have been into health and fitness for 8 years. “Looks” have become much more important then they used to be for me – and i do believe this is some form of relationship anxiety. So one of my main intrusive tonight’s revolves around attraction.

    Do you believe this has been intensified because of my line of work – whist being a naturally anxious person? I already know the answer typing this lol, but maybe there are others in the same boat in relation to the fitness industry/have you met others in this situation?

    Reply
    • You answered your own question :). Our environment absolutely affects our perceptions and expectations. It’s the problem with our culture in general and is certainly amplified in certain sub-cultures. The course will help you immensely.

      Reply
  60. I’m currently working through the Relationship Anxiety course and my thoughts are coming so thick and fast I can’t work them out. When I got to the red flags bit I managed to convince myself I was with a sociopath (he can be a bit selfish and gets temperful sometimes and has admitted to me himself that he wishes he had more empathy). I desperately want my leaving him to go away and for me to wake up tomorrow and realise I really do love him but the feelings just aren’t coming back. I left just before we completed on the purchase of a house and about a week after he proposed. Everything went numb and I even went to see him a couple of weeks later, hoping my heart would just fill with love and it didn’t.
    It’s good to feel that I’m not alone but did anyone else actually leave and then work through this and find themselves able to go back? I want so much to have our life back but it’s not fair on anyone if I can’t feel what we both need me to feel. It’s been nearly two months since I left and there’s been very minimal contact.

    Reply
  61. Yes. The anxious mind will convince you that leaving is the right thing, and the thought will often bring relief. By agonizing I mean that you’re agonizing about “not knowing anything anymore.” That’s the agony!

    Reply
  62. Wow. This hit right into my heart. I am constantly questioning these things like: do I actually love him? Is he any good for me? Is he sociable enough? Does he know how to communicate enough? And though every day he shows up at my side, despite all the stufg I project on him, I dont believe that he really loves me. And I find something new everyday that isnt as it should be and tell him that. And i tell myself that he is an abuser who just wants to control me, imprison me and steal my energy. And in all that confusion I sometimes see the desesparation in his eyes , just saying me that he loves me. It is so hard to trust myself in this. The thought of leaving it all.behind soothes me but we have to small kids together and I know I have been running away from relationships all my life. They all were really lovely men and were really committed to our relationship. Thats when I felt the agony being a pattern and just recently I started looking into relationship anxiety and it suddenly all made sense. I often forget about it when I get lost in my thoughts. But when I read about it it feels so familiar that zi just cannot ignore the fact that I actually have to work on it in order to actually be able to Connect to me and to anyone on my side. Thanks you for the contente. It gives me hope.

    Reply
  63. Hi Sheryl,
    I’ve been reading almost everything you have written on your website. I have been a long term relationship for almost 20 years and I am interested in taking the relationship anxiety assessment. We have had many struggles throughout our relationship, including infidelity but have worked through this and have decided to stay together. Is it possible to develop relationship anxiety in this case? You mention “betrayal” as a red flag. We have always tried to improve ourselves. Within the past two years especially we have been in a very loving, compassionate, and healthy relationship however, I am afraid that we will be repeating the same cycle and have anxiety throughout the day about this idea and then begin to doubt myself and have intense feelings of guilt from the past (infidelity). We are very much interested in having a family sometime in the future as well, but I feel a need to leave the relationship since I feel something is wrong. I am also highly sensitive, and feel my gut is telling me I need space to figure myself out. Not sure what to do sometimes. I would appreciate any feedback.

    Reply
    • A red flag is only a red flag if it’s not worked on, and it sounds like in your case you both have addressed the fallout from the betrayals. As such, wat you’re describing is typical relationship anxiety, and I have no doubt that the course would be enormously beneficial. This post may help as well:

      https://conscious-transitions.com/something-is-wrong/

      Reply
      • Thank you so much Sheryl. Your words make me feel more at ease. I will read your recommended post and consider taking the course. Thank you again for replying to my comment. I purchased your book “The Wisdom of Anxiety” recently and can’t wait to read it. Thank you for all that you do.

        Reply
  64. Hi Sheryl,

    How is one able to tell if a red flag issue is one worth leaving or staying and working through? My husband is good on many levels, he loves me, and is an incredible father to our kids. But get so frustrated with how lazy, undisciplined, and immature/irresponsible he is with his choices. It’s maddening and I cry over it all the time.

    I honestly feel like I do 95% of the work for everything in our house and household, and well over 50% of the work in our shared business. I walk in on him “working” all the time and he’s just scrolling on his computer. I’ve talked to him about all of it countless times, but he says I’m controlling and have perspective bias and that it’s not true. I don’t know who’s right, I feel either gaslit or crazy. So much.

    I also think he can get obsessive/addicted to a hobby at a time, especially in regards to his phone or computer, to the point where he makes really undisciplined, immature choices.

    My lifestyle is active, healthy, disciplined, and clean and he is literally none of those things. It often feel like I don’t love him, how could I? I feel taken advantage of all the time and unappreciated and like I’m married to a bum that just doesn’t care.

    Otherwise, he has many other great qualities.

    When do you decide which if these issues are worth leaving over? They feel like really important issues.

    Reply
  65. Hi Sheryl, wondering if relationship anxiety can manifest as parental anxiety In terms of overly questioning choices the partner is making and focusing on “lacking” as a parent to project the anxiety, e.g. “is he/she a good enough parent?”

    Reply
      • Hi there, I have been in a loving and committed relationship with my boyfriend for almost 2 years now. He is my first proper boyfriend and we connect and we are just like two peas in a pod. We understand and support eachother and love eachother unconditionally. About a month ago I had an innocent thought “Do you love him?” and then I started panicking and the thoughts just spiralled out of control and got worse. Prior to this I had never had thoughts like this, we were happy as could be. We would talk about the future and talk about how much we love eachother, but now the anxiety has peaked and the anxious thoughts (intrusive thoughts) have gotten much worse. I often think “what if I don’t love him?”, “What if I’m just with him due to this this and this”. The thoughts are killing me because I do believe he is my soulmate and I’ll never ever connect with someone like this again. I genuinely want to be with him but it just sometimes feels like I don’t love him. I don’t want the thoughts to get to me, because deep down I know the truth. These thoughts don’t stop me from being intimate like holding his hand, kissing him, hugging him, like I believe love is an action as well and I do this without second guessing or anything. I am also suffering from depression. He literally is the most important thing in my life and I’m holding on so tight due to the fact that I don’t want to lose him and what we have. I know I love him, I just know I do. The thoughts also spiralled into “maybe I’m a lesbian?” which is crazy because I have never thought this before. Please give me some insight, I’m freaking out and am so worried. I genuinely want to be with him and think about no one else, he’s the one for me.

        Reply
  66. Hello. I hope this post gets seen! I am new to the site and am a bit confused. If you have relationship anxiety, how can you work out if you’re in a strong and loving relationship with no red flags? I feel my anxiety makes me doubt all of those things! Really appreciate any help x

    Reply
  67. I just want to say that these blogs are amazing and a god send in my life at the moment. I have been with my boyfriend for about 3 years now and have recently (3 months ago) went through a scary time for me when over night i started to get panic attacks about previous partners that i had been with before him and had this overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame and felt like I was lying to him if i didn’t tell him about some mutual friends that i had been with. He handled it so well and supported and accepted me completely after a time (we nearly broke up and he came around) The whole experience was traumatising because he cried and said that “i broke his heart”.

    On the flip side, i all of a sudden started getting thoughts like “what if you don’t love him?” and “is he really the one for you” and so on…. it’s been debilitating thinking all these thoughts constantly. I went from being so afraid oh him leaving me to doubting the relationship?

    Growing up my mother didn’t give me affection and i felt like she didn’t like me… we have a good relationship now but could that be the reason? Im still sexually attracted to my boyfriend and think he is so cute but i still get these flutters of panic that he isn’t the one and i should break up with him for his own good…

    Any piece of advice would be deeply appreciated before i decide to purchase the course!

    Reply
  68. Thank you so so much! i will listen now!!

    Reply
  69. hey there. I started having bad anxiety back in january. my thoughts went from self harm, to religion to self harm, to my relationship. we’ve been together for 11 years. he understands that my anxiety is bad. he has told me he knows I love him, and he loves me. but my anxiety always questions if I love him.. as soon as the thought comes in I can feel the anxiety flood in through my body. I hate these thoughts so much. I want to be with him, but I don’t want these thoughts. someone please help. i’m so scared.

    Reply
    • This is classic relationship anxiety. Read through the collection on relationship anxiety and listen to the webinar linked above.

      Reply
  70. Hi Sheryl, I’ve had what feels like a long, hard road of relationship anxiety that started last fall. I met my girlfriend two months before and was so happy and excited to be with her. After we put the label of girlfriends on our relationship I started having crippling anxiety, fear, doubt, and dread. There are so many thoughts I have that scared me then and still do, although not as painfully now as over a year ago. I think things like, “I should be happier. How can I continue to stay with someone when I’m not happy enough or it’s hard to say that I’m happy overall because I have so much anxiety and worry.” I worry I’m not excited enough in the relationship now. There are windows sometimes a few seconds, or an hour, or a day where I actually feel happy and can access my love for my partner. It’s hard when it’s so rare though. I’m often so worried about how long we’ll be together (we talk about always being together), but I’m like “What if I discover a problem tomorrow and we have to break up?” In a way, I hope I do just suffer from relationship anxiety and not that this is the wrong relationship because my girlfriend is such an incredible partner, I love her very much, and don’t want to lose her. I would feel like such a terrible person if we had to break up (which we did once actually and got back together). Anyway, I hope it’s relationship anxiety that can get better.

    Reply
    • Hi Sheryl,

      I would love a reply if you are able! My anxiety is a lot easier now, but it is still there. I do feel like my love for my partner deepens and deepens between us, but sometimes I feel like I don’t like her, I want space, and she really annoys me. These may be manifestations of fear or distancing. I get intrusive thoughts like, “what if I don’t like her enough?” Sex used to be so great between us and we’ve been in a bit of a lull with less fire for several months. We are planning on moving in together, which has caused me more anxiety and conflict between us. Anyway, I think it’s all related to relationship anxiety, but would love to hear from you! Thank you!

      Reply
  71. I’ve been diagnosed with ROCD and i am in a healthy and beautiful relationship. As much as I try to believe it, i constantly struggle with anxiety, gilt, feeling of rejection towards my partner when i am not with him. I constantly think i may not love him, i don’t feel attracted to him, even that i must break up with him because this is something that has happened to me before. I even feel that i don’t love him like i did a few weeks ago!
    Seriously I try to remind myself little mantras or statements to help myself to get out of the loophole but I can’t.
    I am so afraid i end up breaking up with him.
    I am under psychological therapy and medication but I don’t feel it working as it should. What can I do!

    Reply
  72. I’m glad you mentioned friends, Sheryl. I’m constantly struggling in my friendships. So dissatisfied, so critical of people who seem to like me. It’s horrible because I so long to connect and be close. I’ve been trying to push through regardless of how I feel and keep showing up in these friendships for years now, but the negativity towards them never dissolves. I’m constantly hyperfocused on their enoughness and my enoughness simultaneously. There’s one “friend” in particular who really triggers me for no particular valid reason. It’s not pleasant living like this.

    Reply
    • It’s such a common and under-discussed source of struggle and pain. You’re far from alone.

      Reply
  73. So wonderful and opening. Thank you Sheryl. <3

    Reply
  74. Thank you, Sheryl! It’s so interesting to flip that question back on to ourselves. I haven’t thought about it before. I keep thinking: Is he enough? Do I love him enough? Are we ever going to be strong enough to get married? I guess I have to flip the mirror around and work on both self love and self compassion to get to a place where it’s a knowing that I am good enough and it all falls into place.

    Reply
  75. Sheryl,

    I’m just wondering, what about the question, “are we enough”? And many times more than not the question comes up as a statement… “we aren’t enough”.

    It seems as if something is telling me to leave. Because “we” aren’t enough.

    We aren’t similar enough
    We aren’t growing enough
    We aren’t getting along enough

    And most of the time those statements start with the “what if”. They just feel so real.

    Reply
    • Same here, Sar! I think I remember way back when this all started (nearly a year ago), mine might have come up as questions, but since then the intrusive thoughts have been statements too (and honestly not even just thoughts but an overpowering feeling of dread and coldness that takes over my whole body). Mine aren’t even about tangible things or flaws, they just concentrate on that one word, ‘love’, convincing me I don’t have it which sends me into a tailspin. It’s hard, but lots of other articles here address how thoughts are often statements rather than questions and it makes me feel better to see that acknowledged- even if no matter how textbook we are, our brains will still desperately try to convince us we’re the exception! Sending love x

      Reply
  76. As I return to dating in this post-not-post covid era, it’s good to see this one surface again. Thank you.

    Reply
  77. Hi, I was wondering if thoughts of not being loveable and worthy of love can be manifested in the behaviors of our spouse? I felt my husband of 17 years was emotionally unavailable and the distancer for most of our relationship and I was the insecure pursuer. My husband also avoided social interactions with others and that left me feeling more lonely and isolated in my marriage. When I turned 40 and our youngest was weaned and close to 5, something shifted in me and I felt like I no longer wanted to be with my husband because I was tired of our dynamic. Well, that shifted our dynamics and now he is the pursuer and I’m the distancer. I am feeling stuck because I felt unlovable for all these years and I felt that was reinforced by my husbands behaviors. Now that I know I’m worthy of love and wanted to move on, he is now the pursuer and wanting to do the things that I longed for in the marriage all these years.

    Reply
    • Sheryl, (or anyone willing to give some input)
      I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost five years (I’m 22 now, so since 17.) I love him very VERY much. We recently moved in together which I was over the moon to do. Things aren’t always perfect and he annoys me sometimes. I don’t always think his jokes are funny and sometimes things he says irritate me. We’ve lived together for almost three months and those months I’ve felt very happy. My friends could see it, my family too. Then two weeks ago I woke up with the thought “am I really happy?”. Since then I’ve been spiraling non stop. I feel guilty being around him been crying a lot because I can’t tell if my gut is telling me this isn’t right and you’re only with him because it’s comfortable. The thought of actually leaving is also terrifying, a life without him by my side is debilitating. But I don’t know if that’s why I’m trying to stay or if these thoughts are just thoughts. I went through something similar in may and I chose to stay and had felt very happy ever since. I love him so much and have always thought of a future together but I keep going in circles and don’t know what to do. I don’t want to stay because I don’t want to hurt him/be alone but I also love him so much and want to make this work. I just want these anxious feelings to go away because right now when I’m around him I feel sick to my stomach like I’m lying like I should be telling him something. Please help. I’m working on the Break Free course right now as well.

      Reply
  78. Hi, I was wondering if thoughts of not being loveable and worthy of love can be manifested in the behaviors of our spouse? I felt my husband of 17 years was emotionally unavailable and the distancer for most of our relationship and I was the insecure pursuer. My husband also avoided social interactions with others and that left me feeling more lonely and isolated in my marriage. When I turned 40 and our youngest was weaned and close to 5, something shifted in me and I felt like I no longer wanted to be with my husband because I was tired of our dynamic. Well, that shifted our dynamics and now he is the pursuer and I’m the one putting up walls I am feeling stuck because I felt unlovable for all these years and I felt that was reinforced by my husbands behaviors. Now that I know I’m worthy of love and wanted to move on, he is now the pursuer and wanting to do the things that I longed for in the marriage all these years.

    Reply
  79. Hi all, I wasn’t sure where to post this question, I’ve been going through most of these comment threads to find a similar story but with no luck. Quick background – I know I suffer from anxiety in general and most certainly relationship anxiety (I’m looking at the Break Free course). I have an amazing partner & a healer I’ve been seeing for many years. The general anxiety I was experiencing was so crippling (before I met my current partner of 5 years) that I chose to go on medication (after battling with my mind about not wanting to). I went on the medication a couple years in to this relationship because then relationship anxiety came in almost as soon as we officially committed to each other.

    My partner is a beautiful, kind, caring & loyal man, he is on the spectrum (very high functioning) and there might be 2 things that do frustrate me about him. These things are not “deal breakers” for me, I understand him and we do our best to support each other. But, they cause me a lot of anxiety – only when I’m around my family, mostly my dad and my brother.

    I’m so crippled by what they think (have been with my dad my whole life) that I get anxious at family events in fear that my partner might say the “wrong” thing, come across the “wrong” way because he can be quite unfiltered. It doesn’t phase my partner because he always treats people with respect and is never afraid to be his full, true self. He has quirks that are very “different” and he likes to talk a lot, he is genuinely curious about so many things and doesn’t like “awkward” silence. I love this about him (yes he can talk too much at times, haha).

    My family is the opposite, my dad has a very low tolerance level or patience level for anyone and everyone when it comes to talking too much – he will cut you off when he’s done. Anyway, my partner has been judged by my brother in the past (very early on) but that was resolved and my brother is just happy I’m happy. My brother also won’t have a long conversations and does think he talks a lot, but doesn’t “not like him”. They just don’t bond as much because my partner is different, which is ok.

    I am more myself around my partner than I am around my family and I am more comfortable around my partners family because they are very different to mine – never do I feel judged around them and I know I’m comfortable because I’m not afraid of anyone judging my partner. We all know his differences and that in his unfiltered state he may seem a little “rough” around the edges, but has a heart of gold.

    I also find it very anxiety provoking to even think about just asking my dad for clarity, I’m so fearful he might say he doesn’t think we are a good match.

    I recently tapered off my medication – I lost my job in 2021 (bullying case that I stood up for), we are about to sell our home and move to the country, we have businesses that bring us so much joy etc. But a couple of weeks after completely being off the meds, I’m spiralling – and a lot of it was triggered by a family Bbq. Nothing ” bad” happened but I couldn’t manage the anxiety around my dad like I might have been able to while on the meds.

    Now, of course, the intrusive thoughts like “maybe going off your meds was a sign that you need to feel your feelings and that they were numbing you to the fact that your anxiety around your family means you’re not meant to be together”.

    I don’t feel this way or this “bad” any other time, but I also don’t want to spend our lives not bringing him to all the family events because I’m so worried what he might say, what they might think etc.

    Has anyone else experienced anything similar?

    Reply
    • Hi M, I can relate to what you say about meds. I personally have been on a number of meds for many years. I think they help. Can I ask what caused you to taper off yours?

      My view is that meds can help us be MORE ourselves, not less.

      Reply
  80. Hi Sheryl I know you can’t offer advice on this blog so to speak. I just need a pointer on what course if any to take.

    So deep down I know I love my partner, she loves me and I know this, I know she os caring and loyal, committed and considerate though so part of me says I’m lying to myself about the caring and considerate part I don’t know why. When we’re together I feel like she’s the one I belong with, I don’t know why, I just look at her and know that’s the girl I love and that is it. But our love languages are opposite, and she is not in a position to ‘fulfill’ my language of physical touch. This feels like the main issue to me, is there a way I can move past this? Should I take the relationship anxiety course or open your heart course?

    Part of me says yes to this woman, another part which I think is intuition says no because you’re not fulfilled. But I don’t want to leave, I’m not scared of being alone, I just know I love her and don’t want to love someone else. Please any advice would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • It sounds like classic relationship anxiety, Josh. As such, the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course would be the one to take first.

      Reply
  81. Hi Sheryl, I’ve been doing medicine work for the three years and last August had a terrible experience, which landed me and chemical and stress induced psychotic like symptoms.

    With a narcissistic, misogynistic, and bipolar father, and a mother, who rejected her femininity, I’ve been wrestling with intrusive thoughts and images that have led me to deeply second guess my female identity. “Is this the real me?” “What if I got it all wrong” “Am I really just like my mother?” Coupled with a very fleeting sense of disgust and shame. I want to step into my power as a woman, but the intrusive thoughts and images that don’t look like me are confusion and have brought my life to a screeching halt.

    Do you have any thoughts or encouragement you might offer to help properly frame my perspective?

    Thank you 🙏🏻

    Reply
  82. This is such a timely post Sheryl. This year my husband and I will be celebrating 20 years since we first met, and 17 years together in January next year. My relationship anxiety is off the charts right now, but I have met a wonderful psychotherapist in Australia who I am meeting with regularly to unpick why I feel like I do. I have two major deaths in our family, I am going through perimenopause and so much in my life has changed in the past three years. Its time for me to sit and do the work again at 48, like I did at 30, 31. All will be ok, but I truly appreciate the timing as you so often get right. Thank you for all the work you do.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Jo. Your level of insight and self-awareness are beautiful to read.

      Reply
  83. Hi Sheryl, thank you for this wonderful post – it is so inspiring. I am male and have been in a relationship with my female partner for 9 months. I am really struggling at the moment with the ‘she is not attractive enough’ intrusive thought. I find myself comparing her looks to other women around me and wishing that she had this or that. It is exhausting and painful, particularly as my partner has the most wonderful personality and I think we are very well matched on this front.

    I am particularly interested in the ‘mask in reverse’ concept. I wondered – does it have to be exact like for like? i.e. If i project ‘she is not attractive enough / I am not attracted to her’ (and we are talking purely physical attraction here) then does it have to be ‘I am not physically attractive enough for her’? Or can it be simply a general ‘not enough’ rather than one specific to looks?

    Reply
  84. Combined with the coursework I’ve been going through in Break Free from Relationship Anxiety, this blog helped me have a breakthrough today. I could finally see how the question “Am I enough” is at the core of much of my suffering. I initially connected with my current partner because he was open about his flaws, anxieties, and shortcomings. He has not achieved the societal markers of success, so he didn’t trigger my “Am I Enough?” fear that arises when I’m with a partner who is more “successful.” I felt like I could finally just be myself around someone, and it felt so great at first. I was SO excited to build a life with him. But I quickly started thinking, “Is he enough?” and this created TREMENDOUS anxiety and inner conflict for me. I broke up with him multiple times when the answer was “no,” but I would always go back to him shortly after because I feel so safe and comfortable with him. I love him so much. I almost lost him. This time, I committed to trying everything I could to make it work. We started to go to therapy together, and I also found this course. Today, reading this blog, I re-discovered the question: “Am I Enough?” and it made me realize that the reason I want a more perfect partner is because then it will keep me striving to be more perfect myself, which will finally make me “Enough.” I can finally see that the work for me is self-acceptance. Seeing myself as lovable and enough no matter where I’m at in life or what I’ve achieved. Thank you Sheryl!

    Reply
    • This is a beautiful comment, Laura. Thank you for sharing and your growth with us here.

      Reply
  85. Loved this post! But it also triggered my anxiety/ocd thoughts… I learned that love is a choice and that I had many unrealistic/perfectionistic beliefs that made the stories in my mind so strong… I did and do work on those, but in the midst of long episodes of anxiety and intrusive thoughts it sometimes feels like I just don´t want to let go (brain comes up with varying reasons – which I often feel ashamed, guilty and bad for, like I am the most horrible person and partner in this world..) like my fear of loss and change keeps me here not genuine love… but I do not get it… when I am good I do not question if I want to stay – there is no question… I had to make tough decisions about my life before…why would this be different if I were truly unhappy? My mind won’t let me get a rest… every time I get to a point where I see: ok this is not all black or white or absolute, that love is a choice and that he and I are willing to always work together when there is a problem… but brain comes up with a BUT, another reason or a horrible feeling… sometimes it is hard not to believe that that might be my truth trying to get to me even though it is not what I hope or wish for…. is this something other people struggle with or am I just the exception?

    Reply

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