Preface: I wrote this in 2012 and shared it as a pinned post on the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety forum, where it has lived for the past eight years. The main message is the most important piece to breaking free from not only relationship anxiety but from anxiety in general: If you take the anxiety at face value, you’ll go down the rabbit hole and inflame the anxiety a hundred fold. But if you can recognize the intrusive thoughts as messengers inviting you to turn inward, you’re on your way to inner freedom.
Here’s the challenge: We’re wired to blame. We’re wired to believe that something “out there” is our problem, and if we could only fix that thing, we would be anxiety-free. It seems to be a human tendency to blame, especially when it comes to relationships. How easy and compelling it is to fall into the trap that says that the choice of partner – or your house, your friends, your work, your children – is the problem!
As I share below, where this is a trap there is a pathway to freedom. Said another way: the wound is in the blessing. When we can name the blame, we can own it, see it, and work to make a different choice. Just as fear is a doorway into love and doubt is a portal into trust, so blame is a pathway into responsibility. This is one of the core tenets of Jungian philosophy, and it remains as strong a message in my work today as when I shared it with my forum members all those years ago after a feverish night. I hope it brings some direction and relief for whatever anxiety theme you’re struggling with.
I was sick over the weekend, and in my feverish state several insights appeared. In fact, I awoke from a dream where I was with several of you in a pool and you were all saying, “Help me!” I woke up shivering, the veil between thought and the unconscious thinned, and I could see with pure clarity what the difference is between those who transform their anxiety and those who remain stuck:
It’s the degree to which you pull the projection off of your partner and detach from the thought that your anxiety is because you’re with the wrong person.
Those who detach from this thought and take 100% responsibility for their anxiety inevitably do the deeper work of excavating what lies underneath the anxiety.
Those who are fused with the thought that they need to leave in order to find serenity will remain stuck.
It’s as simple as that.
And, yes, I understand it’s not simple at all. There are good reasons why people remain fused with the projection, and that’s where the work needs to begin. But you will not transform unless, every time you think, “I’m with the wrong partner. I don’t really love them. I need to leave,” you counter those thoughts with, “I’m scared. This isn’t about my partner. What am I really scared of? What feelings are these thoughts covering up?”
Every single one of you who is on this forum is in a good, loving, healthy relationship. You’ve all raked your relationship over the coals and found no good reason to leave, no red-flags, nothing alarming. You’ve all had stretches of time when you’ve felt happy and content. Therefore, the problem clearly lies inside of you. It existed in you before you ever met your partner and being with them was merely the trigger that released these old, deep-seated issues: fears, grief, insecurities, false beliefs about yourself and love.
When you look at posts by members like BrooklynBride, ExpatBride, AussieBride, and Cbear, you’ll see very little mention of their partners. Their eyes are on their own plates. They’ve absorbed the responsibilty for their difficult feelings 100%. That doesn’t mean that they don’t fall into projection now and again, but it’s short-lived and they’re able to see, fairly quickly, that a projection has taken hold.
This was also what allowed me to transform my relationship anxiety/terror that told hold shortly after I met my husband into clarity and serenity: I knew, without a doubt, that the fears originated inside of me and had lived there for a long time, long before I met my husband. I knew that I had a faulty definition of love and that what I had called love was actually longing. I knew that I had met someone with whom I had such a strong, loving connection that I wasn’t willing to let him go and wasn’t willing to allow my fears to call the shots. I worked my tail off, and didn’t submit to the belief that the problem was him.
Scottishbride said it well in a post several months ago:
Probably the main reason that I was able to pull back the anxiety is that I knew that I had felt the same feelings of disconnect and “I don’t want this” with my ex. No matter what my anxiety was telling me, it couldn’t attack the definite fact that I had felt that way before and that it had come on when my ex had stated his intention to fully commit to the relationship. I think a lot of my future work will be based around this. I spent the whole relationship with my ex having one foot out the door. That was my safety net. Whenever that safety net was threatened it would bring up an extreme reaction in me.
At the time I put it down to the fact that there were red flags but now I realize that was just an easy excuse at the time. I didn’t do any work at the end of my last relationship. Seriously I felt no pain, no regret, no sorrow. I was overwhelmed with glee at the prospect of getting OUT! It did strike me as a little weird at the time. Almost like there was a bubble between me and my feelings. But I wasn’t at all willing to consider shifting or bursting that bubble.
And then of course, I met R within 2 weeks of moving out. In short, I ran away from it all. That worked for 2.5 years and boy was I happy (when ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise). And then R proposed and it all went to pieces. That has been a hugely valuable lesson for me. You can run from these issues but you cannot hide. They will come. Sorry girls and boys but you can’t avoid them forever so next time you want to project on to your partner, just remember that is not serving you, and you are only delaying the inevitable and making it harder for yourself. Denial was my best friend for a long time. I miss her a lot. But I realize now she wasn’t really a friend and even though it would be easier, I know it’s time for me to move on from her.
So yeah, while I couldn’t properly articulate my feelings due to the fog of anxiety, the mere fact that this little nugget of information did not fit in to my “it has to be R” jigsaw was enough to give me my first step up out of the hole.
If you want to shift from anxiety to equanimity you MUST recognize that the uncomfortable feelings/thoughts/anxiety have nothing to do with your partner. In other words, this lived inside of you before you knew your partner and it will remain inside of you until you dive into it with curiosity and the willingness to take full responsibility for its roots and resolution.
This is what I’ve taught to thousands of members in the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course. This is what I teach my children. This is what I do my best to live out in my life. Taking full responsibility for our pain means being willing to explore its roots and commit to the practices that bring resolution. Anything else is a blame mindset, which will keep you perennially stuck. Freedom hinges on taking blame’s hand and allowing it to walk you onto the path of responsibility. Then the real healing begins.