This Is the #1 Belief That Keeps Love Out

by | May 31, 2020 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, Relationships | 33 comments

We are one body. We are one mind. We are one human family. Whatever inner struggles you’ve endured have been shared by millions of people, not only now but across time. Crossing over the chasms of heartbreak, trying to find your way through the cracks in your heart as you pick your way through the rubble and walk slowly through the dark caves is a universal experience. Your loss, your anxiety, your fears, your insecurities… none of them are unique.

And so it is with intrusive thoughts. You may have lived your entire life believing that you’re the only one to feel tortured by thoughts like, “What if I don’t love my partner?” or “What if there’s something wrong with me?” or “What if I harm a child?”, but if you’ve spent any time on my site you know that you’re not alone. As I wrote in The Wisdom of Anxiety, there isn’t an intrusive thought that I haven’t heard from the cross-section of my global highly sensitive, anxious audience, so whatever thoughts are clamoring at the edges of psyche, know first and foremost that I’ve heard them before and that you’re not alone.

Oftentimes, as evidence of the collective unconscious of which we’re all a part, an intrusive thought will show up in stark relief in my work, which means I’ll hear the same thought daily from clients, course members, and readers. Then I know that we’re in the realm of the collective, the great ocean of psyche where all fears, struggles, and shadow realms live, and it’s time to write about it here. This is why blog readers will often leave a comment like, “It’s like you’ve read my mind again!” I’m not a mind-reader; I’m a listener. I listen deeply to the threads that emerge in the individual human psyche, weaving them together through my writing to reveal one collective quilt.

Recently, the intrusive thought “I deserve to punished/suffer” rose up from the deep ocean waters, a thought that stems from a core shame belief that says, “I’m bad. I’m wrong. I’m broken. It’s always my fault.” Over and over again, on the Trust Yourself forum, among the members of my 9-month course, with clients, on my small group calls for relationship anxiety, and on my Instagram page I heard this refrain.

Truth be told, shame always arises in healing work, for it’s at the core of our inability to love ourselves and accept safe love from an available other. But there are different offshoots of shame, and the one that I’m currently seeing arose first from an exercise in the Trust Yourself course on intention where we talked about choosing an intention to grow or remaining in the default intention to protect and stay safe. The members piped up and said, “What if I don’t want to grow because I don’t deserve to heal?”

My response: Start where you are. Move toward this part of you and become curious about the inner character who believes that because you’re bad or broken you deserve to continue to suffer. The truth is that you’re intrinsically worthy of love, belonging, and healing, but this character either doesn’t know that or, more likely, chooses not to know that. So you start there, flooding this part with the light of attention and responding from a wise place inside until it starts to loosen its hold.

Why would a part of you choose not to believe in your essential goodness and instead stay fused with shame? There are several reasons:

Habit: You’ve grown around the belief that you’re not worthy of love and healing so it feels familiar. The ego clings to anything familiar and balks at the new, whether a mindset, a belief, a habit, or an action.

Control: As a child, you developed this belief because if you’re the one who’s not worthy, you can try to do something about that (be perfect, be emotional, not have needs, etc), but if you admit that it was your parents who were incapable the helplessness and despair you would have felt as young person would have been too much to bear. The belief that there’s something wrong with you gave/gives you the false illusion of control, because you can change you but you can’t change your parents. If you choose now to believe that you’re worthy of love then you have to face the excruciating pain that your early caregivers were incapable of meeting your needs.

Refusal of Responsibility: When you stay attached to this belief, you can refuse the call to take responsibility for your healing that hinges on committing to your inner work and daily practices. Again, it’s much easier to remain fixed to a familiar belief than it is to accept the truth, which is that you deserve to heal.

Once in an intimate relationship, many people struggle to see this core shame directly and instead project the belief that you’re not good enough onto your partner in the form of “you’re not [funny, attractive, interesting, intelligent] enough.” If your partner gets too close, they might see that you’re broken, so the belief that they’re not enough keeps them at bay.

The belief that you’re not worthy of love and deserving of goodness is the #1 belief that prevents you from loving and being loved. 

It can take years to remove the projection that says the problem is your partner and touch down into this core belief; to see it directly is like looking at the sun in that the pain of it is so bright it’s searing. But this is the work that must be done if you’re going to learn how to love and be loved without the restriction of the defensive layers.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to healing. If I could wave a magic wand, eradicate your core shame, and infuse you with a direct transmission of your essential goodness – that you are worthy and deserving of love, that you are whole and beautiful exactly as you are – I would. But unless you live in a Hollywood movie, healing doesn’t work that way.

Instead, it’s a slow, moment-by-moment process of meeting ourselves where we are and learning to relate to the protector characters who brilliantly arose in early life to guard the gates of the heart. When we meet them face-to-face and learn how to relate to them with curiosity and compassion, they wield less power, for it’s in the seeing and facing that we realize that the inner characters of shame-and-fear are like the Wizard of Oz: they have a big bark but behind the black curtain stands a scared, little inner part.

If you struggle with relationship anxiety and are seeking further support for what it looks like to peer inside the inner labyrinths of Self and unravel the core beliefs that prevent you from loving and being loved, I invite you to join me for the first LIVE round of my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course. Together, over eight weeks, we will unpack the information and tools that will help you identify the root causes of your relationship anxiety and learn to unmask the projections that are preventing you from showing up with your full heart for the loving, available partner who stands before you.

We will talk about the difference between flags and red flags, explore the unique factors of your personality type that primed you for relationship anxiety, unpack the four realms of Self and how they relate to relationship anxiety, and explore in depth how to heal your intrusive thoughts at the root. Plus we will be meeting six times through live, group coaching calls where you will have the opportunity to hear other people’s stories and connect with me directly. Note: All calls will be recorded, so if you can’t make the live calls you can listen to the recording afterward. 

For a complete breakdown of what the course includes, please read through this page. The LIVE version begins next Saturday, June 7th, 2020 and I look forward to meeting you there.



  1. When my thoughts come up, I often respond with “what is wrong with you?” I totally get the “I deserve to be punished/continue suffering” feeling. There’s one cluster of thoughts I keep having about someone related to someone I really care about, which I don’t want to write about here, and in my head it feels like it’s ruined how I feel about the person that I care about; like I don’t have any right to like them anymore because of these thoughts that swirl around whenever I see or think about them. I don’t know if that actually relates to this, but it just reminded me of it.

  2. This resonated so much with me, especially now. As a child I was often told I wasn’t good enough by various authority figures (too slow, too disorganized, too forgetful, even explicitly too “stupid”). As an intellectually and creatively gifted adult, I STILL deal with feelings of inadequacy on a daily basis: Not happy enough, not positive enough, too self-centered, too emotional, too sensitive, not ambitious enough, not a good enough student/daughter/friend/partner. It’s exhausting! Recently I went through a deeply troubling bout of physical and emotional illness, and while I’m still dealing with PTSD fallout, I am happy to say I’ve improved so much and regained my health almost completely in recent months. You’d think I would feel able to relax and enjoy that amazing gift—NOPE. Anxiety swarms in and says, “Why do you deserve to be healthy when so many people in the world are sick and dying? There is so much suffering in the world! What makes you so special?”, then it prepares me for the “inevitable” next obstacle that will keep me from experiencing rest, peace and fulfillment. Because why does a person so deeply imperfect deserve that luxury?

    The answer is, of course, because there IS so much inevitable suffering in the world. It comes to all of us, often with no sense of “justice” or “karma” or “reason” involved. I have come to believe, through studying your work, that it is our duty to meet that suffering head on and sit down beside it. But by that same logic I have also come to believe that when joy comes, we have a sacred duty to sit down with that as well, not out of a craving for “indulgence” (that’s a loaded term for those of us who tend toward self-flagellation!) so much as a need for balance, to experience the full spectrum of human emotions fully while we still have the privilege of being alive.

    Thank you for sharing this today, Sheryl 🙂

    • And thank you, Niamh, for sharing this incredibly wise and beautiful comment. This landed with a deep soul smile inside of me:

      “But by that same logic I have also come to believe that when joy comes, we have a sacred duty to sit down with that as well”

      Sacred duty… yes! Dwelling in joy is an offering we give to the world, and to squelch our joy does nothing to erase the suffering in the world. If you haven’t read The Book of Joy I highly recommend it.

      • Thank you again, Sheryl! I will check that out for sure 🙂

  3. This has been truly so insightful!!!! I’ve been lurking on this blog for a while now but this totally rings a bell with me! My thoughts swirl around the idea that my partner isn’t fun ENOUGH and that I don’t like or enjoy spending time with him as much as I SHOULD! Just like the projection language you talked about! Enjoying the moment is t about him making things fun for me but rather me enjoying the things we do together from my own perspective and view! He’s a wonderful man and even though everything in me wants to run I refuse to give up on someone so great just because of my swirls of thoughts and beliefs about the enoughs and shoulds of love! Thank you so much!

    • I’m so glad the post rang bells for you :).

  4. Hi Sheryl,
    I recently got in a sort of heated debate with my younger brother and sister about a controversial subject. My siblings and I don’t have a close bond, but I am constantly trying to be a good big sister to them since our older brother is absent. I love both of my siblings so much. In fact, when this all happened I was taking them out for dinner. I kept trying to explain my point of view on the topic but they were shocked and started saying things that felt shaming to me. Like “how could you think that? Are you serious? You need to look up statistics on this” (even when I have) I ended up getting emotional and crying. I felt so stupid for voicing my opinion, stupid for crying, stupid because they think I am wrong and ignorant. I spun into full blown anxiety when I got home to my husband. He was there for me to comfort me. But I kept calling myself stupid, saying I hate myself, saying my siblings hate me and think lowly of me. I couldn’t stop. I still feel embarrassed of myself and want to hide from my siblings because I feel like a fool. I just can’t stop thinking about how stupid I feel. This insecurity hit home. I’ve tried so long to be close to my siblings that when I heard their disgust with me it hurt me at my very core. I don’t know if they will respect me from here on out. I feel so heartbroken right now. Despite so much work I have done to try and build self trust, it still feels lower than ever.

    • I’m so sorry you’re struggling with the voice of shame. It etches in deeply and it’s hard to uproot it, but if you can keep meeting the voice that’s telling you that you’re stupid with one of truth and kindness, and also allow the deep grief that you feel around the lack of connection with your siblings to be expressed, the shame voice will eventually quiet down. The shame is the protector. When you allow your heart to break, the shame dissolves.

  5. Dear Sheryl,

    Thank you for this post and for all of your posts. Could I request a post about coping with being single during this time of COVID?

    Last year (a few months after taking your Trust Yourself course) I found the strength to leave a relationship that was toxic and causing me a lot of pain (even though I was very much in love). I spent a few months healing and reflecting and was just feeling ready to “get back out there” in the dating world when COVID hit and we all went into lockdown.

    I am 36 and want biological children, and have already struggled for years with “running out of time” anxiety. Now I find my anxiety is exacerbated by this feeling that I’m wasting month after month of potentially meeting someone just sitting at home.

    I’d really appreciate your perspective and insights (as always!)

    Thank you,

    • Also would love the same type of blog post as ali_mara has suggested – I feel the same way and I am 42. Very tricky time for singles in lockdown. I have actually tried to do some online dating regardless – but I can’t shake that same running out of time anxiety.

    • I relate to the “time running out” feeling as well. It’s so hard to feel like time just keeps moving forward but we’re just sitting at home as you said. I will be 36 in a month and it’s weighing heavily on my mind.

    • Ali, thanks for sharing this vulnerable reality, to which I can also relate, at 35.

      Several of us who are single during covid formed a group online. If you know any others in this situation, I’d highly recommend doing so! The isolating loneliness is real, and wants (needs?) to be held.

      I hear you. It’s really tough.

      As for wanting a kid, perhap just holding the grief of the current moment is what we need, but is there a thoughtful offering that you can give yourself about it? Like “kids will come in the time and form that works for my life when it’s ready for them,” or something like that? That helps me. Personally I’ve made peace with the possibility that adoption – which is such a gift to all involved- may be a meaningful option for me. Maybe there’s something else for you. Of course you know what you need. All the best,

      • Also, Sheryl and all, peace to you in this era of uncertainty. As the protests and helicopters swirl about, I’m trying to hold the small space around me in calm, and send that outward.

        So, for this morning’s 7:51am peace-finding, there you go, and thanks for these offerings!

  6. I’ve been finding myself shut down more so lately with my boyfriend and just wishing that our relationship were easier. That I could be totally enamored with my boyfriend and feeling like I could love with my whole heart, wishing I wasn’t as much as a HSP as I am. I don’t blame myself for being the way that I am, but I find myself feeling exhausted all the time with having to do the work of RA, plus self trust, plus personal trauma work plus trying to remain physically fit, plus all the normal adulting stuff. I wish it was easier. I wish things just flowed. I know it’s not his responsibility to make me happy and alive but I miss the naive love I had at one point with my ex before RA really took hold and I was cracked open. I don’t miss my ex, just being able to love with a full heart. I have a constant battle in my head of knowing the truth (take the magnifying glass off of him and on to me, filling up myself because he’s not responsible for how I feel), knowing not to compare my relationship with others because we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, etc. but wishing it wasn’t so damn hard and constant work to keep my head above the water. Is this normal?

    • All normal, Chantal. Of course you wish it was easier; that’s an understandable wish. And then the very difficult wave passes and we find ourselves in a bit more ease. Also, when you stay with the healing path, it does get easier in time.

  7. As always, this is perfect timing! Just this morning I was fixated on an old (and toxic) relationship, telling myself I deserved to be dismissed, ignored, and unchosen because there is something intrinsically wrong with me. I’ve admittedly been lazy with my inner work over the past few months, so it is no surprise that intrusive thoughts are popping up. But because of your ‘Trust Yourself’ and ‘Break Free’ coursework, I know what I need to do to squelch these fearful thoughts. Or, rather, I know what to do to welcome them 😉

    Thank you so much for your wisdom and guidance, Sheryl, and for reminding us that we are not alone, no matter what struggles we are facing. All shall be well.

    • Katie: The wisdom you’ve gleaned from your years of doing inner work is evident in this comment. We all get lazy with inner work from time to time – it’s the cycles of life – and the intrusive thoughts/anxiety let us know that it’s time to re-commit. But you already know all of this! xo

  8. I signed up too – see you in community

  9. Hello Sheryl!
    Something that’s come up for me in the world of intrusive thoughts is whether or not it is normal for relationships to sometimes feel like an obligation rather than joy…it makes me feel so guilty but I think that it’s something I’m working on making peace with. I really appreciated the emphasis on enough in this post! A much needed reminder to keep things in perspective!

    • On some level, relationships ARE an obligation IF we want to learn how to love and be loved! It’s not always joyful, but it’s always meaningful when we view our learning process through the lens of curiosity.

  10. Dear Sheryl,

    I’ve recently found your work and I am on the thick of it. I feel every negative emotion under the sun towards my partner from boredom to repulsion to even hate as ashamed as I am to say I that. I worry incessantly that my “ugh” feeling about things means that this relationship is doomed and that I am kidding myself by choosing to stay. How can this be relationship anxiety if it doesn’t even feel like anxiety anymore? If our relationship lacks the fun and excitement that it used to? He is the most wonderful man and everything I could possibly and do want in a partner. I love him for his heart and soul but feel like I should just leave sometimes and that makes me feel beyond shameful. I am embarrassed to even be writing all this about the best man I know. I am desperate to know if your course could help me….
    All the best,


    • The course was literally made for you, Mar, as what you’re describing is classic relationship anxiety.

  11. Tears in my eyes because I feel and know that belief so well and know it’s what holds me back. But a breath of fresh air for you reminding/reassuring that there’s not a quick fix and to meet yourself each moment. Thank you, Sheryl.

  12. Hi Sheryl (and Participants :))!

    I have come through many of the posts and comments, which appeared to be really heart-warming. Yet, there’s something that I’m not sure has been elaborated on, namely – what about an intrusive thought such as “something forces me not to trust you”. I have been with my fiance for more than 2 years. I must say that he shows me lots of love and understanding. Our beginnings were hard – he lied to me, and he had a really fake “friend” then. Since this friend showed his real face and stopped being a part of our lives for good, my fiance changed diametrally into much, much better (he says he came back to who he was before he met this terrible guy, and his family is extremely happy about that). I know I should be happy, but then my intrusive thoughts come: “what if he is dishonest with me? What if he will eventually hurt me? I have ALWAYS been hard on people who hurt me in any way, so why should I be so forgiving to him?” Those make me doubt everything that connects us. The other thing is that I don’t like some behaviors of my fiance – like, sometimes he takes it too personally when I need some alone time (saying half-jokingly, “Ohh you don’t love me anymore”) and I discussed this point with him. I asked if he could meet a therapist (I’m on a therapy, too) and maybe try to work through some experiences from the past (also traumatic) that subconsciously make him act this way. He said YES! And still keeps his decision, for which I’m really happy! Anyways, sometimes I feel I won’t manage it. I know that changes in us need some time, but I sometimes feel really exhausted with my emotions in the relationship… I have an intrusive thought that our relationship cannot be labelled as “the loving one”, and that it might be the reddiest flag in the world – but I’m not accepting it. I wouldn’t like it at all, and it makes me even more scared since we’re seriously thinking about renting a flat together.
    I would be grateful for your response 🙂

  13. Does this course include ‘homework’. I mean exercises?

    • Oh, yes. My work is heavily rooted in action. Insight + action = change.

  14. My intrusive thoughts are extremely difficult to deal with. Quick background, my anxiety arose a week after I was laid off of work. It started with the typical anxiety attack that felt like forever. Lost sleep. Constantly felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. It then lead to me thinking I was physically sick with something taken to the ER 4 times only to find out that everything was completely normal. I was able to manage my everyday life and feel almost perfectly okay but again the physical symptoms occurred, my arms ached I wasn’t eating. I seeked mental health help and was put on antidepressants. After 6 days of taking antidepressants I decided to quit. I was afraid that I was going to have to depend on such a substance for the rest of my life. The life was sucked out of me. I then started to feel extreme anxiety around my 3 year 3 months boyfriend. He has been SO supportive with me and on my side through this nightmare. I’m currently taking the break free from relationship anxiety course and through it I have digged so deep into my past and have noticed that I have always been the worrier of my family everyone lives so happily without any worries whatsoever and that scares me that I am the only one like this . I always worried about my dad crashing or getting stopped by the cops and deported as he is an immigrant and I remember sitting in the green sofa in my living room biting my nails waiting for him to arrive. I don’t know if that has anything to do with what I am going through but it has just been so hard. I feel SO irritable, I try closeness and simply doing acts of kindness but it becomes so difficult because I start to believe that I am just doing it to satisfy others and not my self. I feel like I can’t be happy I haven’t been able to enjoy anything for months, my parents bdays just past and all I can dwell on was simply breaking down and crying my life away. I have no idea how to fix this, I’ve been using different techniques as I find myself in de realization and unable to live in the moment my mind is constantly on the run it’s so exhausting. I’m afraid I will never get to enjoy the things I once enjoyed. I’ve deleted all my social media and I feel like it has become so much more harder. I feel like I am worst case scenario with low appetite, imsomnia, just want to be crying, worried that if I overcome this I will be encountered with it again a few weeks later. This is so challenging, I feel like there’s no one who can possibly be worst as I feel unable to do anything. Simply hopping in the shower and eating seems so dreading but everytime I do, I give myself a pat in the back. I just want to be okay, any advice 🙁

    • I’m so sorry you’re deeply suffering. Are you in counseling? If not, I strongly suggest finding a therapist as the course material is most effective in conjunction with seeing a skilled and loving therapist.

      • I am. Doing biweekly calls. I’m just overwhelmed with this feeling and not being able to love my boyfriend who has been the most supportive. He literally is a gem and I just get so uncomfortable being around him.

  15. Hi Sheryl,

    This is so insightful, thank you. I often suffer from intrusive thoughts that my partner is not ‘fun/intelligent/interesting’ enough (although when the clouds part and I break free to clarity occasionally, I see that this is not the case).

    I’ve been struggling with relationship anxiety for a while. I was initially attracted to my current partner due to his free spirited nature, he seemed laid back and knowledgeable about the world. As the relationship has progressed, I have seen that although an element of the free spirit remains, he can be – in day to day life – a bit of a Type A personality (highly structured, likes to do things by the book, reliable, a little bit traditional, grounded). We lived together during the lockdown in my country and it was a wonderful experience. He is incredibly sweet, funny, and generous, and he is always willing to learn about the things I like. We laugh a lot together and he teaches me new things. I feel like I’ve known him my whole life. Lots of green flags,

    We learned a lot about each other during this time and he really calmed my anxiety, made me feel comfortable, fully accepted me for who I am, and always strove to improve our relationship. Of course, I did the same for him, and I feel that our love for each other is warm and safe, if not a little bit boring sometimes. I’m not sure if this is due to the lockdown though as last summer we travelled a lot and had a blast.

    I, however, am very free spirited and spontaneous, I can be loud, disorganised, and a little bit non-traditional. Although we want similar things in life, beyond this I am sometimes overcome with worry at our perceived differences. I’ve managed to convince myself that settling down in a relationship where I feel safe and loved is buying to what society/capitalism tells me I should want and I am now questioning whether this is something I actually want.

    What makes this worse is that an old flame reached out to me recently. He is very much the ‘bad boy’ type – rugged, rebellious, wildly free spirited, a great lover but completely non-committal. We always had the most exciting time together, but he always had me chasing him and refused to commit, although would still want to continue our intimate relationship. Fights with him were explosive, and he brought out the worst in me. I still felt some excitement, however, when he got in contact, and I really resent that I feel this way as it is unfair to my current partner. I feel that my ex represents this escape fantasy from the more mundane aspects of life (precisely because we never progressed to having the experience of the mundane aspects of life due to his relationship aversion). But I also worry that perhaps this is what I really want – continual adventure and excitement, even though it isn’t realistic?

    Your blog posts have been a solace in all of this, but I still feel a great sense of unease. Part of me just wants to give up everything and travel the world after all of this, but I know that I’d eventually have to come back to face the same problems. Why can’t I accept my lovely relationship with my committed, reliable, and open partner?


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