This is What Actually Goes on Behind Closed Doors

by | Sep 1, 2019 | Anxiety | 13 comments

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How come other people don’t suffer in this way?” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about relationship anxiety, friendship anxiety, social anxiety, or any other hook that anxiety hangs its hat on, when you’re the one suffering it feels like you’re the only one suffering. As I recently shared on Instagram, one of the reasons why we struggle with so much shame around anxiety is that we’re disconnected from the real fabric of humanity, the village where friends meet at the well or in the field and talk about their places of struggle. Instead, we walk through the world with the glossy overlay of social media and mainstream media filtering our perceptions, leading us to believe that everyone else has it figured out and we’re the only ones struggling.

The short answer to this question is that everyone suffers. Because I’m in the position I’m in, I know firsthand how many people suffer, but all you have to do is look closely around you – not at the shiny social media and celebrity posts but at the hard facts and statistics – to see how many people suffer. To be human is to suffer. It’s even possible that, because of our disconnection and media overlay that encourages us to keep up the false pretense of a happy face, we’re suffering more than ever. So we have this confusing paradox of a media world that portrays humans as glossier and happier than ever, especially through their social media highlight reel, and a reality that tells a very different story.

Behind Closed Doors

I’m going to call this phenomena of believing the fantasy that the media portrays as “The Princess Diana Phenomena.” I was quite ill a couple of weeks ago and, in my middle-of-the-night misery, I decided to watch something on Netflix. Given my profession you might think that I would steer clear of biographies. After all, that’s what I do all day long: listen to peoples stories. But the truth is that my work doesn’t feel like work because I’m endlessly fascinated by people’s stories; it’s a subject of which I never bore. Even the books I read, if not psychology, are often memoirs, journals, or biographical fiction. I love traveling along the vicissitudes and labyrinthian pathways of other people’s lives, and the more honest and vulnerable, the better.

So I ended up watching a documentary called “Diana: In Her Words.” I’ve never known much about Princess Diana (I tend to have my head in the sand about all things mainstream), so I was curious to fill in my own personal gap around this part of our world’s story. The documentary unfolds through a series of secret interviews with Diana, so the entire film is, literally, in her words. At 2am, Diana’s voice infiltrated into my consciousness, almost as if from the other side, and I was riveted by every word. The message that I felt she most strongly imparted was the discrepancy between the story that the world received about her and what was actually going on behind closed doors.

While the world was projecting their rescue fantasies onto Prince Charles courting this 19-year old girl, Diana was in deep distress as she was piecing together the evidence of Charles’ longstanding affair with Camille. While the world hung on every beautiful image of Diana leading up to her wedding day, she was bent over a toilet making herself vomit as she entered the beginning stages of a severe eating disorder that would last the next seven years. And as the entire world projected their fairytale fantasies onto the royal couple on their wedding day, Diana described it as “the worst day of my life.”

The bottom line: The stories we see on the screen are just that… stories. The fantasies are fantasies and we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

So when a client says to me, “Why does that couple down the street seem so effortlessly in love with each other while I have to work at love?” I say, “You have no idea what does on behind closed doors.”

And when a client says, “Why don’t other people struggle in friendship?” I say, “You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.”

And when a client says, “Why do other women seem so happy during their pregnancy?” I say, “You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors,”

You get the picture. We all suffer. And we suffer because anxiety takes hold in almost every area of life:

In friendship.

In relationships.

Being single.

With family,

In work.

Around identity.

As mothers.

As fathers.

Being in a body.

Behind the Most Important Closed Door

When we understand through direct experience that everyone struggles, we reduce shame and are able to access the more important doorways that leads to healing. As I write about at length in my book and on this blog, anxiety is a doorway, by which I mean that all of our symptoms are arrows pointing to the storehouses of unresolved pain that needs our attention. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey of healing: when you pay attention daily, which is what you’ll be encouraged and guided to do in my new course, Break Free From Anxiety: A 9-Month Course on the Art of Living, you’ll learn to rewire the lifelong habit of pushing away pain and instead learn to move toward it. There is nothing more important along the healing path than reversing the habit of pushing away pain, then creating a regular ritual of self-reflection. This is how we heal:

Move Toward Pain + Commit to Regular Practices of Self-Reflection + Community Connection (shame reducer) = Healing

What goes on behind the closed doors of your psyche? Your inner world is waiting for you to find out. There are worlds of memory and pain waiting for you. There’s a young self waiting for you to gather them in your arms and let them know that it’s all okay. “I’ve got you,” are words I’ve said to my sons countless times, and these are the words that you’ll learn to say to your own young self as you grow the loving inner parent that is integral to healing. And you’ll gather your gold: the gifts and gems that are living beneath the pain and are waiting to be scooped up and shared with the world.

Are you ready to join us? I very much look forward to meeting you on the course. The world is waiting as well, for it’s the sensitive-anxious-creative people who hold the keys to our global healing. The time is now. You can learn more and sign up here.



  1. Thank you so much for writing this. It’s so relieving. I absolutely agree with you that we appear happier and glossier than ever, yet we are suffering more deeply than ever before. It’s like everyone is running their own personal PR campaign online. I’m going to use this line on myself when I’m feeling like everyone else is thriving and I’m stuck down the well. This weekend I’ve been feeling very unlikable and wondering why people don’t call on me at the weekends (as much or as regularly as I’d like, anyway). I’m so glad of YOUR presence on social media, however! So great to see how many people you’re reaching. Much love, Sheryl xx

    • Couldn’t agree more with Agnes, Sheryl. Your Instagram stories and posts are a blessing to receive and I look forward to reading them everyday.

      I can’t wait to join you on this new course in September.

      • I’m so glad you’ll be joining us, Caitlin ;).

    • Sending you so much love, as always, dear one ;).

  2. As a People we’ve been taught for years, (Generations), to use those around us as our Measuring Stick, It’s wasn’t until I had to take a deep dive into my own “Being”, &, continued with Mindfulness, Meditation, a trek through a MBSR program was I able to my own self ! For me behind “Closed doors” is very much a kin to “not knowing until I walk a mile in someone else’s “Shoes” !

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Kevin!

  3. It’s true that we think we’re the only one suffering and the others do great. I’ve been there. But it’s also true that some people suffer more than others, we’re not equal on that. Maybe we would be better if we didn’t have to match the same social norm.

  4. Sheryl,
    I could really use your help right now. It seems I’ve gone down the rabbit hole all of us know and love. My boyfriend just moved away for college (2.5 hrs so not too far) but after spending the past two years practically doing everything together I’m having troubles adjusting. What If he’d be better off without me? What if I’m annoying him by texting him? What if I miss him more than he misses me? I’m really stuck on this one, and I just could use you voice of reason right now. Are my thoughts normal? Will it get easier?

    • These are all normal thoughts, and my guess is that they’re placeholders for the grief you’re feeling about the separation. If you could drop down out of the head space and into your body, where your feelings live, the thoughts would quiet down.

  5. I love this! I’ve wondered if this performance is also happening with Princess Diana’s sons and their drop-dead gorgeous wives. They really do seem perfect in every way, not just in their looks, but their time devoted to charities as well as their royal engagements, and raising a beautiful family too… It reminds me of the all-star, well-rounded students who excel in their grades, sports, extra-curricular activities, and also very popular with a hot body and paired with an equally-hot boyfriend to boot (oh yeah, and they also got accepted into an ivy league school…). Those were the classmates I was very envious of growing up. I barely could keep B-average grades and was too exhausted by normal classes to want to take up sports, band, or some other cool activity. Afterschool meant nap time for me! Anyway, I see I’m projecting that fantasy right now! But I’m so glad you wrote about ‘behind closed doors’ because I struggle with major jealously and enviousness of other people’s “perfect lives”. Even though I know mentally we’re all struggling, it’s still hard to really feel it in my heart and not compare my life to others!

    • I have no doubt that there’s much more to their lives than meets the eye, and it will probably be revealed with time. But you already named the essential invitation for what’s arising for you, and that’s to recognize that you’re projecting your past pain onto their lives. I encourage you to go more deeply into that old pain that says that your life and your rhythm is fundamentally wrong in some way (and such a common belief for people who find their way to my work and don’t fit into the mainstream mold).

  6. Hi Sheryl.

    Fabulous article as per. I have followed you for years now on my ROCD/RA journey. Everything seemed to be a struggle…all the time. However, pregnancy and having a baby was the greatest and almost easiest thing I’ve done in my life. I would say my anxiety almost dissipated when my son was first put in my arms. Is it possible one thing can be such a huge struggle whereas another thing in life can feel so effortless? I was very prepared to go through the same/similar struggles as I have all the other years. I was even part of a perinatal psychiatric team because how sever my symptoms were. But nothing came really, apart from the odd intrusive harm thought which I was able to manage. Is it normal for this to feel so wonderful and easy?

    • Yes, especially when you’ve done the work in another realm :).


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