For those of you who are struggling with relationship anxiety, you probably saw the title of this post and wondered if I was going to talk about when to leave a relationship, and perhaps felt nervous that it was going to spike you. But hopefully you have enough faith in my site that you know that my philosophy is that as long as you’re in a healthy, loving relationship where you share basic values and vision and you have a voice deep down inside underneath the anxiety that’s afraid of someone telling you that you have to leave then you’re struggling with classic relationship anxiety and the last thing I would do is tell you to leave.
On the contrary, this post is about helping you break free to the next level of your healing, especially for those of you who feel hopelessly stuck on the hamster wheel of relationship anxiety (or any other form of anxiety). On my ecourse and forum I have a thread and article about the critical difference between those who break free from relationship anxiety and those who remain stuck, in which I talk about unhooking from the projection that the problem is your choice of partner. And while this is, indeed, an absolutely crucial piece of the work as it fundamentally points to one’s willingness to take full responsibility for one’s well-being instead of falling prey to the mindset that a different partner (or job, city, house, having a baby) will fix everything, it’s not the whole picture. The second piece of the puzzle is the willingness to commit to and practice the daily tools.
When I work with a coaching client who says that they’ve been doing “the work” for months or years and are still stuck in the loop of intrusive thoughts, the first question I ask is, “What work are you doing?” To which they typically respond: “I’ve gone through the course, watched the videos, post on the forum, and read the books on your recommended reading list.” That’s all great, essential even, but it’s not what I mean by “the work”. Daily work requires implementing the tools that I teach in the course in depth and on this blog to a lesser degree: effective journaling, mindfulness, yoga, breathing techniques, etc. It means taking the information that you’ve absorbed and transforming it into action. We do not heal on the realm of the mind alone: Insight + action = change.
It’s a magic moment in a session when a client will suddenly realize that all of the “actions” she’s been taking are actually various ways to feed the mental addiction, which, at the core, are about looking for the magic pill or quick fix. Clients and readers will say things like, “I go on the forum or your blog to look for the magic sentence, article or comment that will give me a moment of relief, but I can see now that I’m really just indulging the same conversation and strengthening the same circuitry. This really isn’t serving me.” Right! We can then dive into the conversation about what would serve, which is turning all of the rumination, worry, reassurance-seeking, dissecting, and analyzing into an exploration of the inner world. There are labyrinths and mazes of pain and stories inside that seek your attention. When you turn away from the story that the problem is your partner and toward the new story that this anxiety lives wholly inside of you, everything changes and you’re on the road to freedom.
The title of this post therefore refers to when it’s time to say enough to the part of you that has taken over your psyche and is running the show: the part that believes that your partner (or something out there) is the problem; the part that takes a thought and runs with it; the part that likes to engage in actions like reassurance-seeking, dissecting, and analyzing, none of which will set you on the path toward freedom. And what I’ve seen over and over again is that those who truly commit to both of these principles and dive in headlong to their healing work, which often includes some from of journaling or dialoguing, are the ones who break free.
So to restate the critical pieces that are required in order to break free from anxiety:
- Unhooking from the belief that the problem is your choice of partner. This is what we call “reeling in the projection.”
- Committing to your inner work, which means practicing the daily tools (and, yes, that means daily).
In order to say “enough!” to the fear-based part of us, we need make sure that our loving, inner parent is at the helm of psyche. Without this part of you, you’ll fall into the fear-pit alongside all of your other fearful characters. The example I’ve often given of what this looks like is of the child who is scared of the dark and screams out for his mother in the middle of the night: “Mommy, mommy come quick! There’s a monster in my closet!” If the mother rushes into the room and say, “Oh my god, you’re right! There IS a monster in the closet,” and jumps into bed with the child, there’s obviously no parent in the room and fear will wreak havoc with the minds of two three years old. This is what it means to jump into bed with fear. But if the mother holds the rope of clarity and reassurance, she will be able to hear the child’s fears and bring him comfort. This is what it means to show up as a loving, inner parent.
This doesn’t only apply to relationship anxiety, of course. Whenever we’re caught in an anxious spiral about any variety of stories we need to access the wise and clear part of ourselves who can stand on the shore of psyche and provide the anchor.
When you’ve had enough of the mental torture, you’ll be able to say “enough” to the part of you that has been running the show. And even when you’re ready to take back the reins, the resistant voices will pipe up, perhaps even more loudly than before, and say things like, “This is all b.s. You’re just too scared to leave” or “You shouldn’t have to work this hard. Why don’t other people have to work this hard?” or “You’re prolonging the inevitable. Just admit that you’re in the wrong relationship.” When a client voices these classic resistant lines, I encourage them to do an experiment: first write down all of the voices of resistance, then package them up, put them to the side, and commit to doing the true inner work for six months. Six months won’t make or break anybody. Tell yourself it’s an experiment: for six months you won’t indulge the intrusive thoughts but will instead practice the methods I teach for working with them so that you can turn inward and pay attention to what actually needs your attention. When you learn to replace the old habit of indulging the fear with the new habit of standing on the shores with wisdom and reassurance, you’re on your to freedom.