Everyone loves to be reassured, especially when you’re uncertain about something, but reassurance can have its downsides. If you’re someone like me, who has OCD, reassurance can be enabling.
In a previous post, I wrote about my fear of farting, which is funny and mortifying at the same time. The worst part about my farting obsession was that I constantly needed reassuring from my parents, relatives, friends, and other loved ones that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I remember in high school, as I was walking to my next class, I told an acquaintance about my fear because I couldn’t stand the anxiety I felt throughout the day. She told me everyone does it, and that it was okay. It was a sweet comment. A meaner comment was when I told a classmate of mine about my farting obsession and she told me I was weird. Telling people my obsessions was one way that I could let go of the dread. It was a temporary fix.
Why Do People Seek Assurance?
According to OCDla, when a person seeks reassurance, it reinforces the idea that they are unable to tolerate the discomfort they are feeling. It also emphasizes the idea that the only way to alleviate the discomfort is to compulsively seek reassurance.
When I felt uncertain, my main way of relieving the discomfort was seeking reassurance from everyone. Some people didn’t mind, and others did. I remember my mom telling me I was too needy because I kept telling her my problems and hoping she would give me solution.
The Three Forms of Reassurance
Self Assurance– The most obvious form of self-reassurance is the overt checking compulsion, such as checking the doors repeatedly to see if it’s locked. Another less noticeable form of OCD is reviewing an event or doing “mental compulsions” such as repeating “good” thoughts so “bad” thoughts don’t happen.1
Reassurance seeking from others– Individuals with OCD and other anxiety related disorders often ask others if things are okay, or manipulate others into telling them that things are okay.1
Research Reassurance-OCD sufferers and related conditions often research online, through books, and other medias to prove to themselves that things are okay.1
Here are my Strategies for dealing with Excessive Reassurance Seeking
Accept the Worst– Imagine your worst fears coming true-I know scary- and then mentally prepare for it. When I have an anxiety about driving, I imagine the worst happening-an accident, lawsuit,etc, then I think of ways I can be proactive.
Write in a journal– Writing is therapeutic because fears become concrete and tangible. Writing helps me see the big picture rather than get bogged down by the little details of my anxiety.
Be Self-Aware– It’s important to be conscious of what makes you seek assurance, and what you do to manipulate the person on the receiving end to get the answer you want. At eighteen, I had a nose piercing. When I went to the Philippines, I was so scared that my piercing got infected that I asked my mom repeatedly if it looked bad. Even though her answer was the same every time, she thought it was infected, I kept asking because I wanted to believe so badly that it was okay.
Strategies if You’re the Person doing the Reassuring
Ignore and Praise– Deliberately ignore the reassurance seeking, and once the seeking stops, give the person praise and attention for dealing with their discomfort independently.2
Make a Plan!– Make a plan for your loved one who has reassurance seeking compulsions and make sure that everyone that cares for them is on board. Be specific on the behaviors you want to help them change and make sure they agree upon it.2
I still have this problem, but it wasn’t as bad as when I was in high school. Reassurance seeking is a sneaky compulsion, but with therapy, family, and friends, it can be decreased or overcome.