Many individuals seek reassurance to help make a situation less alarming or scary. But this can become a problem, especially for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety disorders, when the reassurance-seeking becomes a default coping mechanism.
Reassurance seeking shows up in many different ways. Some examples are when an individual is checking themselves, others, and situations in their life. Did I remember to turn off the stove? Is this surface clean enough for me to eat – can you check for me? Do you still want to be my friend?
Although the assurance-seeking may seem like a genuine concern, these types of questions/concerns feed into a loop of feedback that will constantly need validation. Even if you receive the reassurance, you will very likely still have the urge to go back and ask again. This is why it’s often referred to as a reassurance trap.
Being stuck in a reassurance loop can cause mental paralysis when trying to make real decisions. For example: It could be very tempting to pause all plans or actions until you receive the answers you think you need. But that pause is actually preventing you from moving forward and making choices. Overcoming reassurance-seeking often involves making a choice even if it feels scary or spikes your anxiety.
Why do we seek reassurance?
There are many reasons that individuals seek reassurance, but primarily it is to relieve the discomfort of uncertainty. Anxiety tends to create a desire to feel 100% sure about uncertain situations, so reassurance-seeking temporarily relieves symptoms. Another reason people seek reassurance is to “solve problems” for themselves.
Tips for Reassurance Seeking:
- Work on grounding techniques to keep yourself present
- Deploy ERP (exposure and response prevention) techniques
- Work your way up to embracing the uncertainty
- Fill in the answer with “maybe”
When one of those sticky questions pops up, respond to yourself by saying: Maybe! For example: Does my boyfriend want to break up with me? Did I say something to make him mad? Answer: Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. There is no way to know for sure and I choose to sit with this uncertainty.
When you come to an OCDPeers group you have the support of others who are looking for healthy alternatives to seeking reassurance. Although reassurance-seeking at the time may feel like a relief, the best thing you can do is stay present and sit with the uncertainty. As the saying goes, “the only way out is through”.