People who have anxiety and/or OCD often seek reassurance from other people. I am guilty of this. What this means is, if I’m not sure about whether or not I should do something, I will ask someone I love to reassure me that I’m making the right choice. This is a slippery slope. If friends and family enable this behavior, the behavior will continue. That means your loved ones have to get real with you. The goal for the anxious person is to be able to reassurance themselves or live with the uncomfortable feeling that possibly there is no reassurance. So, for example, I’m in the grocery store. I don’t know whether or not I should get this package of chocolate bars. I’m at the cash register and I desperately want to ask the cashier if she thinks I should get them. That would be reassurance seeking. What could I do instead? I could make the decision independently. To do that I’d have to live with the uncomfortable feeling that I was “making the wrong choice.” Maybe I’m trying to cut sugar out of my diet or maybe I haven’t had chocolate for a while and I feel like treating myself instead.
WHAT DO I DO?
I can’t ask the cashier if I want to work on reassurance seeking. I need to figure that out on my own.
Another form of reassurance seeking is when you ask someone to tell you that nothing bad is going to happen. So let’s say that I’m eating a bagel and it drops on the floor. I might ask you “is it okay to eat this or should I throw it out?” And then you tell me that the five-second rule applies and I can still eat it. But, even AFTER you tell me that I still ask you again if I can eat the bagel without something bad happening to me. You tell me once again, that I will not die from eating this bagel. Now, I start to get upset, panicky even, maybe I even start to cry and you don’t understand why. I’m in crisis mode now, and it’s about a bagel. You start thinking this is out of control. And you would be right. It’s out of control, but I’m not doing it on purpose. I have OCD and I need you to reassure me that something bad is not going to happen.
Or do I?
No, I don’t. I can develop the internal tools in therapy to reassure myself that nothing terrible will happen if I eat a bagel that fell on the floor. It might be scary for me because I have a fear of germs or whatever, but I can do it. The point is not to rely on other people to help me through this traumatic experience.
Living with mental health issues is never easy. But, when we learn to be more self-reliant, trust ourselves, and use our coping skills effectively we will live more fulfilling lives.