Reassurance is a bugger. For the OCD sufferer, reassurance seeking can be so subtle and not even feel like something “bad” or negative to do at all. Maybe you research online if something is going to make you sick or how to clean something “properly.” Maybe you look up how long a certain sickness is contagious. It could involve asking a loved one if something is dirty or what a certain stain on a piece of clothing might be. It might involve a simple question, “I closed the garage door, didn’t I?”
What is it?
Like I said, reassurance seeking can appear so innocuous. It often involves simple, off hand questions or comments that beg for approval or support. They are questions or comments that, for someone without OCD, would be normal and harmless. But for someone with OCD, asking these questions or seeking this “support” can lead to further entanglement in the disorder.
Reassurance seeking is one of those OCD habits that you just have to train yourself over and over again to simply STOP. Every time you catch yourself seeking reassurance (and sometimes it might not feel like you are—you have to be super diligent to realize it), you have to stop, take a step back, and NOT DO IT.
It’s so hard. I was frequently asking my husband for reassurance before I understood that it was a “no no” in CBT. I was researching things online more than I should have. And I had to learn to stop. It was difficult. It still is.
Avoiding reassurance seeking makes my life feel choppy sometimes, for lack of a better description. I want to ask or get confirmation or support on something, but I have to accept uncertainty. I have to be okay with not knowing and also with thinking that the worst case scenario might happen. I have to understand that maybe I am not correct or not perfect or at risk of something.
Basically, seeking reassurance is a subtle form of checking, and we have to avoid it.
For the family member
My husband has learned to call me out if I slip up and ask for reassurance. He is blunt. If I’m similarly stubborn and insistent, he might give in, not wanting to pick a fight over it. But he lets me know how he feels about providing reassurance (hint: he’s not a fan).
He is even blunt when he hears about a friend seeking reassurance from me and urges me not to appease them. It’s hard! As a friend, you want to provide reassurance to people you care about. That’s what friends do. You rally together. But when OCD or mental illness is involved, providing reassurance does not have a positive final outcome and will not help your friend. It can be brutally hard to stop giving reassurance and instead tell your friend straight facts (or nothing at all). But it’s so important.
I suppose what it comes down to is that it may very well be impossible to completely prevent family or loved one involvement when it comes to OCD and reassurance seeking in general, but limiting it as much as possible is so critical for your recovery and the strength of your relationships.
A better way
Instead of seeking reassurance or trying to get my husband to do compulsions for me, I try to tell him when I’m involved in an exposure or feeling uncomfortable because I’m restricting myself from doing a compulsion. I explain the situation briefly to him, and he gives me a pep talk, sometimes as simple as “good job, keep it up!” But knowing that I have that support and that he knows I’m trying to progress keeps us on the same page.
Try to work together with your loved ones in steps toward recovery, instead of holding on to each other frantically as you spiral downhill. Fight the OCD together. It’s a lot better that way.