July 19, 2011

OCD "Guest Post" - Reassurance Junkie

Hi, I’m Pure-O's Pen Pal, and I’m a reassurance-aholic. It’s only after many, many years of struggling with GAD and OCD that I have come to realize exactly how huge of a role reassurance plays in my disorder. My reassurance addiction has left me unable to recognize that I can cope on my own, because I’m so convinced I need reassurance to get through my day. The way I cope with my anxiety is through reassurance seeking, and it’s been my strategy for decades (and I’m only 27). Maybe it was okay when I was a kid, maybe my parents reassured me too much, maybe I never learned that I could get by without reassurance… but regardless of the reasons, it’s time to overcome this dependency. The problem is how good reassurance feels in the moment. I’ve never done drugs, but I guess that’s why people keep turning to crack even though they know how awful it is for them. In the moment, it brings relief.

Well, if we know anything about dealing with anxiety disorders, we know the treatment goal cannot be to get rid of the anxiety but rather to learn to tolerate it. Of course, the end result is often lessened anxiety, because we’ve stopped fighting it and making it stronger, but in our minds, our intention must never be “I must stop feeling this way.” And what is the point of reassurance? The point of reassurance is to make the anxiety go away, and that’s why it doesn’t work.
It’s been less than a week that I’ve been working on kicking the reassurance habit, and I’ve become more and more aware of what my reassurance seeking looks like. On the Yahoo Pure-OCD group, I posted about these behaviours and asked for suggestions on how to get past them. Jon Hershfield of OCD LA, the group’s moderator, was kind enough to respond, and I want to share my reassurance behaviours with you and Jon’s suggestions for how to kick the habit.

First, Jon recommended this article (which, because of my compulsive internet researching, I’d already read): http://www.ocdla.com/blog/reassurance-seeking-ocd-anxiety-597
It is an excellent article, and it really opened my eyes to my own reassurance seeking behaviours. Reassurance seeking wasn’t even part of my vocabulary really until I read this article. Says Jon, “Reassurance seeking is a tough compulsion to break. But, of course, they're all tough. The trick is being willing to tolerate the feeling that you are ‘lazily and irresponsibly choosing to let something be unresolved and carelessly risking negative consequences that MIGHT be averted by just asking.’ But don't ask anyway. The discomfort passes and the benefits of beating the compulsion last forever.” For me the unanswered question is ROCD-related: “Will I get a divorce?” “Do I love my husband?” Here is my list of reassurance seeking behaviours and Jon’s suggestions for stopping.

1) Go on the internet and research ROCD, trying to find people "like me" so that I know the condition DOES exist and I am not just crazy/actually wanting a divorce. I have promised my pen pal (and blogger) Pure-O Canuck that I will at least limit my forum visits to THIS forum where people know not to reassure, but I want so badly to keep re-reading Dr. Philippson's articles, or reading posts on "Stuck in a Doorway" or any of the other sites... Chicago OCD has an article I like to read.
Jon: “The articles helped. Now LET them continue to help by NOT letting your ocd take them away from you. Keep them in your heart by not re-reading them. You're doing to Phillipson what commercial radio did to Alanis Morisette. Too much to take seriously anymore!”

2) Call someone or go to someone for reassurance, like my Mom or my husband. They both know not to just tell me "Look, Lindsay, you're not getting a divorce," but I still manage to squeeze out nuggets of reassurance. In fact, just being on the phone with them and talking about it, even if they just say "uh huh" is a way I reassure myself. I LOVE to get started explaining the mechanisms of OCD and WHY I have the thoughts I do and the reactions I do. This has become a reassurance behaviour. I also think that crying is an avoidance behaviour because I prefer the feeling of sobbing to the feeling of gut-wrenching anxiety.
Jon: “They need to be in on the treatment at this point. Telling you there won’t be a divorce is just fueling your ocd by sharing in the compulsion. What you need to hear is a refusal to answer the reassurance-seeking question. You can do this by forming a verbal contract with your loved ones giving them permission to kindly call you out when you are doing this compulsion and help you deal with the discomfort WITHOUT reassuring you.”

3) Think of all the good times with my husband and think of all the things I love about him to prove to myself that my doubts are unfounded.
Jon: “This is a mental ritual. You don't need to go out of your way to think about the good times. They are good times and will pop into your head whenever they feel like it. Digging them up and dragging them through the ocd muck is only going to distort and cheapen them.”

4) Reading any kind of self-help books on OCD. Mind you, Dr. Grayson's book is a god sent.
Jon: “Grayson's great and so are many other ocd authors. Good job having read them. Now stop. Maybe later you will go back and read them again. Right now you are using them compulsively. Don't let ocd take them away from you by turning their knowledge into a compulsion. Instead keep what you've learned by choosing to sit with the discomfort of NOT re-reading them.”
And Jon throws in some reassurance in the end…
“Don't beat yourself up. You're trying your best to get off the reassurance-pipe and it's no easy feat. But you can do it. I assure you, you can do it!”
I have had my parents and my husband agree to not reassure me. When I call in tears, they are tasked with telling me “You are compulsing right now. Either we talk about something else, or we hang up the phone.” So far they haven’t had to say it because the fact that I now know they won’t reassure me has been enough to deter me from turning to them. On Saturday morning I was reading gossip blogs and saw the big “news” that J.Lo is getting a divorce. Normally I would need to talk this through with my husband because of this anxiety trigger, and I really wanted to go to my husband to… well, compulse. Instead I did some cognitive restructuring and made a promise to myself that I would delay my compulsion until at least the end of the day. By the end of the day I didn’t even feel compelled to discuss it any more. Success!


  1. Very nice post! I hear you on this, I used to be a huge reassurance seeker myself, it is one of the most trickiest OCD symptoms to shake. Now, I just say, "so what." I would obsess for days over something I thought, something I said, or something someone else did. Being ok with it and saying, "so what" is huge. Also, the numbers you've posted are huge reassurances, something long time OCD sufferers have difficulty with. 100% perfection is not key, progress is key. Best of luck to you, and again, awesome post!

  2. this helped me out immensely. i'm at the point where i'm finally ready to speak with my therapist seriously about OCD/ROCD, and both your behaviors and jon's words have given me an added boost of confidence in my decision. best of luck to you! xo

  3. Karin says:

    Good luck with that!! i'm still needing reassurance on some of my ocd behaviors because i am SURE that they are really a problem. (I have contamination/germ ocd at the moment).

  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing. One thing it reinforces is the importance of involving family in the treatment process. Best of luck to you!

  5. Thanks for this post. Though I have always had some anxiety, I never thought it was causing me so much dysfunction. I have gradually realized, as information seeking has begun to take up more and more of my daily life, that it is a form of reassurance seeking. Reading the description of your experience helps me to better understand how these behaviours are not helpful and why spending an entire day or two on the web actually makes me feel worse. Though, of course, the irony is that information seeking led me here.... ;)