A very common symptom for a lot of people with OCD is the need to seek reassurance. If you’ve read previous posts about my experiences with OCD I mention how this is a massive part to my OCD. Seeking reassurance is a form of compulsion, that need for someone to tell you ‘its ok’ in some way shape or form, to get rid of a strong feeling of anxiety. Of course everyone needs a little reassurance every now and then, but when its constant over the same things it starts to interfere with your life. That and all the other symptoms that come along with OCD you can become a slave to this debilitating illness. The trouble is it’s no longer just you facing the symptoms of OCD, the family and friends you seek reassurance from are now in the grips of you and your OCD to and its very important how they deal with this to. I will talk about that later in this post.
Examples of reassurance
- Placing an item in a certain place and asking ‘if its ok there?’
- Did I just run someone over?
- Do you think I’m a bad person?
- Did I just swear or insult someone?
- Will something bad happen If I do or don’t do such and such?
- Are you sure?
Why people with OCD depend on reassurance?
The need for reassurance is almost like an addiction. People with OCD will have a thought, image or feeling that causes them a strong feeling of anxiety. After this the feeling is so strong, they feel compelled to perform either a physical or mental compulsion. A lot of the time the person will feel as if something related the ‘bad’ thought, feeling or image they had will come true or something bad could happen, if they don’t perform their ritual in this case seeking reassurance. Which is when people will seek reassurance from somebody, asking their opinion on the situation, thought or feeling. Doing this then makes their anxiety levels decrease. There for people with OCD keep wanting the reassurance to make their anxiety levels decrease. You might think it’s not to bad, but it spreads and becomes more frequent in a lot of cases. It’s like you know what you’re asking is silly but you just have to do it to feel better and know what that persons view and opinion on the matter is or something bad might happen and you know its silly but the doubt and OCD makes it feel so real. It’s like you develop a huge lack of trust for your own ability to judge your own thoughts and feelings.
My experience with reassurance seeking
In the past couple of years my OCD developed from doing physical compulsions myself to getting someone else to do things for me or asking if everything was ok. It’s hard to explain but everything I done and I mean everything I would ask is that ok? is this ok? are you sure? something as simple as putting a cup in the dishwasher was no longer simple. I had to ask ‘if it was ok where I put it. I needed reassurance on everything I was touching, moving and doing. If I wasn’t asking if things we’re ok, I was asking people to do things for me instead. As you can imagine I lost every inch of independence I ever had. Which was not only upsetting and stressful for me, but also on family and anyone who I involved in asking for reassurance.When my mum was at work I would send pictures of everything I done so she could tell me it was ok. I felt like if I didn’t get the reassurance something bad could happen and I won’t go into what in particular but it was very scary things so without the reassurance it felt like my whole world was crumbling. Without it I felt anxious and I couldn’t think of anything but what I was worried about, I felt unable to do anything until I knew that the thing before it was ‘ok’. Not only that I knew how silly it sounded at the age of 19 to be asking if things that a 5 year old can do are ok or to do them for me 24/7.
I would also ask whether my mum thought, thoughts and feelings I were having were bad or normal and what she thought the thoughts and feeling meant. This was really hard for her and me, I felt so embarrassed asking her some of the things I did, very personal, embarrassing and scary things! Its horrible feeling like you rely on everyone around you and I know how horrible it must be for them to feel pressured into reassuring me all the time and having to run around behind me to tell me things were ok. I knew it was ok really and I knew they weren’t going to tell me something I’d put down in a certain place wasn’t ok, but it’s that need for reassurance and it literally feels like a NEED. I still do seek reassurance over thoughts and feelings I have but I am learning how to cope and deal with these things by myself, slowly but surely.
Why giving someone with OCD reassurance is bad?
As a parent or a friend the first thing you do when someone you love is in distress and asking you for reassurance is give it to them. Unless you know why not to, it’s the natural thing to do. The reason why it’s so bad to reassure anyone with OCD is because it feeds the OCD. Its become a habit or an addiction almost, to have a ‘bad’ thought, image or feeling, fuelled with anxiety and then in order to seek ‘safety’ the person seeks reassurance as an compulsion. The person suffering with OCD needs to get used to that uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty and having no reassurance and unfortunately the only way to do that is to be in discomfort. The person you are refraining from reassuring may seem distressed, may try to make you feel bad for not reassuring them and they may get angry, but you and they know deep down it’s for the right reasons.
To stop OCD you have to stop seeking safety and accept uncertainty and anxiety, which is very frightening for someone with OCD. By reassuring someone you may feel like your helping them feel better but in the long run your making them worse, you have to be cruel to be kind in this situation. The more you reassure someone the more they need it again and again. You have to help them break the cycle and trap. I wouldn’t say randomly cutting of reassurance for someone who’s not been told why they can’t be reassured and hasn’t had any therapy to learn why it’s for the best and how to deal with this is a good idea. Seek help and let a professional guide you and advise you on the best way to deal with the suffers OCD.
I hope this helped give someone with a family member suffering with OCD some information and understanding. I also hope other OCD suffers like myself could relate to this post!