Reassurance seeking

We all benefit from encouragement; at times, reassurance has its place. But when you go looking to be reassured or actively seek and need it, it becomes part of the problem instead of a solution. 

What does it mean to be reassured?

When you are fearful or worried and speak with someone about your problem, if they reassure you, they take away some of the fear or worry. 

Is reassurance the same as an encouragement?

In terms of the scope of this article on reassurance seeking, getting encouragement is when you are offered support, even if the thing you are facing makes you nervous. In contrast, reassurance is more about taking away the fear. 

If you are offered reassurance without asking for it, that presents no problem. However, seeking it out to take away nervous feelings will make things worse for you. 

What is reassurance seeking?

Reassurance seeking is the act of seeking words or advice of comfort intended to make someone feel less worried about uncertainty and doubt.

Is it reassurance-seeking if I do not go to others for help?

Both self-reassurance and seeking reassurance from others can include checking things repeatedly, mentally reviewing an experience, asking questions, and researching to reassure yourself that you are okay.

The only difference is the sources of the reassurance, either from others or reassuring yourself. 

Why would you seek reassurance?

Anxiety disorders

Feeling the physical and cognitive symptoms of anxiety can be frightening and often make people seek reassurance that their symptoms are not life-threatening; this is especially true of panic disorder.

People with health anxiety also seek reassurance from the internet, forums, and doctors.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

People with OCD may seek reassurance that their obsessions are not true, for example, wanting reassurance that they are not a bad person. 

What are the problems of reassurance seeking?

Reassurance-seeking stops you from learning to tolerate doubt, uncertainty and anxiety. It prevents you from facing your fears and dealing with them because it reinforces the belief that seeking reassurance is necessary to reduce uncomfortable feelings.

For example.

If you are afraid that you are about to shout out an obscenity in your Church, and you keep checking with your partner beside you, what if I do? How do you know I won’t do it? This reassurance helps you to calm down, but it is not a permanent solution, as your fear of shouting out in Church is still there. And what happens when you cannot get reassurance; your anxiety will spiral.

If you practice sitting with the doubt and anxiety without seeking reassurance, you are allowing yourself the chance to see

1 you do not carry out your obsession; that is, you do not shout out, 

2 this becomes part of more permanent learning that you can tolerate the obsession without needing to resort to compulsion, in this case seeking reassurance. 

What is the best way to stop reassurance-seeking?

Exposure response prevention and Cognitive behavioural therapy will teach you to stop seeking reassurance. 

You will learn that seeking reassurance is a compulsion that keeps the cycle of OCD going. 

Often people believe that if they are undertaking CBT, they are not getting exposure therapy, but this will happen as part of the behavioural aspect of therapy.

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