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Don’t reassure me!

Updated: May 16, 2021

What’s the problem with reassurance and OCD? Any experienced OCD therapist will stress the importance of not reassuring as a priority, but why?

One of the first-occurring and easiest means of dealing with anxiety is reassurance. This can be done instantly online or obtained quickly from our nearest and dearest. We have learnt since childhood that our parents offer immediate, soothing reassurance as is their practice. Not only was this one of our first coping mechanisms but it was freely given and parents are conditioned to emotionally rescue their children, believing that it was the one thing they could do well. It’s quick, cheap and seems like good parenting. However, in the case of OCD reassurance seeking, this is most certainly a compulsion and very quickly exacerbates the OCD and establishes poor coping skills.  Access to various types of reassurance is easy these days and the predominant ones are:

1. Online reassurance: this can come in many forms. It tends to start with OCD forums. Clients with responsibility OCD will use the forums to see if they have OCD or are actually a bad person.  HOCD sufferers will research for criteria to confirm they are or aren’t gay. ROCD means hours spent reading articles such as ‘How do I know I’m in love’ or ‘Are they the right person for me’ etc. Hypochondria/health OCD can find thousands of self-diagnostics online. The internet is a great resource but not when it is used compulsively

Medical testing reassurance: for those who can brave being tested for their worst fears, getting tested is addictive. It seems at first as if it is a genuine health issue, followed by the idea that a test is definitive and can stop the worry. The sad truth is that the test will provide only short term relief before the urge to have another, and another accompanied by ‘It may not have been accurate’ or ‘it’s safer to be tested again’. Included in this category are visits to your doctor or specialist.

2. Verbal reassurance: this can come from all sources – family, partners, friends, colleagues. Not only is this unhelpful but it is very addictive, to the point where the sufferer needs the reassurance constantly. If others realise that they are doing the wrong thing then the sufferer can use creative ways in which to get it – asking cryptic questions, changing the theme and mostly, saying ‘this isn’t OCD, but……………’

3. Self reassurance: in many ways, the most dangerous of all as this is entirely covert and can be continuous. A sufferer will reassure themselves, even during therapy and exposure work which can undermine the effectiveness. They can say to themselves, ‘I would never do that.’ Or ‘I’m not that type of person.’  They may have ritualistic chants or soothing messages.

For a person with OCD, reassurance is discomfort avoidance whether obvious or concealed. It is a direct route to avoid anxiety and will work, at first. However, reassurance works like a whiskey to an alcoholic. At first, one or two a night is enough to feel good……….

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