The dark side of reassurance
Reassurance can have a powerful effect. It can wash away uncertainty, release you from your anguish and bring to you some much needed relief from the dread that feels your mind and your body. But there is a darker side to reassurance. It can leave you cursed, eternally helpless and dependent on other’s for peace of mind.
My aim in this post is to give you some examples of reassurance and the impact it can have on a person’s life. I want to get you thinking about how you might use reassurance and to assess the impact it has on you. And, I want you to reflect on whether using reassurance is going to help you or hold you back in the weeks, months and years to come.
Reassurance is the act of trying to remove your doubts and fears
We all have doubts and fears – did I lock all the doors and windows before leaving this morning? Will my children be ok at school? Is my relationship alright? Did I say something to upset them? What if they don’t like me? Will they leave me? Will I cope? What if it all comes tumbling down on me? The list can be endless. And this is because your mind will keep generating thoughts and concerns for you to be worried about.
Do you have these thoughts? Do you have others? What does having these thoughts feel like? Can you notice the feelings and sensations in your body right now?
When these thoughts show up the urge to seek reassurance can follow close behind. It is the mind’s attempt to fix or push away the unpleasantness of these imagined scenarios. You might seek out reassurance from friends, family, professionals, the internet or from your own positive thinking and rationale arguments. When reassurance is given it has the effect of neutralising the anxieties. It shields you.
What are the costs of reassurance seeking?
The costs of reassuring yourself a lot and compulsively i.e. you have a strong urge to seek it out that you feel obliged to act out, are many. Firstly, you don’t learn to tolerate uncertainty. You develop a habit of pushing it away or trying to make things seem more certain. The trouble with this is that many of these doubts and fears hold uncertainty. Whether your relationship will be OK, your children safe and other people liking you is inherently uncertain. Yes, you can take practical measures to nurture relationships and ensure your children are well taken care of, but there is a lot that is outside of your direct control. Peace of mind is often found when you learn to let go of your doubts and fears.
Secondly, people tend to build up a tolerance to uncertainty. Reassurance seeking is a common coping style in many long-standing anxiety problems e.g. OCD, worry, panic attacks etc. When patterns of reassurance become engrained, it is as though the impact of the reassurance lessens. It ceases to provide the same level of relief that it did in the past. This is because reassurance functions to rescue you. And, if you are always looking to be rescued then you are reinforcing the view that you are a victim, helpless and vulnerable. Over time, reassurance can exaggerate these beliefs and instead of learning to cope better, you learn to inhibit your own abilities.
Whilst reassurance can seem like a helpful ally when faced with anxiety, it can be a trap. By slowing down and noticing your thoughts, your urges and your feelings in your body, you can learn to resist the automatic compulsion to get your hands on some temporary relief. By noticing the doubts and fears it allows you to choose rather than react. The challenge is to make space inside of you for the anxiety, to allow it and to accept it. This can be easier when you learn to hold it more lightly and to soften up around it, rather than gripping it firmly and refusing to have it.
If you prefer a more practical approach, you can start look out for the ways you might seek reassurance. Writing it down on a worksheet that has the day/time, doubt/fear in your mind and the act of reassurance can help you develop you awareness of just how much and how often you are doing it. It is a very important first step in learning to break the cycle of reassurance-seeking.
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