OCD and the Pervasive Reassurance-Seeking Compulsion
“Are you sure I have OCD?” “What if it is something else?” “Am I going crazy?” “Are these thoughts normal?” These are among many questions individuals struggling with OCD ask themselves. Even when they have been thoroughly assessed and diagnosed with OCD by their mental health provider, sufferers’ doubts and the need for reassurance seeking continues.
It has been said that OCD is the doubting disease. Uncertainty is the driving force behind OCD. The need to know the consequence of their thoughts or behaviors leads individuals to compulsions.
When OCD targets individual’s fears of contamination, they reassure themselves by doing compulsions such as washing and avoiding certain substances. When the person worries about possible harm to others, they reassure themselves by checking and avoidance. Their compulsions are overt and others can see that they have OCD.
When individuals experience intrusive thoughts related to their religion or moral values, their gender attraction, sexual or harming thoughts, they often don’t realize reassurance seeking is a compulsion and that they may have OCD. They begin to question their thoughts and fear they are what they think. They become tormented as their thoughts don’t match their values and who they really are. As the thoughts persist, they need to prove to themselves that they are not what they think.
Individuals with OCD are often fused with their thoughts. They believe that if they are having certain thoughts, they are that kind of person; otherwise, why would they be having such thoughts? This is a misunderstanding because we are not our thoughts. The usual answer from OCD sufferers is, “But it feels so real!”
Uncertainty is very unpleasant, and this brings anxiety and possibly guilt, as well as other feelings. Thus, individuals feel the need to do something to decrease or eliminate the feelings and thoughts. The easiest and fastest option is to find reassurance. Individuals create internal rituals such as mentally checking their actions and reviewing every behavior or word they may have done and said. They may try to figure things out mentally. A statement such as “I would never do such a thing!” is a reassurance statement, and many individuals don’t realize that this is also a compulsion.
What can you do to begin the journey of long-term recovery? You can begin by trying to work on decreasing your compulsion of seeking for reassurance.
Here are some ideas:
- Remember that every time you seek reassurance, you are actually strengthening OCD!
- Keep a ‘Reassurance Seeking’ Log. This will help you realize how often you do this compulsion. It will give you a baseline so you can start to improve by decreasing it.
- How often do you go back in time to review past behaviors? How often do you try to rationalize or figure out your thoughts or behaviors?
- How often do you check on the computer, books, and other reading material to feel better and decrease your unpleasant feelings?
- How often do you text, email or call someone to feel reassured?
- How often do you ask questions of others to feel better?
- You can choose how to decrease this compulsion by changing, delaying, limiting, and replacing the way you seek for reassurance.
For example: If you are seeking for reassurance 40 times a day, try to decrease it to lesser times.
- Keep a ‘Reassurance Seeking’ Journal. Instead of texting someone, write about it. What would you say to them? What would you like them to say back? You know what you want to hear. So, write it up. You can begin to change the reassurance seeking habit by writing about it.
- Practice Mindful Breathing. Instead of seeking reassurance, choose to take a few minutes to do this exercise. Breathe in deeply and as you breathe out, imagine the air blowing into the area of your body where you feel the uncertainty. Allow the air to help you expand that part of your body and make room for the doubt that keeps showing up. Instead of getting rid of the sensation, you are learning to make room for it and get used to it one moment at a time.
OCD brings uncertainty, but you don’t have to be a slave to it. You can slowly teach your body to become flexible with what comes. With the right tools and consistent practice, you can see positive results. You can learn to manage your OCD, and get your life back. Once again, you can enjoy the things that are most important to you!
Hagen, A. (2018). OCD and the Pervasive Reassurance-Seeking Compulsion. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/ocd-and-the-pervasive-reassurance-seeking-compulsion/