Reassurance-seeking is a common OCD behavior. But there are ways to reduce it.
We all seek reassurance from time to time. We ask others for their opinions, research health symptoms, and double-check that we’ve locked our doors.
While seeking reassurance isn’t a bad thing, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might do it in excess.
In OCD, needing constant reassurance can look like asking others to promise that they’ll be okay, checking things repeatedly, or researching to ensure that they’re safe and healthy.
But getting reassurance can perpetuate a harmful cycle where you encounter doubt, feel distressed, and then need more reassurance to help you feel better.
Reassurance is meant to ease doubt or fear.
When you’re feeling afraid or uncertain, your first instinct might be to ask someone else for their opinion or to double-check that you’ve done something correctly. This isn’t a harmful thing.
But some people might ask for reassurance in excess. Asking for too much reassurance doesn’t necessarily mean that you have OCD, but it can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
We all face situations where the outcome isn’t certain. Reassurance can help you avoid uncertainty.
In OCD, reassurance-seeking can be considered a type of compulsion. When you engage in a compulsion, you reinforce the idea that you need to act on that compulsion to feel better.
But while reassurance might provide temporary relief, it isn’t necessarily helpful in the long run. In fact, it may even worsen OCD symptoms.
You might find yourself stuck in a cycle of encountering uncertainty, becoming distressed, and needing more reassurance.
We all have moments where we seek reassurance. But how much is too much, and when does it become a problem?
We often want reassurance when we’re stepping into unchartered territory. When you give your first presentation at work, your boss might say, “You’ve got this. You’ll be okay.”
But after you give a few similar presentations, you might find that you no longer need that reassurance.
With OCD, needing that reassurance doesn’t pass. Instead, it can get worse over time as you learn to avoid doubt by asking for reassurance.
This might lead to seeking reassurance in excess.
Examples of excessive reassurance-seeking behavior
Reassurance-seeking behaviors can fall into two groups: self-reassurance and seeking reassurance from others.
Self-reassurance can include:
- checking things repeatedly (for example, checking that your stove is off or that you’ve saved a document)
- mentally reviewing an experience (for example, trying to remember whether you’ve locked your doors or reviewing a conversation where you weren’t sure whether you said the “right” thing)
Seeking reassurance from others can include:
- asking if someone is mad at you
- asking someone to promise that you’ll be safe or OK
- asking someone whether you did the right thing or made the right decision
- researching to reassure yourself that you’re OK (e.g., checking health symptoms online or researching whether your roof contains asbestos)
Again, we all seek reassurance sometimes. It might be considered excessive when:
- you find it hard to execute a task or make a decision without reassurance
- you often seek reassurance on the same things over and over again
- seeking reassurance takes up a significant amount of your time (e.g., you research for hours each day)
- you seek reassurance even when it gets in the way of your daily functioning (e.g., you’re late for work because you were double-checking your locks or you can’t proceed with a school task without getting reassurance from your teacher)
It can be difficult to curb excessive reassurance-seeking. But there are a few strategies that you can try.
- Learn to identify excessive reassurance-seeking. There’s a difference between checking that you’ve locked your doors once and checking them five times.
- Notice when it’s not helping. When you feel the urge to seek reassurance, you might believe that it will bring you relief. Try to remember the situations where you sought reassurance in the past and ask yourself whether it helped in the long term.
- Don’t judge yourself or feel ashamed. Instead, try to notice when you’re seeking reassurance and try not to act on the urge.
- Recognize and think through any irrational thoughts that may come up. For example, you may have thoughts such as “If my loved one’s hands aren’t clean, they’ll spread germs to me and I’ll immediately become ill and die.”
- Remember that uncertainty is a part of life. While you can’t predict everything, you can learn to cope with what you can’t control.
- Consider telling your loved ones. Try to talk with them about reassurance-seeking, then ask them to gently point out when you’re asking for reassurance in excess. They might stop offering reassurance, or only reassure you once. After that, they can say something like, “You already know this, remember?” or “I don’t know. What do you think?”
It’s crucial to note that stopping excessive reassurance-seeking altogether when you live with OCD might leave you feeling more anxious. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help. They will be able to provide you with the tools and strategies that best fit you and your symptoms.
If you have OCD, excessively seeking reassurance can get in the way of your ability to function. But there are effective treatments for OCD.
These can include:
Excessive reassurance-seeking can be a symptom of OCD. But OCD is treatable. Therapy, medication, and self-care strategies might help you feel better.
If you think you might be living with OCD, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
Psych Central also has several guides to finding mental health support that might be helpful.