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Why Reassuring Someone With OCD Can Actually Be a Bad Thing Sometimes


Everyone needs a bit of reassurance from time to time. It’s a human need. Maybe we need reassuring occasionally that our partner loves us, or that we’re doing a good job at work. But for many people with OCD, reassurance-seeking can become a compulsion, and one that keeps the cycle of OCD going.

We might need reassuring that our hands are clean or that we’re not going to harm a child or that we’re not gay or that we even have OCD. But once will not be enough. Like with all compulsions, we’ll need to repeat the exercise again and again. And while the reassurance will work for a bit, we may soon doubt the person meant it and need their reassurance all over again.

As with most OCD compulsions, it’s possible for reassurance to become an obsession. Maybe we’re afraid we might lose our job or that we’ll get a terrible disease or hurt someone. We can often ask for reassurance that the feared thing won’t happen. And once we’ve had that, our anxiety goes down, as with any compulsion. That’s why we do compulsions. But the anxiety soon comes back. And we can get stuck in a vicious cycle. Sometimes, we need more and more reassurance. It’s like a drug. And it can keep us “stuck.” We don’t find out what happens if we resist our compulsions. Instead it reinforces our belief that we need reassurance to deal with our anxiety. So we’ll keep doing it.

It’s hard to tell people not to reassure us. It’s a natural reaction. Our loved ones don’t want to see us in distress. They want to reassure us that they love us or that we won’t lose our job or that we won’t harm a child. But it can often be counter-productive. Ironically, I believe the best thing you can do for someone with OCD is not to reassure them. Tell them: “I’m not going to reassure you. We’ve agreed that is unhelpful.”

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Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration.


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