Why We Always Seek Reassurance

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Creative Commons License photo credit: basibanget

Most people seek reassurance at some point or another.  The vast majority of all people did this kind of thing on a regular basis as children.  And when you have an anxiety disorder it’s almost like we are kids again in the sense that the desire to seek reassurance can be almost automatic. But why is this the case?

Well, the primary and most obvious reason is because anxiety disorder(s) create a tremendous amount of uncertainty.  When we have a spike in anxious feelings or thoughts we become afraid, worried, and insecure.  So naturally seeking reassurance on a constant basis develops as a reaction to all the stress and mental anguish that one has to endure when weighed down by excessive stress.

We tend to seek reassurance from people like doctors, parents, spouses and loved ones.  We hound them with questions about our symptoms, fears, and even concerns about the future.  In fact, some of us seek reassurance so much that it becomes an obsession.  An obsession rooted in fear, one that comes alive because of our basic desire to understand what is happening to us; but more importantly to be consoled and told that we aren’t going to die or go crazy because of all the things we feel.

People in distress do lots of stuff, but seeking reassurance by those around them is natural and to be expected.  And although this reassurance seeking behavior is not necessarily done on purpose, it can be problematic.  It can cause a strain on our relationships, create isolation, and even lessen the effect of the reassurance we get.  You can almost stop believing the person providing the reassurance.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  I don’t want to say that the search for reassurance as a means of reducing anxiety is all bad because its not.  Frankly, I think that getting rid of this behavior is not necessary and potentially not achievable for most of us.  However, I do want to emphasize that it would be infinitely better for us to reduce the frequency with which we seek reassurance and instead learn to console ourselves to a greater degree.

Create more stress Paul? No not at all.  Actually by reducing your dependence on others for peace of mind I think you exercise the very skills we all need to develop to cope successfully with anxiety.  A good analogy would be a kid being dropped off at school for the first time.  Their whole young life mom and dad were there to reassure and coach their child on how to cope with stress or at least unpleasant situations.  Well when that kid gets dropped off at school they must learn to exercise the coping tools given to them by their parents.  They have to eventually manage their emotions and find a way to calm their anxieties.  What is the alternative?

This is a simplistic view of it of course, but the point I’m trying to make is that you cannot always rely on others to relieve your fear and stress.  You have to learn to cope and manage your anxiety.  In effect, you must learn to “deal with it”.  Sounds cruel kind of.  But seeking reassurance should be reserved for those times when things get out of control.  When you are in a panic, or in the grip of some other anxiety induced hell.

This is important because when reassurance is not sought often it can be more effective and helpful when it is received in a more critical situation.  It also makes the people you seek reassurance from more eager to help and more likely to give you more of their energy to help calm you down.  Imagine how your so called safe people feel when they are badgered with questions and concerns on a daily basis.  Don’t you think this could wear them down and desensitize them to your troubles?  The boy that cried wolf comes to mind – at least their mind.

None of this is to suggest that what we anxiety sufferers go through isn’t hard.  On the contrary I know first hand what anxiety can do and all the pain it can cause.  Nonetheless, we all should learn to grapple with our anxiety a bit more and not be so afraid to challenge it and question the validity of our fears, especially the outlandish fears that spring up every so often.

So if you truly need it, then go right ahead and seek the reassurance you need.  But remember to only take what you need and try to not overcompensate for the whole of your problems with anxiety.  And in doing so you’ll be able to build up your anxiety coping abilities and also ensure that you don’t tear the fabric of your most important relationships.  It takes time, but you should at least consider it.

In some instances as the author of this blog I have become the safe person for some.  People that contact me with their concerns and questions receive my reassurance.  Most of these folks are consoled and my short correspondence with them is usually very constructive.  For example, just a few days ago I was contacted by a reader who needed some reassurance.  He explained his situation and I gave him what I felt was good advice.  It was all a very good, useful, constructive and sincere.  It is completely OK to find someone to talk to from time to time.

On other occasions however I’ve had the same thing happen and I’ve seen it all digress into a never ending what if session.  This type of thing is not healthy and in fact just creates and reinforces your anxieties.  And remember if you let moderation be your guide, don’t use Google or the internet in general to inform yourself about things you don’t have, and believe in yourself you will be OK.

Comments

  1. Seana says

    This is a really great post. I fully agree with it. I like how you are focusing on HEALING instead of coping. So many anxiety articles are about coping, symptoms, and coping with symptoms. It takes someone who has lived through it, and can take the time to share a few nuggets of wisdom to help show the rest of us the way out of this mess.
    I am a frequent visitor to this site, (Especially of the “why having anxiety doesn’t mean you’re crazy” article, which is my worst fear and constant anxiety!)
    and I think you are doing a really wonderful thing here!

  2. Stephanie says

    I love this post and find myself reading it often even though it is an older one. I think this is my biggest problem with my anxiety and I know I probably tend to wear our people with my reassurance seeking. I am really trying to work on only doing it when I really need it as you said. I think learning to reassure yourself is definitely a key to coping. I know I will need to learn and practice it because I tend to run to anyone I can when I get anxious, but I’m the only one who can truly tell myself that the things I am anxious about won’t come to pass.

  3. Anxieta says

    I also have the same problem. It started a few years ago when I had a terrible experience, so it probably resulted in a form of PTSD. After that it was very difficult, almost impossible to get over the need to be constantly reassured, until I finally went overseas alone for a few years and found that I after a little while found the strength to go through most of my experiences without getting reassured. However, I never was able to completely get over the need. It just got a lot better, so that I only do it every so often rather than constantly, and I seldom (maybe once a year or so) get into a panic over the need to be reassured and this is only with bigger things that would probably concern many people.
    But I agree that sometimes this need to be reassured was a strain on some of my friendships, especially the closer friendships. I’d normally just go to one person, but it ended up straining that relationship a lot. If I ever did try to give that person a break from it and go to others instead, it could potentially strain things with them. One problem I’ve always found with it is that 1.I can get wrong advice, and 2.I panic if the person tells me something negative or doesn’t quite understand and cuts across what I believe deep down when I go to them. Then I might need to find someone else to “cancel out” what the previous person had said. Also, 3. I might find some people who just are the wrong people to go to, I mean they might not even be trustworthy or could be a little malicious (this is especially if I’m overseas and suddenly “stuck”.
    Anyway, I’m quite a bit stronger now and only do this sort of thing occasionally, and not in as big or prolonged a way as before. But for me, trying to force myself to get over it or to do it less didn’t work. The thing that worked was wanting to do some important studies and travels overseas, which forced me to get over most of it. But even though I’m over most of it now, things were totally strained with that person I mentioned, who is the most important person to me and a family member, and who can’t believe that I’m really (almost) fine now since they don’t even give me a chance. I wonder if there are other suggestions, but for getting over it better (without having to go through more stress overseas or something similar) and with that person?

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