The Vicious Cycle of Reassurance Seeking
Imagine the following: You and your friend get into a disagreement over text. You think that you have resolved things but just to make sure you text her, “Are you mad?” She responds with, “No.” But, just to be safe, you ask one more time and say, “Are you sure?”
At first glance, this text exchange seems harmless. You are simply wanting to make sure that your friend isn’t mad and that everything is ok. However, the problem is that you are engaging in a vicious cycle of reassurance seeking.
What is Reassurance Seeking?
REASSURANCE SEEKING is the act of continuously trying to gather information that has already been given to us to decrease our anxiety.
- Checking things repeatedly, such as checking that the door is locked or stove is off
- Checking physical symptoms constantly (e.g., temperature or blood pressure)
- Mentally reviewing an event, such as a conversation with a friend, to make sure that they aren’t upset or that you responded in an appropriate way
2. Reassurance Seeking from Others
- Asking others if things are OK (e.g, “Are you sure you aren’t mad at me?”; “Can you promise me that everything is going to be ok?”)
- NOTE: This is particularly common in anxious children who are constantly turning to their parents for reassurance (e.g., “Can you please check my homework once more to make sure it is perfect?” “Promise you won’t forget to pick me up from school?”)
3. Research Reassurance
- Frequently looking for evidence online in an effort to prove to yourself that things are ok (e.g., researching symptoms on WebMD; constantly checking grades online)
The Problem with Reassurance Seeking
In looking at the examples above, you may be asking, “What’s so bad about reassuring ourselves if it makes us feel better?
The problem with reassurance is that, in the short term, it is decreases your anxiety. However, in the long term, it creates a vicious cycle that worsens your anxiety and increases your need for more reassurance. It also decreases your confidence in your ability to answer your own questions and reinforces that you are unable to tolerate the discomfort of the uncertainty.
How to Decrease Reassurance Seeking
- Identify when it is happening: There is a difference between seeking information (gathering information ONCE for the purpose of understanding) and seeking reassurance (continuously trying to gather information that has already been given in an attempt to decrease anxiety).
- Take a gradual approach and slowly decrease how many questions you are asking each day or how many times you are asking the same question
- Delay or postpone the reassurance for a specific amount of time
- Eliminate cold turkey. This is often the hardest. If you do so, educate your family members that if you are to ask a reassurance seeking question, they should not respond and should instead answer with a version of the following:
- “I don’t know. What do you think?”
- “You already know the answer to that question. I am not going to answer that.”
- Keep a reassurance log in which you have your most frequently asked and answered questions. When you are struggling to tolerate the uncertainty, refer back to the log (NOTE: The log is a temporary measure to help you slowly eliminate reassurance and should not be over-used)
Decreasing reassurance seeking is one of the hardest things for anxious individuals. However, it is also one of the most important steps in learning to manage and take control of your anxiety.