Getting Support without Compulsing
In this week’s episode our hosts, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, discuss what it means to get support without engaging in the compulsive behavior of reassurance-seeking.
Reassurance-seeking can be a sneaky compulsion that can often happen without our awareness.
As humans, we need support from loved ones and reassurance is not inherently bad. So how do we differentiate getting support, from reassurance seeking as a compulsive behavior?
Why it can be problematic to turn to others for certainty
Lauren: With OCD, the problem is in the solution. You want to gain certainty and fix the fact that you don’t know and that feeling that comes as a result of not knowing. And that fix is actually the problem.
It gets you stuck in a cycle of trying to resolve the uncertainty that can’t be resolved in almost all situations. And it stops you from living your life. Let’s just say, with a particular example, you have hit-and-run OCD, and you really want to ask for reassurance from your mother that you didn’t hit a person.
You want to ask your mom for reassurance. But we want you to understand that asking for reassurance doesn’t give you more certainty. Because your mom doesn’t really know for certain either! So you’re stuck in this cycle of trying to figure out something that you can’t figure out.
Kelley: It actually opens you up for more convulsion because by asking your mom you’re giving it more airtime. You’re giving it way too much attention at this point.
Lauren: Yep. And then this is when mom says the wrong thing and totally triggers you.
Kelley: She ain’t gonna win!
Maintaining healthy relationships with your support system
Kelley: It can deteriorate a healthy relationship because you are looking to a loved one, like your mom, for ‘the answer’ and it’s an answer she can’t give. Or maybe they give it to you but it doesn’t satisfy you. Because OCD is never satisfied. Suddenly you’re both feeling resentful.
So it’s just a deterioration of the entire relationship. And each other. We need a healthy relationship with our support people especially when we’re not in a good place. So we want to be mindful of that.
Lauren: Understanding that it is a choice is really important, and that is not intended to shame.
It’s about recognizing that you do have a choice in the matter, even though it’s uncomfortable to make a different choice from what you feel inclined to choose. Choosing not to feed the beast or give it more importance than it deserves.
Aggressively avoiding reassurance-seeking
Kelley: …in the day-to-day stuff, a lot of clients say that they have been taught to aggressively avoid asking for reassurance or avoid telling people what I’m going through because it could lead to reassurance seeking.
So on hard days, they’re in so much pain and not getting support from people because they’re believing all support-seeking is reassurance as a compulsion, but it’s not.
You can speak to someone and you may not even have to discuss the content. Just let them know you’re in pain and struggling. Take yourself for a walk, notice what your mind is wanting you to do, and make an active choice to resist those compulsive behaviors.
You want to consider what things can make you feel loved and supported during this recovery.
Educating your loved ones
Lauren: It’s so important to educate those loved ones so that they understand when you are triggered. Also, they may be anxious too! If you’re an anxious person it’s likely that you’re related to some anxious people.
Kelley: Absolutely. If you’re telling someone that you’re anxious but they are also an anxious person they may feel inclined to help you ‘solve’ it. Which is what we’re trying to avoid here. And while they may be doing it from a place of good intentions, it’s keeping the OCD cycle in motion.
So it’s also good for us to understand them so that we can say, thanks for what you’re doing but what I need from you right now is this.
Lauren: Right, my mom bless her is so incredible, and has learned a lot from my own recovery journey. It’s incredible when I see my clients and their parents who are willing to tolerate their own discomfort around their child’s discomfort.
Kelley: And it’s okay to get pissed off at them too!
…I see it in my client’s eyes sometimes and I think, you hate me right now. And it’s okay, you’re allowed to be upset, that’s okay. We’re practicing, there is space for you to be mad.
Kelley: You can also have a script of things that they can say or do when you’re struggling. Like telling you that they love. Telling you that they aren’t going to feed the disorder by reassuring you but it’s because they love you.
Identifying safe people in your life
Kelley: …not everybody has safe people in their life. You shouldn’t just hand out your vulnerability to people who historically haven’t been overly supportive. You need to consider what you’re going to get out of having this conversation with someone and what is this person capable of providing you with.
Lauren: Some people are not able to offer that support because of their own limitations. This is why turning to a community of people who can support you because they understand is so powerful.
Not everyone to who you are biologically related is going to understand, and that’s okay. There are other people who do.
Kelley: And some safe people may not understand what you’re going through but they are great to turn to just to redirect your attention. I love going to my sister-in-law on a bad day and just asking if she fancies going for lunch or having a phone call. We don’t even have to talk about the content for me to feel loved and supported by her.
Lauren: Ultimately, the bottom line is to find the people in your life who you can turn to, but do your best to turn to them in a way that’s going to support you, them, and your relationship.
How can I reduce reassurance as a supporter?
Kelley: As mentioned, it’s great to consider some language to use like, I really care about you. And, I know that answering this question it’s feeding the OCD and I really want you to get better so I’m not going to answer that question.
Reassurance isn’t inherently bad
Lauren: There is nothing wrong with self-soothing. Being kind to ourselves or asking for reassurance is not inherently compulsive.
It’s knowing the intention.
Do you get comfort from hearing your mom’s voice? If that’s a nice thing for you then it’s not a problem. If you’re trying to solve for uncertainty, and it’s constant and excessive, that’s when you may fall into compulsive behavior.
Kelley: Reassurance isn’t inherently bad. It’s only bad and unhelpful if it’s compulsive. Every human needs reassurance to exist.
Resources dedicated to family members
- SoCal has a biweekly group that focuses on supporting parents.
- Alec Pollard.
- Josh Spitalnic, anxiety specialist in Atlanta.