Why is seeking reassurance so frowned upon during the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder?
Why shouldn’t we be allowed to get confirmation from someone we trust that something terrible isn’t going to happen? Or that we don’t have any pee on the back of our pants? Or that the garage door is closed or the oven is off? Why does it even matter?
To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. The whole anti-reassurance giving thing kind of bums me out. Especially when my husband got on board with it… And maybe that’s exactly why it’s so important.
Reassurance allows us to share the burden of our compulsions (and even obsessions) with someone else. And why is that so wrong? Well, for one, it isn’t very fair or nice to the other person. My husband didn’t necessarily want to be dragged into my OCD to that extent, and he shouldn’t have to shoulder that responsibility. Before we knew that we were dealing with OCD, he thought that giving me reassurance or accommodating and encouraging my compulsions would help. He thought that I would do what I felt I needed to do and then move on with life. But that’s the rub, right? OCD doesn’t really let you move on with life. The more you appease it, the more it wants. One check isn’t enough. One hand wash won’t make you feel clean.
And pretty soon the person you sought reassurance from is right there, part of the obsessions and compulsions. Eventually they realize that they are being used, and they get frustrated and angry because they can see the irony and ridiculousness of it all. When they push back and stop giving you reassurance or tell you to “snap out of it,” suddenly the whole affair has become a much bigger deal. Now you feel betrayed. Someone who was once your ally is now trying to be your “enemy.” But really, the OCD is the enemy. You just can’t see it yet.
A solitary battle
This is why we need to stop bringing in outside parties to help us feel better about our compulsions and obsessions. In order to conquer them, we have to do it more or less alone. Sure, a spouse or parent or friend can encourage us and remind us of what the doctor said. That can be super helpful. They can be our cheerleaders. But they can’t really be on the field with us, and that’s almost better. When we give up seeking reassurance, we feel, well, alone. Abandoned, maybe. But then we realize that it’s necessary. We have to find the strength on our own to say “No. I’m not going to check my pants. I’m not going to drive back and see if I closed the garage door. I’m not going to drive down the street again to see if I hit any cars or people.”
Because really, even when we asked for reassurance, we knew what they were going to say. We knew they would say “No, your pants are clean. Of course we closed the garage. We always do. You would have heard or felt it if you hit another car!” We wanted to hear them say those things because it made us feel better. It allowed us to think, “Of course. Of course. If they say it’s okay, it must be okay.” We thought that thinking those things would convince the OCD that it was wrong. But OCD doesn’t like to be told it is wrong.
How to win
In order to move on and past the OCD, you have to be okay with things not being okay. One of my doctors told me that I need to get to the point where I thought things like, “Well, maybe I got pee on my pants. Maybe the garage door is open. Maybe I hit a car. Maybe I’ll get other people sick. Maybe someone will break into my house. Maybe I dented another car. But so what?”
Conquering OCD is about conquering the need to be sure. It’s about being fine with not knowing. It’s letting go of having total control…. And it’s not seeking reassurance, even though that is such a hard habit to break.