People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) who experience the pain and terror brought on by unwanted intrusive thoughts will use whatever means necessary to alleviate their discomfort. If they can’t make themselves feel sure about something internally, they reach out to the nearest person who they think can do it for them. If they are unavailable, the person with OCD will often reach out to the cold, unforgiving internet where the answers they hope not to find will always be waiting.
When the part of the brain responsible for making humans feel “sure enough” fails to kick into gear on its own, those with OCD and related anxiety-based conditions often use compulsive strategies to artificially create this sense of certainty. While this temporarily provides some assurance, the joy is short-lived, replaced by an overwhelming and seemingly unfair demand for re-assurance. As a strategy for suppressing the occurrence and effects of an obsession, reassurance seeking is a compulsion commonly employed by virtually all OCD sufferers, as well as those with related OC Spectrum Disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Social Anxiety (Social Phobia), and Hypochondria (Health Anxiety).
The Problem with Reassurance
So why is reassurance such a big deal? To put it in clinical terms, when an individual seeks reassurance, they reinforce that they are unable to tolerate the discomfort of the uncertainty they are experiencing. At the same time, they reinforce that the best way to alleviate the discomfort of that uncertainty is to compulsively seek reassurance.
Concurrently, reassurance as a behavior sends the message to the brain that whatever unwanted thought set these events into motion must be terribly significant. “If he goes through all of this just to know for sure, then this thought must be really important!”
Finally, reassurance is addictive. If reassurance were a substance, it would be considered right up there with crack cocaine. One is never enough, a few makes you want more, tolerance is constantly on the rise, and withdrawal hurts. In other words, people with OCD and related conditions who compulsively seek reassurance get a quick fix, but actually worsen their discomfort in the long term.
Three Types of Reassurance
For those with OCD and related conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Social Anxiety, and Hypochondria, reassurance seeking comes in three forms:
- Self reassurance. For individuals with OCD, the most obvious form of self reassurance is an overt checking compulsion, such as checking a door to ensure that it is locked. Other less noticeable forms of self reassurance might include mentally reviewing an event or doing “mental compulsions”, such as such as repeating a “good” thought to ensure that a “bad” thought won’t come true. For someone with Social Anxiety, self reassurance might involve repeatedly doing a “mental review” of their performance at a party. For the person with BDD, a common type of self reassurance is body checking, wherein they compulsively look at themselves in the mirror in an attempt to get reassurance that they look OK.
- Reassurance seeking from others. Those with OCD and related conditions often ask others if things are OK, or manipulate others into telling them that things are OK. For example, a person with OCD may compulsively ask friends and family if they have washed their hands enough, or if they have run someone over with the car. Likewise, someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) may repeatedly ask others about their appearance, while someone with Hypochondria may compulsively ask family members about symptoms of certain medical conditions.
- Research reassurance. Individuals with OCD and related conditions frequently look for evidence online or elsewhere in an effort to prove to themselves that things are OK. One common example of this is what is colloquially known as Cyberchondria, wherein those with Hypochondria compulsively search the internet in an attempt to get reassurance they do not have a specific disease.
Managing the Urge to Seek Reassurance
Self-reassurance is the hardest of these to contend with because, like so many symptoms found in OCD and related conditions, these compulsions often go un-noticed until after they’ve been committed. Behaviorally, your best bet is to acknowledge the reassurance as soon as you notice it, and to stop it as soon as you can. Also, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques such as mindfulness and acceptance (the healthy practice of acknowledging and accepting thoughts and feelings without evaluating them or acting on them), one can learn to have an uncomfortable thought or feeling without over-valuing it or over-responding to it.
Resisting reassurance seeking from others often involves psycho-education of those who are most often on the giving end. Like the enabler to the alcoholic or drug addict, your loved ones might have a low tolerance for seeing you in pain, so they give you what you demand of them – even if it may actually hurt you in the long run. Consider your intent when asking for reassurance. Is your goal to remind yourself of what you already know? Is your goal to reduce your anxiety about something? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”, then it’s best to resist asking for reassurance and to instead practice tolerating the discomfort.
Furthermore, be on the lookout for your own crafty manipulations. The word “manipulation” has a sinister connotation, but all it really means is the influencing of your environment to provide desired results. For example, merely mentioning the issue of toaster oven safety may be a not-so-subtle attempt to get reassurance, serving the same function as overtly asking if you really did turn the oven off.
One thing that seems to be very helpful with family members and partners is the formation of a reassurance contract. Simply put, the person with OCD or a related anxiety-based condition gives permission for their loved one to refuse reassurance or to reduce it to a bare minimum. When the individual asks for reassurance, the family member participating in the contract can say something like, “Remember you asked me to help you, and that means I can’t answer this question. Now let’s go do something else…”
Finally, when it comes to resisting the wealth of information (and misinformation) available from the web and other sources, it’s best to turn the computer off altogether when you find yourself just wanting to know something “for sure.” In fact, there’s no time like the present…so let’s see if you can move on from this blog without knowing for sure if you fully understood it.
•The OCD Center of Los Angeles is a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related anxiety based conditions. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.
Great article. Thanks for the definition of cyberchondria. I hadn’t heard that one before, but it fits the description perfectly.
One thing that I’ve found useful in working with clients affected by OCD is to engage in an externalizing discourse about the problem. As in, “Is it OCD (or perfectionism, or whatever the preferred identification of the problem is) that wants me to check, or do I want to check?” In this way, we can see the problem at a distance where we can understand the extent of its influence, and the instances where the client has mastery over that influence.
Thanks for some interesting reading.
Thank you for your comments.
Your note on “externalizing discourse” reminds me of Jeffrey Schwartz’ book “Brain Lock” – specifically his suggestion that those with OCD consciously state to themselves “that’s not me, it’s the OCD”. It also reminds me of Steven Hayes’ ACT approach in which one is advised to accept unwanted thoughts and feelings, but to not base actions upon them.
An excellent article on reassurance seeking in OCD and anxiety spectrum disorders. I, too, enjoy working with OCD sufferers and frequently give homework assignments around resisting the urge to seek reassurance, or enlist spouses to understand the importance of not giving reassurance. Keep up the great work.
Thanks for your insights.
Assignments that help the client develop the ability to resist the urge to seek reassurance (or any compulsive urge) are critical in managing OCD symptoms. We frequently give assignments along these lines not just to the client, but to family members who have been accommodating the OCD by providing reassurance.
Thank you for this concise and useful article on reassurance seeking. The pull for the immediate gratification of relief is strong, but as you say, the relief is short-lived. In my work with people with anxiety disorders, I focus on the short and long term gains of any behaviors employed, and certainly try to help my clients focus on the long-term gains of distress tolerance. The mindfulness concepts have proved quite helpful. Thanks again!
Thank you for your comments, especially about “distress tolerance” and “mindfulness”. My experience has been that these and other “third wave” CBT concepts are extraordinarily helpful for clients learning to reframe their thoughts / feelings as being tolerable.
Thank you for a thought provoking article. In my work with couples who are rebuilding trust and intimacy after an affair, I typically give permission to the betrayed spouse to ask for reassurance from the spouse who had the affair when insecurity or suspicious thoughts arise. This article is a good reminder that reassurance can become addictive and counter productive at a certain point and that it needs to be balanced with the goal of increased tolerance of uncertainty (i.e. “I’ll never feel 100% certain that my spouse won’t cheat again, but I’ve made a decision that the joy my relationship brings to me is worth the risk”).
Thank you for your insights, especially how too much reassurance can be addictive and counterproductive for those trying to move beyond a spouse’s affair. I hadn’t thought of applying these principles to that type of situation, but I think you are right on target.
That was a very good article, I am still a student, but with reading post, and reading articles like this I will have quiet a reinforcement of knowledge as part of my educational experience. I have learned a lot from reading all the feedback. This is the week of my finals and we are discussing mental illnesses and the therapy’s that are best suited.
Thanks for a clear and concise description of reassurance seeking- very helpful in assisting me with a severe OCD sufferer I’ve been working with. This article read perfectly as if you had been witnessing our sessions! I used a white board to describe the process of what is going on with her thoughts which was helpful in breaking it down for her- how to identify and set up a structure to support her.
I was wondering if there are any books that can help me help my husband out with his ocd. He is currently in treatment & is on 3 different medications but I am what you would call his crutch. He comes to me w/ ?’s on a daily basis, to the point whwre I feel like I am going to blow up myself!! He is very manipulative w/ it & sometimes puts me in very ackward situations. I just want to help him so he does not do his daily rituals and so he can let go & not allow this ugly disease to CONTROL his life.
Hi Dana, my husband too suffered terribly with OCD and anxiety and constantly seeked reassurance this was before google and the early days of the internet, he became so ill. We went to self help groups etc while I was there I noticed other partners of OCD members reassuring their partners and helping them open doors etc as I did and it clicked I was part of the problem. So when we came home, I refused to answer any questions that I felt manipulated to give and replied with ‘what do you think?’ This went on for a few sleepless days, he had panic attacks but I never relented within the end of that wk I had my husband back, no more psychiatric doctors or medicine it had consumed us everyday for 3 years. Hope your husband is now better
You did exactly the right thing. Accommodation never makes OCD better, and always makes it worse. By not accommodating your husband’s need for reassurance, you experienced short-term discomfort, but gained long-term benefits.
Interesting article. As a sufferer of OCD, I see myself doing all of these things. I can relate to what Dana says also as I put my spouse in awkward situations asking for reassuarance. I know the discomfort of not giving into the urges and why it seems easier to just ask someone. Unfortunately, it never ends. There is always another “what if?”
Thank you everyone for your comments to this article. I apologize for the delayed response.
For the sufferers and partners of sufferers dealing with compulsive reassurance seeking, I think making a personal contract can be very helpful. This can be written or verbal, but it needs to specifically give permission from the sufferer to the partner to deny them reassurance about specific obsessions and for the non-sufferer to use their judgment in deciding what is and what isn’t reassurance seeking.
Another tool I have found helpful, particularly with younger sufferers and parents is a reassurance book. This works by having the OCD sufferer resist the urge to vocalize the reassurance question, but write it in a notebook with a limited number of entries per day (no more than 5). The parent (or identified reassurance provider) can then respond to these questions at the end of each day in written form in the book. Then they can gradually reduce the number of entries. If any question is written more than once, the responder simply writes that the question has been answered. It is important to keep the responses short, direct, and objectively honest. If the answer is “I don’t know,” then that is what should be written.
Thank you so much for this. I am troubled, bc as a sufferer of OCD I am seeking reassurance from my husband constantly about him “never leaving.” Enough so that he explained that he has had enough and this crazy behavior needs to stop. I have told him I have just been “hormonal,” (my symptoms come in waves and are triggered by stress). I am scared to tell him that it is OCD for fear he many think Im nuts and not understand. We are newlyweds and I do not want to scare him away.
Cheryl, I think you are probably underestimating your husband. At the very least you are catastrophizing and mind reading when in truth you do not know for sure what he will think or how he will respond. He just wants the compulsions to stop and might be relieved that they are just that — compulsions.
Presumably you married him for some reason and this reason probably has something to do with shared values — the kind of values that would make a response like “you’re nuts, take a hike” extremely unlikely.
OCD affects 2-3% of the population (and that’s just the ocd that is clinically diagnosable). It is not a rare disorder and has nothing to do with being crazy. If you got educated about your OCD and had a course Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), then you would be able to educate your husband and enlist his support in your effort to stop the compulsive reassurance.
Sorry for my poor Englisch (from belgium), but Im desperate to know if I have OCD or not. On my 16th my doubts about my sexuality began. As suddenly as they started they also dissapeared. It occured on 2005, 2006, 2010 and now. Always in periods with a lot of stress. Now I’ve always been depressed and I know that I can’t rest my mind – Im a thinker in a negative way.
It all started with a story I heard about a person who had his comming-out. I thought – pfew, thank god Im not him. But at the same time I thought, why are you so sure about your own sexuality? At that moment I thought I never had been in Love with a Girl. And there it al started. I began checking myself. Fantasizing, which didn’t work, watching pornographic material which mostly didn’t worked, but sometimes it did and than I got scared. Checking out guys on the street which causes strange feelings – with every person i saw – in my head/stomage/genitalia which I can’t place. It’s the same feeling when I roll my eyes. Checking my live-time history to certain points when I felt strange but didn’t know what the cause was.
And last week It all started over. The same rituals as when I was 16. But I still don’t get aroused by it (sometimes it happens). Sometimes I do feel/think it’s good and I think that in in the “closet”, but 5 minuites later I’m already in doubt.
Everywhere I am I need to look for confirmation and it is destroying my live. I’m scared to get out of my home. Can’t get my thouhts on my job. Sometimes I even think that I’m in love on a boy, but when I look to an other boy I get the same strange feeling. Am I getting arroused on boys? That can’t happen in a blink of an eye right? Or is my mind tricking me?
As soon as I wake up I’m drowned in negative thoughts. It only stops when I’m in a deep sleep. Sometimes I want to accept this thoughts, but as soon as I’m thinking to get in contact to people of the same sex I’m getting scared.
My doubts are based on these strange feelings, but I think they aren’t realistic. But then again there’s that unwanted thought: Was I ever in love with A girl? I do have realionships and I enjoy every moment of it. But that unrealistic thought gives me a doubt. But why do I get jealous as a boy trying to seduce my girlfriend, that’s love right or isn’t it? But then again, once a girl broke up with I was depressed for 3 months. The feekings are the same which I experience now, only with an other mind-set.
I think my mind is tricking me cause deep in my heart I know what I am, but some unwanted thoughts in my head give me doubts over and over again. What to do? Do I really need to see If I get in love with boy, or is OCD tricking with me
Sounds like OCD to me. You describe a lot of mental rituals aimed at trying to get certainty and reassure yourself that you are not gay. The issue of whether you have ever been in love with a girl is only confused by the ocd. Many straight people, in fact ALL people question and debate within themselves if they have ever really loved another person. Only your ocd tells you that this must be investigated to prove you are not gay. I encourage you to read our series of articles about gay obsessions and OCD.
My recommendation is that you seek treatment for OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If there is no one trained in CBT for OCD, you might seek online therapy. Our staff therapists at the OCD Center of Los Angeles provide therapy via phone or skype for those who cannot access it locally. In the meantime, I would also recommend reading some books about OCD to help you get a better understanding of what you are struggling with.
Interesting article! I try to keep up with most of the blogs by the OCD therapists whether they relate to me or not, amongst other blogs & articles from some of my favorite psychologists/authors.
while i don’t have much to say usually except that i like the articles, i am glad though in ur last reply on ur HOCD blog u mentioned ressurance seeking behaviour & provided a link to this article.
While i understand how it relates to HOCD,& movement in the p**i* being a reasssurance seeking compulsion & why, I am not sure i have grasped this concept completely.
under the 3 types of reassurance mentioned , reassurance seeking from others is perhaps where we fall. People of my religion, e.g. Mormons . we have been raised this way, to make sure anyone we interact with,we don’t hurt their feelings or offend them , intentionally or untentinally. This works just great when we interact with our type, coz we r doing the same rituals to each other, however where i have started to struggle with is when i come across some people of other faith. This form of ocd was mentioned to me by an expert, however it was not explained so i brushed it off. However after reading the article, i can c where a close friend of mine falls under this form of OCD, as her reassurance seeking behaviour doesn’t end at me saying “habibti i am A O K! not offended, we good!”, the reassurance goes on and on. But i fail to c where i am caught up.
i like the idea of a reassurance book, but can’t figure out how i would use it.
this is my pattern.-Usually if i talk or write to someone, as a learnt and enforced habit, always write a line of apology in the end. ONLY IF the person is really hurt AND letx me know, it is my duty to clairify my point coz more than likely my comments if harsh were not intentinal, and then to apologize again. And that’s where it ends.
however where i have trouble is when i don’t get a reply at all to something i believe ANYONE would expect a response , my mind automatically comes to the conclusion that the person hates me, while i don’t mind being hated, as u can’t control ur own thoughts and feelings let alone trying to change someone elses about u , i would just like to know why. knowing y, is this a compulsion? What would i do with that info, not sure, first would surely apologize for whatever i said that hurt em, other than that i really think i would move on with my life , just accepting the fact that there is one more person who is not fond of me, coz my life doesn’t revolve around pleasing people, but just being genuine (in every sense).
I guess i am not really exposed to people outside of my group, so i really don’t know if that is how the outside world is, or if it is just me. i believe this is excatly what i would like to know.
i would appreciate it if i could get a response here, coz while not responding would perhaps be a way of not feedign into my reassurance seeking compulision, if that is what i have, however i am not writing for reassurance, but writing to genuinnly understand this ocd and where am i goin or actually thinking wrong here? Very soon i will be exposed to more people outside of my group, and it would really help to learn about either the people outiside or my perticular form of ocd. i apologize for the lenghty email.
What a great article. I struggle with OCD in various themes and my partner now knows what to do when I call or ask questions for reassurance. “We will talk about it later” which then makes me realize what I am doing. Thanks to CBT and an amazing therapist I finally figured out it is all about tolerating anxiety. You can’t be anxious forever!
I have had ocd as long as I can remember. It started with obsessions about the death of my parents and loved ones, images of people naked (to a little girl that was terribly frightening), hurting my family violently. When I was 15 and at a Christmas Eve service, the most filthy, blasphemous thoughts, words, images filled my mind. I was horrified. I couldn’t eat, sleep and lost a lot of weight until I was skin and bones. Back then, the Dr. just said that it was puberty. I was not properly diagnosed until 38 years of age. Ocd marred much of my life and robbed me of a full, productive life. Even the joys of getting married and raising a family was intruded upon. People who have this form of ocd tend to be extremely moral, loving and self-conscious people. They would never act upon these horrific thoughts as they are foreign to who the person is. I believe ocd has had such a strong-hold on my life because I have high standards and morals. I would never harm anyone and even the thought of doing so, torments me. I am at a “spiked” period right now because I made the decision to withdraw from the medication that suppressed these thoughts. With faith and help from God and my loving family, I am going to be victorious. I KNOW this is a monster that attacks the innocent and I WILL NOT be bullied by its tactics to rob me of a peaceful and happy life. My thoughts and prayers go out to all that suffer from this disease. You are the bravest of souls.
Piper – Thanks for your comments. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with CBT. Take care.
I’ve lived with OCD for a very long time. I have been on numerous medications, and through a variety of therapies, and all helped, to some extent. However, It wasn’t until I saw a therapist who chose to focus on my compulsive reassurance seeking, that I saw any lasting relief. This is the truth, and it works.
Glad to know that the article resonated for you. Unfortunately, many therapists don’t really understand OCD, and don’t realize that reassurance seeking is a compulsion. It’s good to know that you found effective treatment with a therapist who understood that your reassurance seeking needed to be addressed. Keep up the good work.
Hello. I am an OCD sufferer and the most troubling for me is pure o. Right now I’m “stuck” in a past memory I have of possibly contaminating someone’s toothbrush by dropping it. I hardly remember exactly and never heard of her getting sick yet just knowing that I cannot know this for sure is bothering me. Is this a typical pure o symptom. Anyone have any advice on letting go and accepting the unknown. It’s frustrating that I can’t know for sure of I hurt her though I doubt I did. Thanks.
As you note, you can never know for sure whether something occurred. You may have dropped the toothbrush, and your friend may have gotten sick as a result…or not. You will never know, and any attempt to resolve that uncertainty is a compulsion that will lead to more obsessions.
I encourage you to focus on accepting the existence of unwanted thoughts about having dropped the toothbrush and thoughts about harming your friend. Don’t seek reassurance, don’t make inquiries, don’t seek certainty. This will be difficult at first, but over time you will break the Obsessive Compulsive cycle that feeds your OCD. Take care.
Thanks very much for your articles – very helpful. My reassurance comes in the form of checking if my penis moves around HOCD spikes. I’ve found that when I’m most anxious and observant of my penis moving, it actually does fill withe blood and get slightly bigger (not erection). I know I shouldn’t be checking, but when it’s physical it’s really hard to “shut it out”. The thing is, I am never sexually aroused by these things. I never say, “that turns me on”. I only have that feeling with girls. (i am a male by the way).
First of all, is it all possible that “the more i don’t wan’t to feel my penis move, the more likely that it might move?.” The face that attending to may make it fill with blood?
Second, how can I get over this if it’s a physical thing?
Thank you very much
Checking can occur in a number of ways – physically checking, looking in the mirror, and mentally scanning your body for arousal are all checking, and are all equally counterproductive.
You are partially correct about attending to your penis – the more you attend to anything, the more likely you are to notice things about it that otherwise would have gone unnoticed because they were so lacking in importance. We call this problem “over-attending”, and it is a sure-fire way to make your OCD worse.
For example, if you repeatedly looked at a patch of skin on your arm, you would start noticing minor changes (flaking, discoloration, etc.) that would lead you to think something “important” is going on (i.e., cancer, etc.), when in fact, a certain amount of flaking and discoloration is normal. What you are doing is essentially the same thing – you are checking your penis, and as a result, you are noticing things that are quite normal, but assigning them an unwarranted level of significance. Simply put, penises change and move all the time, and an increase / decrease in blood flow or movement is not particlarly noteworthy. It’s just your penis doing what penises are meant to do.
To address these concerns, I encourage you to mindfully accept whatever your penis is doing, without giving it so much attention and time. Additionally, a reduction or elimination of checking would almost certainly result in a an corresponding reduction in obsessions about your penis. Finally, I encourage you to seek treatment with an OCD specialist. Take care.
Thanks so much! That really does help. I guess I also fear that she might not have just gotten sick but what if she died and it was my fault and I didn’t know. My rational side knows that if she died I would have known (this was just a past acquaintance and I have no idea where she is or even her name for sure) but its that uncertainty. Telling myself to accept the unknown had been helping. I know this is reassurance seeking but would your advice still stand if my fear is that I somehow accidentally killed her with the contaminated toothbrush?
Hi Michelle. When you find yourself repeatedly asking “what if…” about any harm-related issue (in this case, “what if she died”), you are almost certainly obsessing. Regardless of whether that obsession is about possibly causing some unknown harm, or possibly killing your acquaintance, my advice would be the same. In either case, your goal is to tolerate uncertainty, or as you put it, to “accept the unknown”. I encourage you to read our series of articles about Harm OCD.
Hi All ,
I have just been reading through all your comments and i for one can say that OCD is crippling ! every so often i get intrusive thoughts from Sexuality to feeling guilty about something that never happened and even the prospect that people are conspiring against me, i often get told that i should not be reading too much into things which in turn yes is true but for the OCD sufferer its not that simple !! about 4 years ago i had an incident were a girl lied to me about being preganant ever since then i have had paranoid thoughts in my mind that she and her family could be conspiring against me ! Even though i have not seen or spoke to her for over 5 years !! i find myself seeking assurance from friends that everything is ok which they always say to me yes everythings fine but OCD being OCD ( the lying disease makes me feel sick if not worrying about that then i am worrying over HOCD, i have been in a relationship for 4 years from which i am very happy and i love my girlfriend imensely but sometimes i get these thoughts which are saying to me my life is going change and fall from beneath my feet… as much as i try to combat this it gets worse and the paranoia becomes crippling !
Thanks for your comment.
Whether your unwanted thoughts about others potentially hurting / conspiring against you, or about your sexual orientation, the goal is the same – to not over-value the thoughts and to not over-attend to them.
Over-valuing is when you interpret these thoughts as being important and meaningful, rather than as just being irritating. And over-responding in this case is when you ask for reassurance. Let the thoughts be there, but do nothing about them. Think of them as a fly buzzing around your head when you trying read a book or watch tv. Irritating? Absolutely. Important? Not at all.
I think reassurance seeking in scrupulosity, a form of OCD, should be viewed in a slightly different angle. While it may prove counterproductive to seek reassurance most of the time, not seeking to clarify or seek guidance (through self study or pastoral and spiritual guidance) with regard to certain obsessional thoughts or doubts could be harmful rather than helpful. For example, a person with scrupulosity may have such an ultrasensitive conscience that he experiences a sense of condemnation and could mistake it for conviction and also think that he has committed the unpardonable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). Such a person needs assurance that condemnation and guilt is not conviction and that he has not committed blasphemy. Such distorted beliefs should be challenged and countered with the truth that it is not so by providing him evidence from the Word. Failing to do so and holding back the truth by following the rule not to give reassurance could be very harmful. Therefore in situations such as this, I think reassurance should be sought and given.
Thank you for your comment.
I certainly understand your position that reassurance can help people get clarity. But it is important to distinguish between someone without OCD seeking reassurance about something once, and someone with OCD seeking reassurance repeatedly / compulsively. For people with OCD, reassurance-seeking just makes the problem worse. The short-term benefit of reassurance is quickly overcome by more doubt, which leads to more reassurance-seeking about the same issue.
I encourage you to read our series of articles on Scrupulosity. Take care
Thank you all so much for educating and sharing your experiences with ocd. I’ve had ocd all my life .i had symptoms as early as five years of age.i wouldn’t wish this illness on my worse enemy. im 39 and i still suffer every day everything u can think of i worried over it. and just when i tell myself to set it free another worry pops up. i just really want to have peace.people look at me like im crazy when i seek reassurance over and over.to me the thought is going to come true and it is very real .i want to get better as i am on med and going to a therapist. i wonder if the fact that my father was alcohoic and my little girl was molested by her father had made my ocd even worse.please help bless u
Thanks for your comment. I do not know what kind of therapy you are involved in, but I strongly encourage you to work with a treatment provider who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD. Numerous studies have found CBT to be the most effective treatment for OCD, but most therapists are not adequately trained in this approach. Treatment will involve accepting the presence of the unwanted thoughts, and resisting the urge to ask for reassurance. With work, you can make enormous progress fairly quickly.
I have a question about types of obsessions. My first signs/symptoms of OCD occurred when I was 10 or 11 years old. I’ve been on various anti-depressants and been to numerous therapists since age 18. Sadly, I never feel like my pure OCD gets any better. I’ve been able to stop compulsive hand washing, quell blasphemous and sexual thoughts (The book Brain Lock helped me a lot with those) and completely cut out counting rituals. But there’s always something new. After years of fighting a particular obsession, it always seems like another pops up in place of the one I’ve just conquered. For Most of my 20’s, and even until today (i’m 31) I obsess mostly about my relationship with my partner. I can’t stay in a relationship too long because I typically obsess that the person has done something terrible behind my back, or that they really don’t love me. Right now I’m engaged, and the anxiety of the wedding is magnifying my OCD. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about obsessions involving their partners or their lack of trust in them. Sometimes I wonder if there really is something way worse with me because these obsessions about my relationship don’t seem to fit any of the typical categories of OCD obsessions. Do other people obsess about being hurt or lied to by someone close to them and constantly seek reassurance about it?
Thank you for your comment.
Your experience of symptoms changing over time is not unusual – in fact, this is the norm for OCD.
As for your difficulty with your more obsessional symptoms, it sounds like you actually have had a good amount of success in learning to manage blasphemous obsessions and sexual obsessions, both of which fall into the category of “Pure O”. If Brain Lock was helpful with those obsessions, it is worth attempting to apply that approach to other obsessions, including your relationship obsessions.
Also, keep in mind that not all psychological issues are OCD. Your feelings of distrust of romantic partners may not be OCD. That said, you should be able to apply the four step method of Brain Lock to those thoughts as well. That said, research has consistently found that a specific type of CBT known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the most effective approach for treating OCD.
I wonder also if you understand and have come across the difficulty in not checking/reassuring. Because it feels like I’m kidding myself or not being honest because I’m not allowing myself to explore my sexuality? (Even though I’ve never had any excitment about going back with a guy, having a relationship with one, I just can’t get over this question of what if?) I Especially when a lot of the things I’ve read claim HOCD doesn’t exist. Please don’t take this as an insult, the only uncertainly I have that I suffer from HOCD comes from the fact I am suffering from HOCD!
How do you deal with living with the unknown? I think i cause myself a lot of stress about thinking what if etc. It’s been similar with girls, I get really paranoid that they have done bad things and sometimes can’t deal with that unknown.
Sometimes when I get paranoid, upset or emotional I track back to these HOCD intrusive thoughts, why is this?
The “what if…” thinking you mention is at the very core of OCD. But there is no way to answer “what if…” questions that will provide 100% certainty. In fact, 100% certainty doesn’t really exist. The bottom line is that we all could benefit from finding a way to be more comfortable with the unknown, but there is no simple recipe for developing our ability to tolerate uncertainty. To some extent it is a choice one makes, and to some extent it is a skill that one develops and improves upon over time, and with much practice.
I encourage you to seek out treatment with a therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as this is the treatment that will provide you with the most help in managing your “what if..” thinking.
This is a great article. Unfortunately, I am the poster child for reassurance seeking 🙁 I have a question about my current situation and how I regain trust with out reassurance seeking.
Background: I’ve had OCD my entire life. My obsessions/compulsions have changed at various points in my life. They have mostly been about my relationship since I began dating my now husband. Specifically, fear of him being a cheater. Prior to my relationship w/husband, I’ve had 3 relationships, all of which I was cheated on (either physically or emotionally). My dad also cheated on my mom and my uncle cheated on my aunt.
My husband and I have dated 6 years, been married one. He comes from a wonderful family. We have the same values and want the same things from life (loving relationship and family) I married him because he has the qualities I always looked for in a partner. He is always telling me or showing me that he loves me, he is empathetic, patient, tender hearted, and I never questioned his honesty or loyalty because he has always made me feel so safe and secure. My family and friends agree that he is a keeper and the best relationship I’ve had.
Current OCD/Trust situation: 4 months ago he was out of town and left his iPad so we could Skype. I looked through his FB messages to see who he chats with for no other reason than curiosity. I NEVER thought I would see anything to make me uncomfortable. Low and behold, I find 3 flirtatious messages that he had written to 3 different women over the first 3 months we were engaged (2 years ago). Specifically, one was to the ex gf he dated before me, who he always says they had a very unhealthy relationship. Most of their conversation was catching up on life but at one point he told her he saw a pic she posted on instagram and asked if she cut her hair really short. She said no, it was just up for a party but doesn’t it look good? And he replied “Sexy, but I probably shouldn’t say more than that.” Then, a couple hours later, he wrote “Got anymore pics from that night?” She didn’t reply and there was nothing more inappropriate that I saw from that conversation.
The second one was from a month later. It was to an old college friend at 2am on St. Patty’s day and said “This could be the left over beer talking, but wow, you look amazing in your pics on Instagram lately.” A small reply from her like “thanks, feeling great lately” but nothing after that.
Last, was one around the same time to an old friend of his that lives in Greece. They were reminicing about when he lived there too (for an internship after college) and at one point he was like “I was enamored with you then” and she was like “really?” and he was like “yeah, I should have made a move”….then nothing more inappropriate.
These triggered my OCD and made me believe I had married a cheater/liar. I told him how I read them and he was so apologetic, said he was acting stupid/immature, said he never intended anything from them and that at the time he saw it as just innocent flirting. That he always loved me and has never been unhappy in our relationship. I told him that I felt I lost all trust in him, like I didn’t know who he is, or what his character is like. He was devastated. I asked him to come to therapy with me and he did. I asked him to read a book about relationships, he did. I asked him to share all passwords with me, he did. He said he wouldn’t be mad if I ever check because he has nothing to hide. I asked him to unfriend/unfollow his ex, he did. He has literally done everything I’ve asked but I’m having a really hard time getting over it and I think its due to OCD. I want to feel some sort of reassurance that he is a good person and won’t do this again but nothing he says ever reassures me for long enough.
Over the past 4 months, I constantly ask him for various forms of reassurance, and often, they are the same questions over and over again. “are you sure you don’t have a flirting/sex addiction” “How do I know your character is not that one of a cheater/liar,” “what did you mean when you said ___”, “what were you feeling at the time?” “How do I know you won’t do this again?” etc etc etc. He has been very patient with me, answering all of my questions- even though they are often the same, just different formats or wording.
In my mind, I feel like I can’t trust him until I feel reassured that he will never do anything like this again. So my question is, if I can’t get this reassurance, how do you rebuild trust with someone again? Most people have trust because they are pretty sure their partner hasn’t done anything to betray them. What if your partner has and you can’t rely on that? How do you trust that (as my husband says) they made a mistake and that they learned from it and won’t do it again because they never want to lose you. How do you trust if they’ve already done it?
I’m in therapy and so I know that you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling you’ll never know. But if you never know, then how can you build trust?
One therapist (who I have since left) response to this with, “My husband could meet a beautiful women on the street and run off with her to Paris, but I make the choice to trust because I know 1) Its not probable and 2) there is nothing I could do about it. SHE can trust because him because he has never done anything to show it is probable. How can I trust if he has done it once? Doesn’t that make it more probable that he’ll do it again? Or just probable that he will?
I know with CBT deals with addressing people’s irrational fears, but sometimes I feel like CBT won’t help because is the fear of him doing it again irrational if he has done it once? I just really want to trust him again and get back to our normal life with out this interfering/bothering me every.single. day. I’m tired.
Thanks for commenting. That said, this is more material than I feel comfortable addressing in a blog comment with someone I am not treating. I encourage you to discuss these issues with your therapist.
What I can say is that there is a difference between trust and knowledge. Simply put, you do not get to “know” what your husband may do in the future. For all I know, my longtime girlfriend is having sex with someone right now as I type this. If you want to have a relationship with another human being, you will need to let go of your need to know with certainty what that person may or may not ever do.
I really liked this article and today have found myself seeking reassurance. I was diagnosed last summer with OCD/Anxiety which centres mainly on a need for certainty about my relationship but also about other things eg job interviews or new jobs. Simply put I cannot commit to anything long term that I am not 100% sure will be a success.
I have been in my relationship for over 5 years and for half of this it was the best time of my life. Then I started to get some anxiety about how we were going to fill our time on weekends and this led to the question of “Do I love my boyfriend?” This was the worst doubt I could ever have had. It comes and goes in waves – something small like him being really nice will trigger me to think perhaps he is too nice and this has always been the problem and we should split up. Then I get distraught because I don’t want to split up and I run everything through my head constantly. I then have to go to him to reassure myself that I love him. If I don’t feel totally reassured I may ring my sister or mother for the same reassurance. If I don’t get the reassurance I am looking for I get depressed and find it hard to pull myself out of this.
We got engaged two years ago but I can’t bring myself to plan the wedding as every time I try I get hit by anxiety followed by searching obsessions for why it “feels wrong”. This is worse when I am tired or stressed. For example today I came back from a long haul trip away with a girlfriend and hadn’t slept in 24hrs. When I got home I was so happy to see my partner and so sure of our relationship. Then about an hour later he said something that I cannot even remember now and I suddenly felt sick and had to Google “What if he is too nice”. I then had to get him to reassure me that it’s ok and I’m just tired. But after he left I rang my sister for further reassurance.
My fiancé, family and friends all think that we are perfect together but I am plagued by the doubts of “What if they are all wrong?” And that I couldn’t bear to hurt him by leaving him. I do have periods of up to a month at a time when I feel happy and content and I am seeing a therapist for CBT. I just crave the certainty that I used to have – how can I marry someone I am not always certain I wholly love?
What you are describing is a specific sub-type of OCD that is often called Relationship OCD (ROCD). You note that you cannot commit to anything long term that you are not 100% sure will be a success, and question how you can marry someone you are not always certain you wholly love? But nothing in life comes with a 100% guarantee, and if you require absolute certainty, you will never commit to anything. The quest for certainty about relationships is futile, as there is no way to predict how you (or your fiancé) will be or feel in the future.
I encourage you to stop seeking reassurance from others (and from Google), and accept uncertainty as a normal part of life and love.
Hi, My daughter is 10. She has always seemed to have obsessions with one thing or another.It may be an obsession with wanting to buy a swing for the garden or putting her p.js on at set time a long time before bedtime. She constantly wants to know what is happening next rather than enjoying what she is doing at the time.She is always after reassurance about things and then when we answer her question she will ask it again for more reassurance.Does this sound like OCD please? Thanks
Your daughter’s need for reassurance certainly suggests the possibility of OCD, as does her need to put on her PJs at a certain time. That said, kids without OCD often have behavioral quirks and superstitions. And her over-focus on a swing for the garden sounds like a kid being a kid. Ultimately, if you have strong concerns, I encourage you to seek out a consultation with a therapist who specializes in the treatment of children with OCD.
I wanted to thank you for this article. I have been struggling with the constant need for reassurance from my spouse for as long as I can remember. He wants me to just accept the love he gives me, but always feels as if it is not enough when I am constantly wanting reassurance that he wants a future with me. We have been through several storms- 3 deployments (2 Iraq), an affair, 10 months ago our first child was born & only lived 18 hours. Recently my husband decided to take some space to heal himself- so he is in WA, me in TX. Although he says this is temporary, recent life events have only seemed to worsen my fears. I need constant reassurance that he wants me in his future, and isn’t leaving me, or trying to replace me. He wants me to be happy with the love he gives me- he says I am crazy, and that he can’t put up with my constant harassment. I will call/text him nonstop which doesn’t help. I even go the extent of talking to online psychics to seek reassurance- sometimes spending up to $200 a month. Is there a possibility I have OCD? What resources are out there? I go to a therapist and take 450mg Wellbutrin and 0.5 klonopin, but I just seem more angry and emotional now
While your comments could possibly indicate OCD, they more strongly suggest that you are experiencing deep insecurities about your relationship and your self. Either way, I encourage you to alter your behavioral responses to your thoughts about your situation. It appears that repeatedly asking your spouse for reassurance about his feelings for you is creating more problems than it solves, and the same goes or compulsively calling/texting him. And spending even one penny on psychics is a complete waste. I suggest you address your concerns with your therapist, and if your husband is willing, to possibly pursue couples counseling. Take care.
Hi, thank you for your article.
I am currently letting ocd effect my marriage, constantly seeking reassurance from my wife that she’s not cheating, not interested in anyone, going to stay with me etc etc.
I know that reassurance is only short lived, there’s always another thought around the corner.
I’ve always had ocd in one form or another but about a month ago I saw some messages on my wife’s Facebook to her colleague where he was being flirtatious to my wife, she wasn’t being flirtatious back just polite back to him.
Thing is she told me about this months ago, but actually seeing the messages in person made my ocd focus on our relationship.
My wife has been patient with me and given me reassurances but it’s taking its toll and wearing her down.
I just want to get rid of this sick feeling in my stomach and be at ease with the intrusive thoughts I get.
I really want to be at ease with things, I constantly ruminate and it gets to the point where I feel like I’m actually going mad and lose all sense of what’s real and what’s not.
As you note, reassurance-seeking provides only short-term relief. So step number one is to stop seeking reassurance. A better solution is not assume your thoughts deserve a response.
You will ultimately experience far more peace of mind if you accept uncertainty. That means no reassurance seeking, and no checking Facebook for her posts or the posts of others related to her.
I have been diagnosed with OCD, I don’t know if what I’m experiencing now is considered OCD but I am constantly feeling anxiety. I’m terrified that I’m going to get so anxious or depressed that I will give up and stop taking care of myself and my children. Or worse. I constantly question everything I think and feel. Even benign thoughts cause me anxiety. I can’t tell what is normal and what is not anymore. I have such a fear of depression that I have researched it so much. So anytime I get a negative thought or feeling I argue with it so I don’t get depressed. Ive questioned everything so much that I don’t know how I really feel about anything or anyone anymore. I try to just accept the things I think and feel but I can’t stop thinking about it. I spend a lot of time on the internet trying to figure out what is the root of my anxiety, what my compulsions would be and what I can do to fix it all but I just can’t figure it out. I have read so many self help books and workbooks. No OCD specialist accepts my insurance and I can’t afford to pay out of pocket. I don’t know what else to do. I’m truly suffering every second of everyday and I’m exhausted. 🙁
Based on the symptoms that you describe, I cannot say with certainty that you have OCD (though you might). The best first step would be to seek out an assessment from a therapist who specializes in treating OCD. Simply put, spending “a lot of time on the internet trying to figure out what is the root” of your anxiety is no substitute for a professional assessment. Furthermore, there is a good chance that your internet searching is actually making your anxiety worse.
If you would like to discuss our sliding scale online treatment program, please contact our client coordinator at the phone number on our website.
Great article, i have find myself in it. Sorry for my bad English, I am from Europe. I am checking my body all the time. Like I find some relative bigger birthmark and my brain tells me, hmm that birthmark is quite big and then I am checking till I get the confirmation from my brain that it is not big or bigger. And then I am trying to forget about it for one maybe two days but then again, my brain: Just a quick check if that birthmark is bigger, and I touch it, then again and again, searching for a feeling that its not bigger than last time.
Or I imagine someone in specific situation for example if my girfriend is at the party and there is some guy and what will she do, I am imaging that situation again and again till I get feeling that Ok, she wont be interested in him. And when I get that ok feeling I can finish but then there are other things again. Its really hard to ignore some toughts and I dont know what else should I do, even if i manage to ignore, then in a few day that tought just become stronger and stronger till I begin to think about it.
Checking, whether physical checking or mental checking, is counter-productive. All of the checking in the world will not alter the size of a birthmark or whether your girlfriend likes another guy. However, all that checking will make you miserable.
Yes, when you ignore thoughts, they may return. To which I say…“so what”. The problem is not your thoughts but your valuing them as important. Let your thoughts come and go as they please, without nalaysing them, or checking them, or over-valuing them. They are just thoughts in your head, and not particularly important.
Hi i want to know if i have ocd or not.while writing my exam i suddenly realised i have written my seat no properly or not.but the examiner assured me yes it is written. While coming home i had all thought what will happen.i started calling university people and asking the same question over and over again what if i forgot to write or if written wrong seat no what remark i will get.i got the answer it will be remarked as absent.but i dont know what hapen my mind was not accepting the answer.and keepsnon calling for reassuarance.why the word absent makes me afraid
While I cannot provide a diagnosis via this blog comment, I can say that the symptoms you describe sound very much like OCD. You note a specific “what if…” obsession that causes you distress, followed by compulsive seeking of reassurance that the feared event (listing the wrong set number) has not occurred, followed by a return of the obsession. This all sounds like OCD to me.
Thanks for the article and for taking the time to respond to all these comments!
I’m a bit confused about the relation between mindfulness and reassurance. Sometimes mindful acceptance is accompanied by what seem like reassuring statements, such as, “This is only a thought/feeling/etc. It’s not important or meaningful”. ACT might call this defusion, but is it compulsive reassurance? If so, what is the non-compulsive way to mindfully accept?
You note a common area of controversy in the treatment of OCD. There are some hardcore behavioral therapists who would argue that one should never provide any self-reassurance – that OCD sufferers should just gut it out. Our position is much more open to mindfulness and acceptance strategies such as ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), with the goal of integrating these principles into CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
It is worth noting that people without OCD provide non-compulsive self-reassurance on a regular basis. It is a normal way of responding to issues that appear in one’s life. The only time it becomes a problem is if it becomes compulsive. Reminding yourself one time that “This is just a thought/feeling, and it’s not particularly meaningful or worthy of any response” is fine, so long it does not become a compulsive response one employs in an effort to eliminate discomfort. In the context I am describing, it is just re-framing the unwanted thought in a realistic, non-distorted way.
To learn more about integrating mindfulness with CBT, please go to our page on this topic at https://ocdla.com/mindfulness-cbt-ocd-anxiety/.
I’m hoping you can provide some input (and thanks for being so responsive to comments): I recently was diagnosed with ADHD after a long history of disorganization, distractibility, etc. I was intelligent enough to get by on good test grades; however, parents and teachers saw me as willfully obstinate or lazy. I developed significant social avoidance, particularly with authority figures. I was also anxiety-prone, structure-seeking, and somewhat rigid as a child — I couldn’t organize myself, but looked for structure/patterns in the environment.
Now I am not sure when to seek guidance. Intelligence seems to mean to others that I should be able to figure things out on my own. To me, everything is complicated, nuanced, and interrelated. Depending on context, almost anything can be argued for — which leads to substantial doubt and anxiety. As to whether it is pathological…? I’m not aware of any probable obsessions.
I got an assessment from an ADHD specialist. Do I need more assessment? From an OCD specialist? Aspergers specialist? If you specialize in hammers, won’t you see nails in everything? And no one has the time to specialize in everything…
Thanks in advance…
You note that you do not have any identifiable obsessions, and that you have a diagnosis of ADHD. As such, I see no reason for you to have an assessment for OCD. Not all doubt/anxiety is OCD.
If you have concerns about your diagnosis being accurate, I encourage you to have a full battery of psych tests from a psychologist who specializes in testing (as opposed to specializing in a given disorder).
This is by far the best article I’ve seen regarding OCD because I really feel like I can relate to it. I think that I suffer from a religious OCD or Intrusive Thoughts because I keep searching online for evidence or answers about my own religion and a certain ideology I am obsessed with thinking that they might be right which means I will go to hell, if I didn’t join them even though I know it’s the most evil and barbaric ideology I’ve ever known. I am not sure if this is OCD or am I losing my faith. It’s been more than 4 years.
Everything you wrote sounds like OCD to me.
I have OCD and I understand the whole reassurance thing. I have a problem with checking things over and over again.
What I can’t get my head around is why, when I am looking directly at something, can’t I see that it’s off?
It’s as though I’m not believing what I’m seeing and I need to keep checking. That just doesn’t make sense to me at all.
I would love an answer to this.
You DO see that the thing you are checking is off – you simply doubt what you have seen. As you note, it’s as though you aren’t believing what you see.
You ask “why”, and the answer is simple – because you have OCD. This is what OCD does – it makes one doubt. That is why it is often called “the doubting disease”.
Don’t waste your time looking for an answer that is any more profound than that.
I’ve had anxiety, depression, and OCD for a long time. It has grown worse over the years. I’m not exactly sure what my OCD would be classified as. From what I’ve studied and read probably scrupulosity. It started when I thought I had to confess every single detail of every sin. If I forgot a detail, I was somehow dishonest and I would alway go back and go over the details in depth again. I am obsessed with investigating myself. Always paranoid that I’ve been dishonest, fraudulent, etc… Constantly forcing myself to remember my intentions, and perceptions, from things as much as 28 years in the past. It’s maddening. I will sit in my closet and think everything through over and over until I have peace. Like solving a rubix cube, it must all fit. How can I be sure I’ve been 100% honest? Now it’s taking its toll on my marriage. I’m always looking for reassurance from my poor spouse and mostly for the same things maybe just with a different angle or a new detail I’ve remembered. I am obsessed with details, obsessed with honesty, obsessed with my past. I also HATE knowing things about other people because I take the guilt upon myself.
Yes, from what you describe, it sounds like you are struggling with Scrupulosity. I encourage you to read our article on this topic at https://ocdla.com/scrupulosity-ocd-religion-faith-belief-2107/. You may also want to read our article on Moral Scrupulosity, which focuses on non-religious aspects of Scrupulosity, such as obsessive concerns related to being honest.
“Thinking everything through” and forcing yourself to remember events from 28 years ago are compulsions that will only worsen your OCD. Likewise, asking your spouse for reassurance is a compulsion that will have the same effect.
I have a couple of questions I hope you can provide answers for.
First, I once had a counsellor tell me to just check something once. I remember laughing at that comment. I would like to know however if there is real truth in that. You said that ocd causes me to doubt what I see with my own eyes but I wonder if I started setting limits on how often I check something it would help. Could I eventually get down to just checking something once?
I also wanted to ask you about fear. When I check something over and over again, I realise that I have a fear of what the consequences might be if I don’t check over and over. If I reduce or get rid of the fear, does that mean that the ocd disappears?
You have it backwards – trying to get rid of fear before reducing your checking is unlikely to work. However eliminating the checking will help you reduce your fear. At first you may be more fearful, but this will almost certainly pass as you see that nothing catastrophic occurs when you don’t check. I encourage you to read our article on exposure for more of an explanation of how changing your behavior will help you become less anxious.
I have a few questions.
My sister developed severe OCD in her early teens and started asking for reassurance from all of the family and her closest friend.
It eventually turned into lengthy rituals with series of questions that had to be answered correctly. It could take hours to get through.
My parents sought help from professionals who were adamant that we stop participating in the rituals, but my parents always gave up and would not let me or my other sister keep with it.
Being a rebellious teenager I eventually decided to stick with it despite what my parents said and I did so through punishment, threats of violence and actual violence from both my parents and my afflicted sister. I still wonder if this was the right thing to do?
My sister got better as soon as she went away to boarding school, but relapsed every time she came home. Even though she is much better today she still obsesses over things and hates me for refusing to participate in her rituals when we were younger. I have apologized, but she simply can’t let it go and blames me for her disorder getting so bad. I really want to be friends with my sister again and I don’t know what to do.
Unfortunately, family members often capitulate to the demands of the individual struggling with OCD. While this provides short-term relief, it worsens the OCD over the long-term. Your sister may be angry with you, but rest assured you did the right thing by not providing her with reassurance or otherwise playing into her OCD. Your sister getting over her anger at you is her responsibility, not your’s.
I have had ocd for over 20 years and have managed to overcome a lot of compulsions and intrusive thoughts, however i am struggling with googling my thoughts and asking for reassurance, i will often get a weird thought in my head in the form of a question which i feel i must ask about or get an answer to it or i get extreme anxiety by not knowing something for certain. Or sometimes even saying them out loud to get them out of my head helps them go away. Can this be overcome? Please
Seeking reassurance is one of the four main ways in which people with OCD do compulsions. And the question that you feel you must ask about or get an answer to” is a very common reassurance issue. The solution is to accept the presence of the question without seeking an answer. While this may at first be incredibly anxiety provoking, over time you will discover that this form of exposure is the key to beating OCD. To get a better idea of how exposure works for reassurance seeking and all other forms of compulsions, I encourage you to read our article on exposure for OCD.
Hi my son has ocd and seeks reassurance he looks for things like serial killers or historical events such as 911 on the internet or if no access in books or really loose connections like numbers on the clock and he thinks he has laughed or been disrespectful he will then come to me and say sorry, sorry for laughing sorry for looking miserable sorry for buping slurping and every body function you can imagine. This goes on repeatedly the whole day. He also has mild learning difficulties and Autsim. Can we do anything to help him he has had this for the past 2 years prior to that was contamination fears and handwashing but this for him and us is far worse. He thinks if he doesnt get the reassurance then something bad will happen he explains it as a failure or illness or spirits will put a curse on him. So far nothing has helped no psychologists or cbt has worked. When he comes to me im his mum I say its ok is your ocd you dont need to say sorry. He says ok then in the next breath says sorry until I give the reassuarnce. We are lost to help him
Unfortunately, treatment for OCD gets far more complicated when a person also struggles with Autism. My best suggestion is to seek treatment for your son with a therapist who specializes in treating Autism.
Thank you for this post, it was very helpful. I am struggling terribly with a partner with OCD. He is constantly interrogating and flying into rages over relationships or dates that ended as long as seven years ago. We have been together over a year, and were incredibly happy until about 6 months ago when a stressful event sent us downhill. He will blow up, and then a day or so later tell me that he is sorry or was wrong or knows it is illogical. And then something will trigger another ride on the merry-go-round (he’ll find an old message online, or a card I forgot to throw away from years ago, or we’ll see one of my exes out & about) and he’ll lose all perspective – thinking again that this is terribly crucial information that he must have to confirm something about my character.
I’ve read Brain Lock (and encouraged him to do the same) and think the four steps could be tremendously useful. However, how do you get someone past Step 2 when they can’t recognize how illogical they are being? I want to help, and I want my relationship to work, but I cannot allow myself to be yelled at, belittled and manipulated anymore. My dearest wish is to have my old boyfriend back.
Your boyfriend may have OCD, but there is nothing in your comment to support this idea. Interrogating you, raging at you, belittling you, and manipulating you are not signs of OCD – they are signs of being an asshole. You say you “cannot allow” this behavior, yet you are doing just that. So while he may have OCD, it seems to me that you have bigger issues in this relationship.
I strongly encourage you to think long and hard about what you are getting from this relationship that is leading you to stay with a man who treats you badly. You are entitled to have a past whether he likes it or not, and if he cannot accept your past, you are in for a lot of misery so long as you stay with him.
I am 36 yo male. 2 months ago I noticed a small white growth (omg) in my throat and I went to 2 ENT’s told me its a papilloma and I can choose to remove it or leave it be as treatment is not medically necessary.
I chose to remove it because I couldn’t stop looking at it and the biopsy confirmed its a squamous papilloma most often associated with HPV.
Two days after having it surgically removed I went to a gynaecologist to do oral HPV PCR test to see which type I had. I wanted to know if I had a low risk or high risk strain to see if I’m heading straight for cancer (HPV-16).
Unfortunately the test came back negative and I have no idea what to think. Does this mean the virus went dormant? Is it going to “wake up” in 10 years and kill me with throat cancer?
I read online there is a steep climb of throat cancers and I fit the profile: white, between 40-55, none smoking or drinking.
I have severe anxiety and depression over this and worried sick I’m heading straight for cancer. How come the test came out negative if 2 days earlier I had a wart that is known to be caused by HPV?
These questions haunt me for weeks and there is no answer for this.
Allow me to note that you wrote the following:
“Unfortunately the test came back negative.”
For anyone but someone with Health Anxiety (also known as Hypochondria), negative test results for an illness or disease would be considered wonderful news. But for those with Hypochondria, disease feels like less of a problem than tolerating the uncertainty that comes with their Health Anxiety.
I encourage you to read the page of our website on Hypochondria. Other than that, I encourage you to discuss your medical concerns with your physician.
First, thank you for your article and for your kind, generous and thoughtful responses to reader questions.
I’m struggling with harm OCD. I have a written series of statements that I go through each day, along the lines of, “I didn’t cause this, I don’t want this, OCD is a liar, your brain is screwed, you’ve got a mental illness” etc.
Is this approach likely to be of any benefit, or is it just another form of counterproductive reassurance?
Having the ability to recognize that your OCD is just lying to you is great. Along these lines, I encourage you to read our article “OCD is Fake News”. However, that said, having a written list of reassurance seeking statements that you go through each day sounds like the perfect example of a compulsion. I encourage you to read our article Reassurance Seeking in OCD and Anxiety, and to stop reading this list of statements. A better option is to accept the presence of your unwanted thoughts and to not respond with any compulsive behaviors.
I am 36. At this moment I am in a spike…trying to find reassurance from my mother on an episode that happened when I was 16. I am almost sure about what really happened but I am so urged to ask my mother because my OCD has planted the doubt and I no longer trust my own recollection of the facts. I keep replaying over and over again the episode, trying to remember as much as I can, so much that my head and my eyes are in pain. I feel the impulse to ask her, but at the same time I am so scared that she would confirm exactly what my OCD is telling me which would be really devastating for me. So basically, I am urged to find reassurance but at the same time I am so so scared that by asking my OCD thoughts would become real for anything that my mom may say. Is it possible that you may want to find reassurance but at the same time the fear of a possible unwanted answer would prevent you to ask?… At the same time, I have this thought: What if your mom dies tomorrow? you better ask her now” and that makes me feel more anxious.
Thank you for reading me and hopefully you will reply to my message.
You ask: “Is it possible that you may want to find reassurance but at the same time the fear of a possible unwanted answer would prevent you to ask?”
In a word, yes. In fact this is quite common for people with all variants of OCD.
Reassurance never works. And even if you got reassurance, it would be short-lived. Your mind would soon come up with the unquenchable desire for yet more reassurance.
Thank you for another lovely article! Reassurance seeking is my biggest compulsion along with rumination. When my ROCD was at it’s peak i’d go online to relationship quizzes, love songs, remind myself that it’s okay and it’s not my disorder if i’m worrying too much. Then with HOCD i’d reassure myself by remembering my boy fantasies and trying to remember times i’ve felt in love and happy with my boyfriend, before and during ROCD. But then OCD got it’s way with me again. So yeah, really trying to break that compulsion because i seem to do it without noticing at times.
Reassurance never works.
I was diagnosed with OCD a few years ago. My symptoms are mostly mild and will ebb and flow. I mostly struggle with Scrupulosity, ROCD, HOCD, and Harm OCD. I was wondering if there is such things as compulsively asking God for reassurance. For example, the last few relationships I have been in I would frequently ask God if I was in “the right relationship”. Sometimes I’d feel good and sometimes I wouldn’t but the need to ask again and again and again would always come. In my faith receiving revelation is a big thing but I was just curious what your thoughts are.
You ask for my thoughts on this, so here goes.
This sounds like nothing more than a compulsive attempt to get reassurance that you are in the correct relationship. It doesn’t matter if you are asking your self, your friends, your family, God, or whatever.
I encourage you to read our article on reassurance seeking in OCD at https://ocdla.com/reassurance-seeking-ocd-anxiety-1952.
I’ve told by a psychiatrist that I have ocd & perfectionist personality.
Regarding reassurance seeking, I have some question. If I have doubts like “whether this act belongs to sin or not according to my religion”, do I have to resist asking about that to a religious leader – so that my ocd won’t be bigger?
Asking for reassurance about religious topics is no different than asking for reassurance about non-religious topics. If you are a religious person (and reading your comment here, I am guessing that you are), then you likely have a pretty good grasp on what is a “sin” in your religion, and you don’t need some external authority to tell you what acts are sinful. In other words, asking for reassurance is just a compulsion that will make things worse, not better.
I encourage you to read our article about religious scrupulosity at https://ocdla.com/scrupulosity-ocd-religion-faith-belief-2107
Does/can OCD cause a person to interpret something they have done or said to be worse then what it actually was? I have found at times when I have seeked reassurance, I have added details and twists to what I was concerned about. I would present my question as a worst case scenario in an attempt to be “certain” that even if my worst fear about the situation actually happened, I am still okay, or not evil, etc. As a basic example, Even though I did “x”, my OCD said it was “y”, so when seeking reassurance, I presented the scenario as “y” in an attempt to be absolutely sure. Is this unique to me? Can anyone relate to this?
This is not unique to you. Many people with OCD analyze their unwanted thoughts from many different angles in an attempt to get certainty that the thoughts are not reflective of a hidden impulse buried deep inside their psyche. This analysis is compulsive, and just makes the OCD worse. There really is no such thing as being “absolutely sure”.