Seeking Reassurance In Recovery and Breaking The Cycle

When dealing with an anxiety disorder we often talk about why seeking reassurance again and again is counterproductive and can make things worse. But why is this? And is there any time where seeking assurance is OK? Let’s answer these two questions, and look at ways to start breaking the cycle of reassurance seeking, in this week’s podcast episode.

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The Highlights

  • It is important that we recognize the difference between repetitive reassurance seeking, which is maladaptive and counterproductive, and productive assurance seeking, which is vital especially at the start of your anxiety and recovery journey.
  • Seeking assurance and using it productively helps educate, inform, and place us on firmer footing when we are lost and confused. We need it early on. The early stages of effective therapy for anxiety disorders is based heavily on psychoeducation, which is a form of productive assurance.
  • Not every question you hear from an anxious person is automatically unproductive reassurance seeking. Understanding where a person is along the path to recovery and what they know and don’t know already is important before shutting someone down and telling them to stop seeking reassurance.  This is a common thing in online support circles that needs to be addressed.
  • Productive assurance becomes unproductive and maladaptive when it becomes repetitive, increases in frequency, covers the same topics and questions over and over, and becomes a default coping strategy.
  • From a human standpoint, when trying to be kind and compassionate to others, telling someone in distress that they are going to be OK seems like the right thing to do. We want to help.  Often, it is the right thing to do!  We just have to be mindful of when we’re doing it – or asking for it ourselves – again and again without end.  That’s when an attempt at kindness can accidentally flip and keep someone stuck. This is when asking to be soothed on demand seems like the right move, but makes things worse for us.
  • Continual reassurance seeking never ends because an anxious brain will keep asking for more.  What seems like a good coping strategy becomes disruptive and sometimes damaging not only in our recovery progress but in our relationships as our support people can be worn down and not understanding why the words they keep saying don’t “stick”.
  • Relying on reassurance as a default coping strategy for easing your distress doesn’t allow you to learn the core lessons of recovery. You never get the chance to navigate through discomfort, anxiety or distress to learn that you can handle them on your own.
  • It’s hard to stop asking for reassurance!  Naturally you want to be soothed immediately when you are afraid or in a state of distress. We don’t get to just stop that habit dead in its track.  Often we have to make a plan that involves our support people and support systems, changing the way we interact with them and how we use or rely on them.
  • This may involve sitting down to discuss how interactions need to change, shifting from soothing words to encouraging words that encourage navigation through discomfort.
  • It’s also hard to stop giving reassurance.  We want to be kind and supportive.  Withholding soothing words can feel cruel at times, or wrong. This is why being part of the recovering person’s deal and understanding the new parameters of what constitutes support really matters.
  • Expect that when breaking the reassurance seeking habit, emotions might run high. There can be anger and accusations of abandonment or unsupportiveness. That can lead to resentment and argument at times.  Remember that this can be an emotionally charged shift, expect it, and do not let things get out of control or fester.  Return to the principles at play and talk it out whenever possible.
  • Breaking the reassurance habit and cycle is difficult but very rewarding in the end. It can help us found our strength and our power. It helps us build a sense of competence and self-efficacy. The happy side effect there is that when we break the reassurance seeking habit we can ease some of the burden on our relationships and and bring things closer to a “normal” state again.



Here Are A Few Links That Might Be Of Interest

The Selfish Nature of Disordered Anxiety

“Needing To Know For Sure” by Sally Winston and Martin Seif

Dr Sally Winston on Why Reassurance Is Not The Way

What Does Your Anxiety Support System Look Like?


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.