OCD Center of Los Angeles California
OCD Center of Los Angeles

Reassurance Seeking in OCD and Anxiety

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    

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.

Mindfulness Workshop in Los Angeles ideal for OCD and anxietyConcurrently, 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, Mindfulness Workbook for OCDyour 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 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.

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42 Comments to Reassurance Seeking in OCD and Anxiety

  1. 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.

  2. Shannon Armitage on February 3rd, 2010
  3. 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.

  4. Christian Jansen-Yee, PsyD on February 3rd, 2010
  5. 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!

  6. Carolyn Nowakowski, Psy.D. on February 4th, 2010
  7. 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”).

  8. Anna Larsen, MS, ALMFT on February 5th, 2010
  9. Hi Shannon,

    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.

  10. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2010
  11. Hi Christian,

    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.

  12. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2010
  13. Hi Carolyn,

    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.

  14. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2010
  15. Hi Anna,

    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.

  16. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2010
  17. Hi everyone

    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.

  18. Sileh on February 7th, 2010
  19. 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.

  20. Ann Kirlin, PsyD on January 26th, 2011
  21. 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.
    Thank You
    Dana

  22. Dana on January 27th, 2011
  23. 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?”

  24. David on April 20th, 2011
  25. 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.

  26. OCD Center of Los Angeles on April 27th, 2011
  27. 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.

  28. Cheryl King, on July 11th, 2011
  29. 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 got cognitive behavioral treatment, then you would be able to educate your husband and enlist his support in your effort to stop the compulsive reassurance.

  30. OCD Center of Los Angeles on July 14th, 2011
  31. 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

  32. Daemon on July 15th, 2011
  33. Daemon,

    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.

    My recommendation is that you seek treatment for your ocd. If there is no one trained in doing cognitive behavioral therapy for ocd where you live, you might seek treatment online elsewhere. The therapists at the OCD Center of Los Angeles often do 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. I think a good book for you to start with would be Freedom From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson.

  34. OCD Center of Los Angeles on July 21st, 2011
  35. Thank you.

  36. Dana Secreti on August 13th, 2011
  37. 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.

    thank you.

  38. E.T. on August 13th, 2011
  39. 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!

  40. A.D on November 22nd, 2011
  41. 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.

  42. Piper on October 16th, 2012
  43. Piper – Thanks for your comments. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD using CBT. Take care.

  44. OCD Center of Los Angeles on October 19th, 2012
  45. 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.

  46. allygory on January 30th, 2013
  47. Allygory,

    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.

  48. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2013
  49. 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.

  50. Michelle on April 24th, 2013
  51. Hello,

    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

  52. Mitchel on April 24th, 2013
  53. Hi Michelle,

    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 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.

  54. OCD Center of Los Angeles on April 24th, 2013
  55. Hi Mitchel,

    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 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.

  56. OCD Center of Los Angeles on April 24th, 2013
  57. 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?

  58. Michelle on April 25th, 2013
  59. 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”.

  60. OCD Center of Los Angeles on April 26th, 2013
  61. 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 !

  62. Marc on May 27th, 2013
  63. Hi Marc,

    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.

  64. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on May 31st, 2013
  65. 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.

  66. Joseph Rene on August 21st, 2013
  67. Hi Joseph,

    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.

    It sounds like you may have a particular interest in Scrupulosity. I encourage you to read our article on Scrupulosity at http://www.ocdla.com/blog/scrupulosity-ocd-religion-faith-belief-2107. Take care

  68. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on August 21st, 2013
  69. 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

  70. amy on February 10th, 2014
  71. Hi Amy,

    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.

  72. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 11th, 2014
  73. 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?

  74. Melanie on March 14th, 2014
  75. Hi Melanie,

    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 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.

  76. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on March 31st, 2014
  77. Hello,
    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?

    Thanks

  78. John on August 2nd, 2014
  79. Hi John,

    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.

    Take care.

  80. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on August 5th, 2014
  81. Hi,
    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.

  82. Andie on October 31st, 2014
  83. Hi Andie,

    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.

  84. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on November 2nd, 2014

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