Tag: <span>Reassurance</span>

When Reassurance Backfires Uncategorized

When Reassurance Backfires

Does this look good? Read this for me, does it sound okay? Is it too harsh? I have this weird sensation in my leg, what do you think it is? Should I get it checked out? Did I do that okay? Was I awkward?  If this sounds like you, let’s have a chat about what impact the reassurance you receive is actually having on you.

You probably assume that the reassurance you’re seeking from others is helpful in some way. It answers questions you’re unsure of, helps you feel more confident, decreases unpleasant emotions, and provides you with relief. But, how often does that confidence, certainty, and relief last? Not very long, most likely. And why did you feel like you needed it in the first place?

Getting stuck in this cycle of feeling like we need reassurance from others, causes us to lose trust in our decisions and ourselves. We, then, begin convincing ourselves that we need this reassurance from others to move forward. When we look at this from a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) perspective, it’s easy to see how this could be problematic. We experience a situation; this situation leaves us with uncertainty about it or the outcome of it (thought component); we feel uncomfortable/distress about this uncertainty (feeling/emotional component); we seek reassurance from others (behavioral component). Then, once we seek reassurance and someone gives us the “answer,” our level of distress or discomfort decreases and we experience relief. This actually reinforces the idea that we need to seek reassurance from other people. That reassurance took away our distress and provided us with some degree of certainty. Because our need for reassurance has been strengthened, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation (uncertain and uncomfortable), we are more likely to seek reassurance again.  Thus, not allowing us to trust our own judgment and abilities to manage the situation, and encourages us to avoid any discomfort.

Let’s use an example: I’m writing an email to another professional. I’ve read it a few times, but I’m not sure if it sounds good enough or if I missed a small mistake. I’m nervous about sending it, so I ask someone to proofread it to make sure I didn’t make any typos and I communicated clearly and professionally. They agree and provide me with the reassurance that it sounds good and I can send it. I feel better because someone else checked my work and said it was okay. The next time I have to send a similar email, I’ll probably ask someone to check it for me.  Why?  Well, I’m beginning to convince myself that the only reason I didn’t have typos and it sounded good enough was because someone else looked it over. I also don’t think I can handle the discomfort/distress of sending it without getting it checked! What happens if I miss a typo? What will they think? What if it’s not professional? All of these questions are flying through my mind and I can easily fix it by asking someone else! So, why not?

Learning how to manage these questions and uncertainties is a key skill to navigating so many areas of our lives! It’s important to move away from this need for immediate relief and figure out how we can handle some of these questions on our own.  Sometimes, this means we don’t get an answer and have to sit in uncertainty and discomfort. The other thing that reassurance can “do for us” is teach us that we cannot handle making a mistake, sounding unprofessional, saying something harsh, etc. Simply put…that’s not true! We can cope with these situations, but constantly avoiding them via reassurance will not bolster our confidence, it does just the opposite!  Think about all the uncertainties we sit with on a daily basis.  We can’t be certain that our day will go as planned, if we’ll spill something on ourselves, if something happens that causes us to be late, if someone gets sick, if we get into an accident, if we get a distressing phone call, and so many more!  If we’re able to sit with uncertainty for so much of our day, then why do we convince ourselves that we can’t manage in these other very specific situations?  Also, when these more routine uncertainties and uncomfortable situations do arise, we move into problem-solving mode and figure out how to get things done and work through them.  We cope with that unknown and as a result, we build confidence in ourselves.

I’m not discounting that there is a time and a place for reassurance. However, when it’s overused and a “go-to,” it becomes problematic. It’s not easy to change the way we typically respond to uncertainties that bother us, but it is absolutely possible. The end goals are to learn how to tolerate not knowing, cope with whatever happens, and learn how to trust ourselves again and those are all amazing outcomes.  So, the next time you feel the need to seek reassurance, try to approach the situation on your own and see what happens!