OCD Living With OCD OCD and Excessive Reassurance Seeking Providing reassurance to someone with OCD can make the issue worse By Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 02, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSW Medically reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print laflor/Getty Images One of the things that family and friends of people affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) find to be the most stressful when interacting with their loved one is the excessive reassurance-seeking that can often accompany the condition. Excessive reassurance seeking is the need to check in with someone over and over again to make sure everything is OK with respect to a particular worry or obsession. While responding may seem supportive, it only serves to perpetuate OCD behaviors and thoughts. Excessive Reassurance Seeking Examples Excessive reassurance seeking is a compulsive act done in hopes of reducing the anxiety associated with an obsession. The compulsion often goes up when levels of distress are high and/or when the person feels unable to tolerate uncertainty. What people feel the need to be reassured about varies, but there are often consistent themes for each individual. Running through a few hypothetical examples can help illustrate the various forms this tendency can take and how those around people with OCD may respond. Safety Paola experiences obsessions related to hitting someone while driving her car and not realizing it. When on the road, she asks her husband to look in the rearview mirror over and over again to make sure that pedestrians are safe. Although annoyed, her husband does not want her to feel anxious, so he does as asked and tells her everything is OK. Sexual Thoughts Jake has sexual obsessions related to sexually assaulting a stranger. Even though Jake finds these thoughts distressing and does not want to have them, he is convinced these thoughts mean that he is a molester. He is constantly asking his brother whether that is true and whether he has ever seen him harm someone in this way. His brother refuses to discuss the issue, which causes Jake to become even more distressed. Health Donna is extremely worried that she will contract a sexually transmitted disease from doorknobs in public places. After washing her hands, she will often ask a friend, or even a stranger if her anxiety is high enough, whether her hands look clean or whether she should be worried about contracting an illness. Even if they tell her that she shouldn't be worried, she asks a number of "what if" questions until she feels completely confident that her hands are clean. Friends and family now avoid going with her to public places because of her behavior. Death Zhang has obsessions related to his spouse dying in an accident. He will often call her many times a day at work to make sure she is alive and will sometimes become angry if he is unable to speak with her. His wife's coworkers have started to become concerned about the number of times he calls her at the office, and she is worried about the impact of this behavior on her career. When Excessive Reassurance Backfires No doubt, if you cater to someone's excessive reassurance-seeking, your intentions are probably in the right place. It can be difficult to watch someone, especially someone you love, struggle in such a way, so your inclination may be to simply give them what they seemingly need to feel better. However, in the end, your efforts are likely only hardening the hold OCD has on them. It can also end up having a negative effect on you. Excessive reassurance seeking can result in the following unwanted results: Harms relationships: Friends and family members, who are often vital sources of social support, often become annoyed and withdraw from the affected person, which only serves to raise stress levels for all parties. Of course, stress is a major trigger of OCD symptoms and needs to be managed effectively. Promotes avoidance: It also reinforces the idea that the person cannot cope with the uncertainty or distress associated with an obsession, and that avoidance is the only way to deal with it. Avoidance is particularly harmful in the case of OCD as it keeps the person from discovering that their fears may be unfounded. Validates the obsession: Every time someone with OCD engages in a compulsion, it serves to reinforce the validity of the worry or obsession. After all, why seek reassurance if there is nothing to worry about? Although excessive reassurance makes the person feel better in the short-term, in the long-term it only serves to perpetuate the symptoms of OCD. How to Provide Helpful Support Understanding that excessive reassurance-seeking is a compulsion that needs to be reduced or eliminated is the first step. This can often be done very effectively in family meetings facilitated by a mental health care provider or OCD therapist. Broadly speaking, there are two key strategies to keep in mind: Agree to Stop In the context of OCD treatment, patients, family, and friends alike must agree that asking for/providing excessive reassurance needs to stop. This can be difficult for everyone. However, once family members realize that excessive reassurance-seeking is a form of compulsion, many are able to commit to this. Target the Main Issues It is often helpful for those with OCD and their family members to identify a number of situations in which the need for excessive reassurance arises and write down the response the individual typically seeks (such as "your hands are clean and disease-free") on a card. They can then agree to pull out the card and read it whenever they would otherwise directly ask someone for the answer. While this still represents a compulsion, it reduces distress within the family and improves relationships with others. With respect to reducing the reassurance-seeking itself, one of the most effective strategies can be to teach your loved one with OCD strategies for dealing with uncertainty. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Osborne DWS, Williams CJ. Excessive reassurance-seeking. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2013;19(6):420-421. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.111.009761 Abe K, Nakashima K. Excessive-reassurance seeking and mental health: Interpersonal networks for emotion regulation. Curr Psychol. Published online August 4, 2020. doi:10.1007/s12144-020-00955-2 Additional Reading Osborne DWS, Williams CJ. Excessive reassurance-seeking. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2013;19(6):420-421. doi: 10.1192/apt.bp.111.009761. By Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for OCD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.