The Reassurance Seeking / Anxiety Trap

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Reassurance seeking is a common pattern in clients with high worry (e.g. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Health Anxiety, Attachment/Relationship anxiety)

The “Reassurance Seeking / Anxiety Trap” is that reassurance often works in the short term but then wears off, so you seek more. Excessive reassurance seeking fuels high levels of future worrying and a sense of needing to do even more reassurance seeking!! argh!!

Here’s Some Info about How and Why

1. Since behaviour influences thoughts and feelings, when you behave as if you should be worried about something, you’re likely to feel more rather than less concerned about it happening and a greater sense of danger. Likewise, if you behave as if you couldn’t cope with something, you’re likely to feel more and more doubt about your ability to cope with it – lose self confidence.

2. You might start to get rigid about what types of reassurance seeking are “good enough”.

3. People can start to get annoyed. You will typically get caring reactions initially but then the person/people you are seeking reassurance from might start to feel like you are being demanding of them and/or feel pursued. If this happens they’re likely to have the standard reaction to feeling demanded of/pursued, which is to either withdraw or attack.

4. Other people might start to treat you as less competent than you are – not because of your competency but because of the reassurance seeking. This does not help your confidence.

5. You get out of practice of tolerating uncertainty. Not only does the specific thing you’re worried about feel anxiety provoking but uncertainty in general starts to feel more and more like something you need to escape/avoid.

6. You get out of practice of self soothing and so your other skills for getting yourself to feeling ok get rusty and then using those other skills instead of reassurance seeking feels intimidating.

If reassurance seeking was going to work in taking away your ongoing anxiety, it would’ve worked by now! You can build up your tolerance of uncertainty by riding the wave of it when feelings of uncertainty show up.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT, has lots of good tips for how to do this.

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