A few weeks ago my husband asked me, what reassurance
meant to me. I tried to explain what it feels like to have OCD
and to be seeking reassurance with an analogy. This is only a
made up analogy to demonstrate my view on
reassurance and not intended to trigger.
As I explained the only analogy I could think of, the more I went into, the more obvious it was why reassurance seeking just doesn’t work. It’s almost like having OCD means that reassurance, is an urban legend. You know chances are it’s not real but you still chase it in the hope you will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Reassurance to me…It’s like I am in the sea in a storm and I am desperately swimming towards a life boat. The life boat has launched a life ring and I am desperately trying to reach it. Every time my fingertips nearly touch it and I finally feel a sense of safety another wave comes and I get pushed further away so I keep swimming and swimming. This whole time I keep swimming, keep getting so close, feeling like I am finally going to get rescued but then the waves hit again. This whole time I am only swimming with one arm because in my other arm I am holding another life-ring but I can’t use it because it’s not the same as the life-ring the lifeboat are throwing me, theirs seems stronger, I don’t trust the one I am holding, they shout to me, ‘to use my own life-ring’ but I would feel more secure using their one and this is how the cycle continues.
(I really hope this makes some sense)
The sea is the OCD, and the lifeboat is the reassurance we constantly look for, no matter at what cost to our well-being. The waves represent the triggers and spikes that relentlessly knock us back after we feel reassured, and the people giving reassurance are the people in our lives that are telling us what we need to do, and how to do it but we struggle to apply that knowledge when the OCD storm is at it’s worst. We are too scared. We don’t trust our own minds. The life-ring we hold onto but can’t use represents all the tools we learn to beat OCD. We have all the tools but still look for reassurance elsewhere.
The real gem of this analogy? Is that I’m not even in the sea, I am in a swimming pool next to the side. There is no lifeboat that I need to reach. No life-ring I need to try and grab hold of. OCD tells me I am drowning, it feels me with physical symptoms that convince me there is real imminent danger that I must pay attention to when actually I am just in a swimming pool and I can get out by applying the tools I am learning. Yes someone could still drown in the swimming pool, there is still a risk but it’s learning to accept uncertainty. This is why reassurance seeking doesn’t work, we strive to prove we are safe or not safe, that our fears are real or not real but by desperately getting others to give us that ‘proof’ our brains learn that we need reassurance, that there must be a real threat and that fear that OCD fills us with then grows releasing more adrenaline and keeping our fight or flight alarm system on constant high alert. Accepting that we don’t need to pay the thoughts the attention and accepting that we need to learn to live with uncertainty is what changes how we respond to the OCD thoughts/fears/feelings. Trust me, this is something I am still working hard on accepting.
It’s about accepting there is a risk but going swimming anyway.