Managing intense emotions is tough. And if you live with someone that constantly worries about everything, and constantly seeks reassurance, you may wonder “How do you help a reassurance junkie?” You know what it is like to experience their anxiety.
What Is A Reassurance Junkie?
What do I mean by that rather colorful phrase “reassurance junkie?” This is when your loved one, partner, or child, often asks you to reassure them about the same thing they asked you five minutes ago, and the five minutes before that. It can be exhausting, yet you care about the person, and may find yourself falling into the trap of offering them relief via further reassurance. In those moments, I can assure you what they are seeking is relief from their obsession, or worry.
If you were to imagine what this pattern looks like, it would be that of a zigzag. Going up ↑ is the worry (aka obsessive thought), and coming down ↓ is the “solution” (aka compulsive thought) to the worry that provides relief. But there is always, always another worry that follows. Their “zigzag pattern” of thoughts is somewhat like the concept of an infinite line in mathematics. And the impulse to solve each “zig” with its corresponding “zag” solution only deepens this unhealthy pattern.
Your Response Deepens the Zigzag
When you over-help with constant repeated reassurance, you run the risk of creating a reassurance junkie, a person who simply cannot look to their own inner resources to evaluate and solve problems. The goal, over time, is to let them learn how to do these big feelings so they succeed in their work and life relationships. When you live with someone that experiences this type of thought pattern, there is only one way to help them disengage from it.
Give It Back To Them
What do I mean by giving it back to them? Imagine yourself holding up both hands, cradling your person’s precious (to them) worry and gently handing it back without solving the problem for them. The formula I propose goes like this. You allow yourself one (just one please!) reassurance response to the presented worry, and then you say the next time they ask, “Remember how you solved this last time?” Or “What did you do the last time this happened?” Or “I wonder how you will answer this for yourself.” That is metaphorically “giving it back to them.” Wash, rinse, repeat.
The better response:
“Remember how you solved this last time?” Or “What did you do the last time this happened?” Or “I wonder how you will answer this for yourself.” That is metaphorically “giving it back to them.” Wash, rinse, repeat.
If you don’t, and you continue to respond with reassurance, you will deepen their obsession. Every time. And that isn’t helpful to either of you.
If you are doubting how you respond to these constant requests for reassurance, call or shoot me an email, I’m in your neighborhood and ready to help.
Page Rutledge, LCSW, MSW, MPH is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in Wilmington, NC. She specializes in anxiety management. Visit her website and incredibly helpful blog at www.pagerutledge.com