The reassurance compulsion is an important element of OCD (Haverkampf, 2017) and one of the most deceitful compulsions ever. First, identifying reassurance is difficult. Well, not as difficult as it is confusing. People are not able to understand the difference between what a reassurance is and what is not. So, let me first clear that up.
Harm OCD, like other forms of OCD, makes us believe that we are incapable of handling difficult situations. Over the course of OCD’s progression, every situation seems to cause us anxiety and we begin to avoid triggering situations. We do not make an effort to handle the situation, and after a point we seem to lose the ability to handle any triggering situation.
We expect not to be prepared to handle trigger words and so we expect that people around us should not use trigger words. We expect not to be able to handle ’weapons’ and so we expect that people around us would stop using objects that will trigger us in our presence. But as you can understand, that is not possible. It is like stepping out in the monsoons and expecting it to not rain at all rather than being ready to face the rains by carrying an umbrella.
So, when we expect that the world will behave appropriately (or proverbially dance to our tunes) and seek that confirmation from others (or from ourselves), it amounts to seeking reassurance.
In the case of the rain example, if I ask you, ‘Are you sure it will not rain?’ or if I tell myself, ‘I am sure it will not rain’, it is a reassurance. I am not depending on my own strength, courage or ability to handle the problem if it occurs. Instead, I am asking others or myself if nature will do my bidding. How can anyone be sure that it will not rain? How can I be sure that it will not rain? So, if I am expecting that kind of response, I am looking for reassurance.
You may seek reassurance by asking people repeatedly if they think that you are a good person. You may get repeat urges of harming people, animals, loved ones, strangers and so on. That might make you seek reassurance from your family, who in their ignorance, wanting the best for you may end up reassuring you. You have completed a compulsion and you feel a little better.
On the other hand, if I tell myself, ‘I am sure it will rain’, I am not reassuring myself by hoping that the world will operate according to my whims and fancies. I am looking for certainty but I provide my certainty-starved brain the certainty of the other extreme – the catastrophic extreme. One of my friends has coined a word for these statements. She calls them deassurances. A deassurance is a certainty that is the exact opposite of a reassurance. Look at the following examples in table 4.16.1.
Table 4.16.1: Reassurance and Deassurance
|1||Am I evil?||Yes, I am evil by choice.|
|2||I am sure I will not harm my cat.||I will definitely harm my cat.|
|3||There is nothing wrong with my violent urges.||My violent urges are a sign that I am a bad person.|
|4||Is it okay for me to get the thought of killing my mother?||It is not okay for me to get the thought of killing my mother.|
If you see there is certainty in the deassurance statement but the certainty is more about the uncomfortable scenario. There is certainly no comfort. Deassurances are used in imaginal exposures/scripts. Handling uncertainty is the correct response to a triggering situation but if you must provide certainty, let it be a deassurance rather than a reassurance. When you can build the courage to deal with the deassurances, you are coping. A coping statement for the rain deassurance would be, ‘If it rains, I will handle it’. Look at the following examples in table 4.16.2.
If you want to devise your coping statements, observe your reassurance seeking statements (where you expect other things to fall in place without effort on your part), turn them into deassurances (asserting what your mind catastrophizes to be true) and then add a dash of self-reliance to create coping statements.
Table 4.16.2: Adding Coping to the Mix
|1||Am I evil?||Yes, I am evil by choice.||Even if this is true, I will handle it.|
|2||I am sure I will not harm my cat.||I will definitely harm my cat.||Even if I harm my cat, I will handle it.|
|3||There is nothing wrong with my violent urges.||My violent urges are definitely indicative of my evilness.||Even if my violent urges are indicative of my evilness, I will handle it.|
|4||Is it okay for me to get the thought of killing my mother?||It is not okay for me to get the thought of killing my mother.||Even if I get the thought of killing my mother, I will handle it.|
People are also often confused between coping statements and reassurances because they think even saying, ‘I will handle it’ is self-reassurance. The reason why this is not self-reassurance is that there is an element of self-reliance in it. When you say, ‘I will handle it’, you are not expecting things to not go wrong but preparing yourself to face the worst, if things do go wrong.
So, the rule of thumb is, if I depend on the situation to not go wrong or seek confirmation that it won’t, it is a reassurance. If I am okay with the situation to go wrong and tell myself that I will handle it, it is self-reliance and hence a coping statement. Check out Worksheet 4.9 which will help you differentiate between reassurances, deassurances and coping statements.