How to use mindfulness to reduce reassurance seeking in OCD?

People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have both obsession and compulsion.  Obsession is the occurrence of unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that evoke anxiety and discomfort for the individual.  Compulsion is any repeated mental acts or overt behaviours that one uses to temporarily reduce anxiety and discomfort caused by the obsession.  Reassurance seeking is one of the common compulsions of people with OCD.  However, this type of compulsion is often being ignored.  For instance, a client of mine sought reassurance by asking her mother whether her comments for her friends’ messages were appropriate by phone calls many times each day.  Like other forms of compulsions, reassurance seeking will not stop one from worrying about the negative consequences of one’s situations.  For example, the client who kept seeking reassurance from her mother creates a new loop to address one’s anxiety in relation to one’s obsession.  She had obsessive thought about not giving appropriate comments to her friends whenever she had texted them.  Seeking reassurance is just a way to get the feeling that this the obsessive thought is addressed.  However, every time when she had this obsessive thought, she thought that she needed to address this in the same way by reassurance seeking.

In fact, the problem of reassurance seeking is that people with OCD will never be satisfied.  For instance, after my client’s mother gave her the reassurance that her comments to her friends are appropriate, she might worry that whether her mother’s judgment was accurate.  She might further ask her mother how she come up with this judgment.  After her mother told her how she come up with this judgment, she might further question whether her mother tells her the truth.  How can we help our closed ones if they frequently seek reassurance from us due to their anxiety in relation to their obsession?

First, it is important for us to come up with an agreement with our closed ones with OCD for not answering their reassurance questions.  In this way, we did not contribute to the loop of their repeated cycle of seeking certainty through asking.  Second, we can suggest them to practice mindfulness in their daily life through regularly mindfulness exercises.  It is because mindfulness helps them to resist compulsion.  Through being mindful, people with OCD learned to cultivate awareness of ones’ obsessive thoughts, images or urges.  As a result, they started to be more aware of the uncomfortable feelings and anxiety being evoked by these obsessions.  It is important for them to delay responding to one’s uncomfortable feelings and anxiety when being able to be aware of one’s obsession.  This creates a space between their awareness of the obsession and the act of executing the compulsion.  This means that the person learns to wait for a while before acting out the compulsion so that the urge to act subsides.

When people with OCD delay in responding by acting out a compulsion, they are accepting uncertainty in their lives.  In this sense, it is sometimes quite painful for people with OCD to resist on acting out their compulsions.  With mindfulness, they are also learning to sit with their pain and accept their uncomfortable feelings of not acting out the compulsions.  In fact, it is worthy of persisting to use mindfulness to sit with this discomfort because in the long run, they will not need to be trapped by having to do compulsive behaviors repeatedly in their lives.

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