Dearest humans! Hello and happy Monday! I hope you’ve had an awesome weekend filled with recharging moments, whatever they look like for you. Today I wanted to address something that we frequently do for our loved ones that may be causing more harm than good: providing reassurance.
Anxiety often begs and pleads and yearns for reassurance. And it can do so loudly! I wrote a post involving Karpman’s drama triangle and when anxiety becomes abusive that illustrate this pretty well (if I do say so myself). The bottom line is that anxiety can trigger us to yell at people we expect reassurance from if what they’re offering doesn’t feel safe enough.
In daily life it might sound something like “Why can’t you just tell me that I’m right!”…even when we’re not. In my own marriage (at the very beginning) it looked an awful lot like asking my husband to promise that he’d never ever ever leave me or that he’d never loved someone as much as he did me. And then getting frustrated when five minutes later I was still super anxious and needed another or a different reassurance.
His compliments and reassurances were like drops in a bottomless well. They made me feel warm and safe for about an eighteenth of a second before the self-doubt and “what ifs” crept in. That’s because I was asking him to do a job only I could do- make me “good enough”.
This is a losing battle in so many ways. First of all, I’m giving the decision of whether or not I’m good enough to another person. I’m giving them all of my power. This leaves me in the dust waiting for someone else to save me from my fears of being inadequate. This sends a loud and clear message that I am not strong enough to fight my own battle and have to rely on others which, in turn, adds evidence that I am, in fact, not good enough.
This is a super ugly cycle that so many of us get sucked into.
Take back that power
Only you can tell yourself whether you’re worthy or not. Take back that power. No one can decide that except you.
When I was early in recovery I wrote a note that I kept in my pocket:
I am here for you. You deserve my love. Nothing you can do will make me love you any less.
Later, when I worked on binge eating issues, a therapist identified that I was using eating according to a diet plan as a yard stick for whether or not I was good enough and that I tended to binge in order to check out and leave myself (that vulnerable, scared, struggling part of me) in the dust. I needed to walk through that struggle (feeling not good enough) with my darkest, most vulnerable parts instead of abandoning them.
So commit to holding your own hand. It’s so nice to hear “I love you”, “I admire you”, and “You’re awesome!” from others but we need to believe it before they even say it. If we count on them to say it, we’re destroyed if they don’t.
There’s one more problem with reassurance. We’re often trying to convince people that they aren’t some “bad terrible thing” that they might, in fact, be. That loads that “terrible thing” with a ton of shame and takes away the possibility of change. Let’s take two examples to see this point through.
Someone is needing to feel “enough” so they fish for a compliment by saying “Oh my God, I’m so fat!”. The first thing that comes out of most
people’s mouth is “you are not fat! You’re beautiful!”. That doesn’t reassure or calm most people who are, in fact, fat because they know deep down it’s not true. But more importantly, it teaches people that they can’t be fat and beautiful at the same time and that being fat is a terrible, very bad, no good thing that you shouldn’t be and should feel badly about. Likewise, when my husband (then boyfriend) assured me that he’d love me forever and never leave, I couldn’t buy because as badly as I wanted him to, there’s no way he could predict the future and say with 100% certainty that he’d never leave. Completely by accident, he reinforced that in order to be safe, I needed to know and
control exactly what the future would look like.
The second example: someone might ask for or want validation that they’re good enough and aren’t actually ruining their life with
poor choices. If you tell them “no! of course, you’re doing everything in your power to live your best life” and you really feel they might be missing something they could do differently, you deny them the chance to get honest feedback that could spur growth.
So what can you say when someone you love is looking for reassurance? Typically it’s best to help them explore what the fear is that the need validation to overcome. In the above first example, I’ve used examples like “fat is a part of everyone’s body in one degree or another. Why is yours bothering you?”. They might not be willing to talk about that because it requires more work to think about what sucks about being fat than it does to complain.
Ways to help
Feel free to set boundaries like “I think you’re fishing for a compliment because you feel low and no matter how many compliments I give, I can’t fix this for you”. It’s not easy, it doesn’t always feel loving…but it’s true.
I hope this has helped. This is a really hard topic. Being there for yourself can be really hard and many of us use a variety of yardsticks with which to measure our worth. But when we let others hold the key to our feeling safe and worthy and enough, we lose.
Take care, friends. Be well and have a beautiful week. If you want to discuss reassurance with a Perspectives Therapy Services therapist, please connect with us.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.