Parents want to be supportive and help their children overcome fears of growth and challenges. That is no small task, and there are many hazards along the way. For parents of children with high anxiety/OCD there are some specific patterns to pay attention to. People with high anxiety/OCD often seek excessive re-assurance. One such hazard is providing excessive re-assurance. Providing re-assurance tends to give temporary relief to the individual, as well as the person who cares about them; however, it is a lens of false security and a short-lived respite. Let us review the difference between validation, assurance, and reassurance.
Validation is recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. You do not have to agree with anyone in order to validate their feelings. They are in fact their feelings and their opinions and they are allowed to have them (even if they are inaccurate). Validation is one of the most powerful tools you can use when listening to someone. For someone who is scared (maybe even irrationally scared of something) you can validate the fear without agreeing that it is accurate. For example, “I hear that you are really worried about going to this birthday party.”
Assurance is a positive declaration intended to give confidence, even better is self-assurance “confidence or certainty in one’s own abilities.” Many people with anxiety struggle with self-assurance. We all need some level of information, expectations of what to anticipate, and some semblance of the way things may play out. However, we know that nothing is for certain. We depend on the belief that we can use our own resources in solving problems. If someone is experiencing uncertainty, a dose of assurance or self-assurance usually alleviates the stress. For example, “Yes, I will pick you up today at 9 p.m. If something changes you can call and I will come earlier.”
Re-assurance is a statement or comment that removes someone’s doubts or fears; having apprehension dispelled. While this sounds like a good thing, this can become a trap if it feeds the re-assurance monster. When dealing with anxiety and or OCD, the drive for constant re-assurance is consuming. Re-assurance becomes the mechanism that keeps fear rising, the yeast of fear. The re-assurance works momentarily, but the drive for more quickly re-appears and becomes an insatiable appetite and a “coping “skill”. To calm someone, we may find ourselves playing “nice” instead of playing “realistic.” We tend to comfort based on optimism for a positive outcome rather than the person’s ability to navigate a challenge.
When you put these concepts together it looks like this. “I hear you are worried that someone may not like you at the birthday party. It can be intimidating being in a group of people (validating). It seems to me that you are likable and have some good friends (assurance), and you’re right; even if you are a likeable person, someone may not like you (validating/avoiding re-assurance). What will you do if someone there is unkind? (re-enforce their ability to problem solve).” Rather than responding to the fear by providing consistent re-assurance, respond to the person with validation and confidence in their ability to manage whatever may arise.