I’m going to let you in on the fun internal battle between seeking reassurance and avoiding dependence, because let me tell you, finding a medium that comforts our anxiety without sacrificing our independence is difficult. It’s really one outcome or the other for me: I will ask for reassurance when I need it if I’m comfortable with doing so, or I will isolate myself.
I’m all about reassurance, but of course I’m biased because I have anxiety. I appreciate reassurance, I understand how much receiving it can change someone’s life and it satisfies me in providing it as well. It’s simple. If you love me, tell me. If you miss me, tell me. If you care about me, tell me. If you think of me, tell me. If you appreciate me, tell me. If you enjoy our time together, tell me. If you are proud of me, tell me. If you have a love urge, as I call it, tell me. (You know those times when you are so overwhelmed with love, affection, or appreciation for another person that you just need to word-vomit all your feelings for them at once and get it out of your system. Just me? Okay) If you want to extend your shoulder to cry on, a helping hand, your company, tell me. If you already told me 30 minutes ago, tell me again. If words aren’t your cup of tea, show me and show me again.
Your reassurance is not useless; however, it could easily be wiped from our mind an instant later by anxiety. Thoughts are running through our brains constantly, thoughts of uncertainty, worry, insecurity. These thoughts are derived from fear. Fear that the worst will happen. Fear that in a world full of people, we do not matter and that our mental illness is right – we are broken and we are unworthy. Even when we are so far gone in a funk that no words or affection could help, the reassurance still matters. Hearing the words, even though we cannot internalize them at the time, matters. Even when you do not think so, the absence could have daunting impacts on our mindset. But is it your responsibility to reassure us on command? No. I share my feelings when you cross my mind. It’s honest and it’s from the bottom of my heart. Considering that an anxious mind puts our thoughts into overdrive, you will cross my mind more often than someone without anxiety, per se. When we ask you what is on your mind and you reply “Nothing,” it’s surprising because we always have something on our minds.
We have to be mindful that we all have a unique brain. Just because someone isn’t reassuring us constantly does not mean we are not on their minds, they do not care for us, we care too much – it’s because their brains are not wired like ours. We all want genuine relationships, but imagine repeating “I love you” to your loved one out of habit rather than from the heart; repeating it more often than you want to. Quite frankly, repeating it more often than you feel it. “I love you” becomes less and less meaningful. Not to us – when you say it, we receive it and we feel safe. But to you, it could become just something you say. As someone with anxiety, it’s difficult to understand that those words could lose their meaning. How is that so? Once again, our brains are wired differently. The genuine expression of love for one another is beautiful and in order to keep it that way, boundaries are essential.
It’s okay to seek reassurance and with anxiety it’s totally natural. It becomes habitual. This habit, however, can put a strain on your relationships as well as create a slippery slope to depending on others for serenity. Boundaries are healthy. Knowing what you need from others and what they can offer you, and vice-versa, is important. When boundaries are not communicated, there is a discrepancy between your needs and what you are receiving which can lead to mental instability or dependence. This is when the other outcome comes into play, isolation, which could be any one of several extremes and for any number of reasons. I don’t want to overwhelm you. I don’t want to annoy you. I don’t want you to think that I’m saying it just to say it, because I mean it. I mean every word of it. If your needs and offers are misaligned, I am going to try my hardest to limit my reassurance needs to match yours. I will isolate in order to achieve that. If this sounds like you – stop! We need to set boundaries instead! Isolation will not make us feel safe, but boundaries can.
I was in my first long-term relationship, a relationship of many firsts, lessons, and a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. Disregarding every other aspect of our relationship, there was a clear difference in my need and what he could offer; however, the boundary was never communicated. It was my first relationship and I was neglectful of my mental health. I was not mature enough to understand that setting boundaries is healthy and that one needed to be communicated. Likewise for him. At one point in our relationship, he became less responsive when I would say “I love you.” There were times that he’d reply “Okay”, change the subject or ignore it completely. Sometimes I would confront him about it. Sometimes I would ask him to say it back, displaying the dependence I had on his reassurance to put my mind to rest. Sometimes it would cause fights because of the emotions it drew from me and the impression that our love was not mutual. Sometimes it would cause me to isolate because in my mind, I had committed to the assumption that he was preparing to leave me, displaying the pure instability I felt. All of these reactions were rooted with fear and only intensified whenever he would explain his reasoning. He thought I said it too often, that it lost its meaning, that it felt forced. With disregard to any other aspects of our relationship, we would have benefitted from boundaries being carefully communicated and understood. Without boundaries, I felt a mix of negative emotions and our relationship suffered, whereas setting boundaries would have given me realistic expectations, boosted my self-esteem, and relieved some pressure on his end.
Just as there are discrepancies, there are relationships in which the needs of each person are pretty symmetrical. These relationships are comfortable, the ones where you just know how the other person feels and it feels safe. Of course, when the needs are not symmetrical, setting boundaries allows this outcome as well. I have a friend of mine that is ironically often mistaken for my lover. We communicate our care for one another multiple times a day, and it works for the both of us. Why? She needs that reassurance too. We give reassurance as much as we need to receive it and it happens to give me a sense of stability. I know how much I mean to her and she, I. We just know. One thing to be aware of is that even in these relationships you can become attached, co-dependent on one another for peace of mind. In a later post I will go into some insights of how to practice detachment in your relationships (don’t think of this as practicing carelessness, think of it as practicing healthy caring.)
Lastly, I’d like to shed some recent insight I received. What do you do when you set boundaries, but inside you still get those worries, insecurities, uncertainties? Well. That’s something that I struggle with, so let me say you are not alone. Isolation isn’t the next step, we don’t have to resort to that. We can create our own reminders, our own self-affirmations. I’m going to try a small exercise that I’d like you to try as well. Think of the relationship that is concerning you and brainstorm a list of the things that make you feel good. For example, I screenshot texts that warm my heart, I take photographs often of the dates we go on, hand-made or thoughtful gifts, candids. We want to feel safe, right? In those moments of instability, look back on these messages, photographs, gifts, etc. Remind yourself of the quality of the relationship and the care that is there, remind yourself that you are safe.
This isn’t black and white. This is like one of those games where you drop the chip and it falls downwards bouncing off of all pegs it touches and lands in a bucket. Everyone is trying to win the $10,000 dollars, no one wants to be left with nothing, and there are so many possibilities in between. Love one another and set healthy boundaries – we can all be winners.