Chapter 6: I already know this, but I need to hear you say it again
Let’s face it, folks: we’re scared. Even the most stable and well-adjusted of us are occasionally nervous and insecure. Our work, our friendships, and especially our relationships are plagued by issues, fears, and hangups, and we need reassurance. We need to hear “I love you,” “I think you’re awesome,” “I forgive you,” or “I appreciate you,” even when we’ve heard it before. Reassurance is no substitute for healthy self-esteem, but even the healthiest of us need to hear it sometimes.
Why is it, then, that we’re so afraid of asking for it and so resistant to giving it? It’s easy to think, “My friends would never do that to me,” or “I’m sure she’s got that contract handled,” or “I know that he really loves me, no matter what I look like,” yet that doesn’t always completely quiet our nerves. Verbal reassurance often does help, but realizing that can be scary. When we feel the need for reassurance, we get down on ourselves about it. We deride ourselves for our lack of faith. We criticize ourselves for worrying about something “silly.” We’re embarrassed to ask because we’re afraid of being perceived as weak or of coming across as mistrustful.
That fear is often justified because when we are asked for reassurance, we sometimes feel mistrusted. We feel that if our partners really believed us, they wouldn’t have to ask.
Why is it so scary to admit that we need reassurance? It’s because our culture propagates a very harmful myth: that we are rational beings. One of the ways this myth manifests is to make us afraid of asking for reassurance. “I already know this,” you might say to yourself. “If I were a better, more rational person, I wouldn’t need to ask for reassurance. Asking for this means I’m irrational, inferior, and weak.” This is utter nonsense. We are not purely rational beings! We’re not computers. We’re human beings, and we’re made of meat! We have hormones and neurotransmitters and all sorts of fluids and goop sloshing around in our bodies, our brains, and our nervous systems. Every one of us has emotions and our emotions don’t listen to reason. This isn’t wrong or bad. It’s the way we’re made, and it’s okay to be that way. If we can’t get our emotions to listen to reason, that doesn’t mean we’ve failed in some way. It means that our emotional side is acting in accordance with its nature.
The solution is to get all this out in the open. Say out loud, “I already know this, but I need to hear you say it again.” The first half, “I already know this,” reassures the other person that it’s not about them; it’s not about being doubted or mistrusted. The second half, “I need to hear you say it again,” asks for what we need — what our emotional, non-rational side needs.
Kyeli’s Story: Blammo!
I’m minding my own business, checking my email. A friend emails me to ask how our relationship is going and makes a comment about me “taming the wild Pace.” Suddenly, I’m worried that Pace is unhappy or feels trapped in our relationship. Blammo! All at once, I’m scared and worried, because this is a touchy issue for me.
I could freak out. I could try to remind myself over and over that she’s happy and fine… except that hearing it from myself isn’t particularly effective. Or I could call Pace and say “Hey, I got an email that sparked some fear and I’m feeling scared. Can you reassure me that you’re happy with me and our relationship? I know it’s true, but it would help me to hear it from you.” And she will. She’ll tell me all the good things and remind me of her joy and the choices she’s made to be with me. She’ll tell me she loves me, and offer hugs when she gets home. Then the fear will be gone and I’ll feel great!
Pace will feel great, too, because she’s been given the chance to help me feel safe about something that scares me. It’s a win/win situation! The alternative, not asking for reassurance, would lead to me having a bad day, feeling scared and fragile, and might even lead to an argument later on.
Being asked for reassurance also gives you an opportunity to be useful, to actively help your partner. You may feel important, needed, loved, and trusted that your partner has opened up to you by asking for what they need.
Another fantastic thing about asking for reassurance is that it gives others permission to ask for reassurance too. When you embrace the non-rational, emotional part of yourself, you send the message that it’s okay to have parts that aren’t rational, it’s okay to be made of meat, and it’s okay to ask for what you need. Reassurance is a great way to get your comfort and security needs met when anything upsets your inner balance.