When You’re Good at Providing Reassurance, Some People Don’t Even Know You’re Doing It

closeup of a blooming cactus
Image by Renee Grayson / CC BY

“I really worry about you,” she said. “You’re so insecure. So in need of reassurance. So weak.”

I blinked my eyes twice in slow motion, feeling a wave of shock wash over me. True, I’ve always been a sensitive person. This wasn’t the first time in my life someone had said something like this to me. But coming from her, the allegation that sensitive somehow equaled weak? Well, it was rich indeed.

She’d spent hours talking to me about her soft parts. The things that threatened to drive her mad. Her vulnerabilities and insecurities. And my response to all of that had been to listen carefully, do my best to validate her feelings, and offer reassurance.

It wasn’t a huge deal or anything. When I care about someone an awful lot, I’m generally happy to give them reassurance. Even if it takes a while and my first efforts fall flat. So I’d just done it without pointing it out or making a big deal of it. Y’know, I didn’t ask for brownie points or anything.

However, when life circled back around and I was hit with a difficult patch of my own, and I turned to her for the first time seeking a bit of comfort from her, well… all of a sudden, I was needy. And — eye roll — weak.

Forget that vulnerability isn’t necessarily weakness but can actually be a form of strength. Taking off your armor and allowing yourself to be fully seen.

But whatever, Trevor.

Once the first wave of shock had subsided, I explained to her that I found what she’d said deeply confusing. She countered with a patronizing observation that she understood that not everyone was as strong as her but that I needed to get myself together.

As though the past few months where I’d served as a source of her strength had never happened.

When You’re Really Good at Providing Reassurance, Sometimes People Don’t Even Realize You’re Doing It

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve been through this particular pattern.

Sometimes when you’re dating a person with anxious attachment, and you are good enough at providing them reassurance, they start to think they’re a more secure person than you are. Especially if you’re doing it proactively when they’re only a little upset. And when you don’t really point out what you’re doing for brownie points or complain about being asked to do it when it’s inconvenient.

Commonly thrown around axioms like “no amount of reassurance will help an insecure person feel better about themselves” are complicit in this delusion. They enable a person to develop a warped sense of their own relationship with emotional reassurance.

It’s also just not true. I’ve watched what can happen when you reassure someone who has gone without kind words for so long. They transform before your very eyes. It’s like when it rains in the desert and the cacti bloom.

The Moment I Turn Off the Tap, You’re Dying of Thirst

It’s been years since we’ve spoken, but sometimes I think about what I’d like to say to her:

When it comes to reassurance, I’m a free-running tap of clean water.

And you’re a stagnant puddle in a place where it never rains.

There’s a reason I’m thirsty for reassurance at the moment and you’re not. And it’s not because I need more water than you.

Because the moment I turn off the tap, you’re dying of thirst.

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