Reassurance & Repetitive Fears
When you hear someone express fear or worry, it's natural to offer reassurance. You want to help that person relax and feel safe. In a comforting tone you share information that you hope will bring relief. This is often effective and you are happy to see the other person take it in and relax.
Sometimes though the other person can't receive your reassurance. A student recently shared a story of caring for her elderly mother. She found herself offering the same reassurance several times in the space of five minutes. Her mom repeated the same fear again and again. As you can imagine, by the fifth iteration the reassurance contained a fair amount of irritation.
Fear and worry can become a mental and emotional habit rather than a response to a particular event. In this case, reassurance might be received as a denial of the other's experience or an attempt to cover up the truth. This perception may then trigger more fear.
Three things can be helpful to remember and practice in these situations. First, self-empathy is essential. When you see someone you care for caught in repetitive fear, you likely feel sad and perhaps irritated. You long for your loved one to have relief and peace, yet you cannot provide it. Attending to your experience with compassion supports your ability to remain mindful in this stressful situation.
Second, it's important to notice if you have been caught by the idea that you have to get this person out of fear. When you take on changing another's emotional state or thought process as your job, you set yourself up for frustration and will likely find yourself pushing or pulling at the other person energetically and verbally as though you were in a wrestling match.
Lastly, empathic presence is often the most powerful thing you can offer. Simple empathic contact or guesses like: "Yeah, I hear you're very worried." "Scary, huh." "I'm guessing it's hard to feel so worried about that?" "Do you wish you could just trust that?" "Sounds like you'd like to know you are safe?" Empathic presence doesn't make the fear or repetitive thought patterns go away. It simply provides someone the warmth of companionship in a difficult place.
The next time you offer reassurance to someone pay close attention to the affect on the other person. You can ask, "Was it helpful to hear that?" If it wasn't helpful you can ask, "What would be helpful with that?" If they don't know what would be helpful, simply offer empathy, to yourself first and then to your loved one.
Take a moment now to consider your relationships. Is there anyone's emotions and thoughts you tend to take on as your job to manage? If so, take a moment and connect with your own feelings and needs related that come up in that relationship. Identify what would be helpful in allowing you to release your agenda for that person and relax into empathic presence.