Almost everybody enjoys feeling loved in the moment. It feels great. The soul somehow knows when the love is unconditional, and we feel a harmony with the universe when we are thus loved.
If we are unaccustomed to being loved in this way, however, the feeling may not last, overwhelmed by the feelings of pain and fear that characterize the experiences of conditional “love” so well known to most of us. Most people, then, require the sensation of unconditional love repeatedly before they trust it fully. Even then, the trust can fade, and they need reassurance that their feelings were real, as well as reassurance that those feelings can be duplicated in the present.
Is there anything wrong with that need? Of course not. Babies sometimes cry out just to be reassured that their parents are still there, no matter how many times that presence has been proven.
It is human nature that we both enjoy and need reassurance of love, but it can be enabling—even crippling—if we demand that that love be proven to us over and over, while never developing our own inner faith in its existence. What then is the difference between reassurance and the need to have love repeatedly proven, or what I will call re-proven, both because that single word communicates repetition and possibly for its alliterative value. I hyphenate the word “re-proven” to distinguish it from the word “reprove,” which means to rebuke or express disapproval.
Reassurance is natural and is relatively easily accomplished. I can reassure you of my love simply by holding your hand, and you can request it by asking for your hand to be held. It’s a reconfirmation of a feeling that you already remember deep down, and it implies a pre-existing trust.
Re-proving strongly implies considerable effort all ‘round. If I have to keep proving to you that I love you, it’s like starting all over each time. I have to reason with you from the beginning, and the evidence from the past counts for nothing. And it’s far more work for you too, because it’s like climbing a mountain. With re-proving, you fall all the way to the bottom and have to start over, while with reassurance you just stumble and begin again from near the point where you fell.
Re-proving also is mired in doubt. If I have to re-prove my love for you, your whole attitude is one of doubting all the proofs that came before, so not only is re-proving more work, it’s also less likely to yield a positive result. There is so much more effort per ground gained than simple reassurance, which has a high yield for each unit of effort.
It can be useful to systematically list and describe some of the characteristics of reassurance vs. re-proving, so we know what we’re dealing with in any given case:
Requests for Reassurance:
- Quiet. People ask for reassurance quietly, and they receive it quietly.
- Few words. A simple holding of the hand often suffices, even over Skype or the phone.
- Willingness. People FEEL reassurance quickly and easily, without efforts to prove it.
- Uncertainty in asking. People who want reassurance often don’t know what they want. So, you might have to figure out what they need, but you will and without the other characteristics described for re-proving (described below).
- Little victimhood. People needing reassurance don’t justify their request or their need with long stories of victimhood, intended to make you feel obligated, or so that you cannot refuse them.
- Less fearful. People who need either reassurance or re-proving often have some degree of fear, but with reassurance the fear is considerably less—and less dramatic. And with reassurance people are more rational, a natural accompaniment to less fear.
- Calm. If I reassure you that I love you, you feel calm soon. There is little drama.
- Mutual participation. As I reassure you, it feels as though we are both participating with similar effort. With re-proving, you are demanding that I make all the effort, and then you’ll make a condescending decision about whether to accept my attempt.
- Fun. It’s fun for me to reassure you. It’s just a reminder of love partially forgotten, whereas with re-proving, the much greater effort and repeated efforts tend to diminish the fun—for both of us.
- Consistency of results. If you need reassurance and I simply hold your hand, that is very likely to be enough to allay your fears. Not so with a need for re-proving.
Requests—really demands—for Re-proving:
- Loud and accusatory. People don’t demand proof quietly. They say, for example, “I don’t think you’ve ever loved me!”
- Demanding. The tone is insistent and pushy.
- Specificity. It’s often possible to reassure you of my love in any number of ways—holding your hand, simply being in the room with you, and more—whereas with re-proving you often have very specific demands about what you believe you need, all the while calling them requests. Examples: “Tell me you love me.” Or, “Tell me again WHY you love me.” Or, “You never spend enough time with me on a call.”
- Doubting. The “request” for re-proving isn’t neutral. There is always an implication that you can’t really prove your love to the doubter. The doubter already has an attitude that you’ll fail.
- Exhausting. If somebody is demanding that you re-prove your love to them, you’ll quickly find that you’re exhausted and that you don’t look forward to the next proof.
- Unwillingness. The person demanding proof isn’t willing to take part in the process. He demands that you do all the work, while he sits in quiet and lazy judgment about whether your performance was sufficiently convincing.
- “But.” People demanding re-proof tend to meet your efforts and words with objections: “But I still don’t feel loved.” Or, “But I don’t see how this will last.” But.
Why could it be useful to distinguish between reassurance and re-proving?
Because if you keep demanding that I re-prove my love, for example, that’s often a course that never ends, and I would be foolish to continue with it. At some point I need to recognize that pattern and insist that you become more involved, rather than me doing all the work. I need to show you what it’s like to actually trust me, instead of my proving all over again that I love you each time. I need to teach you how to trust, rather than trying to overwhelm your doubts with proof. If I don’t recognize the difference between reassurance and re-proving, I can easily enable and entitle you, rather than helping to increase your supply of love.
As you grow in your awareness of how different reassurance and re-proving are, you will be less likely to interact unproductively with people who need to feel loved. You’ll also be less likely to demand for yourself that which will not help you to grow and be happy.