Why Do We Have Trouble Asking for Help?

Do you have trouble asking for help (even though you need it)?

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Have we been conditioned to think that asking for help is like admitting we are incapable or weak?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you’re like me and so many others.

Too often, asking for help seems difficult and foreign to us, and doing so feels like we are asking for something we don’t deserve. If we can’t do it alone, it proves we are faulty or that we have a defect – somehow, we aren’t worthy of help or someone else’s care (even if we would lovingly and freely give our help and care to others).

I grew up feeling like I couldn’t count on anyone. My parents were so busy with their own lives and priorities that I felt isolated, lonely, and left alone to solve all my problems, work through any difficulties I faced, and even care for myself when I was sick. As an adolescent, I most often felt alone and as if all of my problems were unique to me and therefore no one would be able to help me. I was beyond help.

As an adult, I internalized all of this and became stubbornly self-sufficient. Relying on myself always felt safer and more efficient. I was in total control of the outcome and could avoid disappointment.

This has helped me in quite a few ways. I problem-solve well. I am good at getting things done. I’ve always gone after what I want in life and made some pretty ballsy decisions. I am other people’s strong, go-to person. I bought my own house and manage it well. I started my own business. I raised two amazing kids. I wrote two books and started a podcast. In other words, I am great at completing tasks and taking care of business.

But I suck at asking for help.

When my new husband and I combined households several years ago, I had to learn to allow him to participate in the care and running of our house, to participate financially in our household. I had to accept his help in fixing things and taking care of things. For me, this has been harder than one might think. I’ve gotten better—I asked him to hang a curtain for me yesterday—but I still have a way to go.

In the last several years, since we got married in 2017, I’ve had two carpal tunnel surgeries, a knee surgery, broken my foot twice, had the flu twice, and in the summer of 2019, after over a year of agonizing hormonal changes and gynecological issues, had a complete hysterectomy.

My body was screaming at me to slow down, take it easy, take care of myself, and allow others to help me. All of this meant that I had to rely on my husband and our young adult children, who live with us, for caretaking, assistance with everyday tasks, driving me to doctor’s appointments, cooking, and even simple things like filling my water bottle. This has been a steep learning curve for me.

Cognitively, I know that they love me and want to help me as much as I eagerly want to help them. I know that their help is how they express their love, and it feels very good to be taken care of. I know it makes them feel good to take care of me and help me out the same way I feel good when helping them and others.

I’ve been working on this in therapy for years. I’m not aware of a lack of value or worthiness issues in my difficulty accepting help, but I do know that I severely dislike feeling like I’m putting people out or giving them more work or taking up their time. Maybe it’s the same thing.

Asking for help is, “in and of itself is [an act] of vulnerability, and the biggest fear of being vulnerable is being hurt. That said, I know very few people who don’t respond positively to someone who needs them.” ~ Alison Wattle, “The Power of Asking for Help.” Elephant Journal 

Why do we fear that our friends and loved ones will refuse our pleas for help? I think, somewhere in our hearts, we know they won’t—most of the time. There were times in my life when I was refused the help I asked for, and while that hurt a lot and felt lousy, I asked someone else and got the help I needed, or I continued to rely on myself and managed without it. Those times made me more resolute in not asking for help and they perpetuated the I-can-do-it-myself mantra on near-constant replay in my head.

I continue to practice asking for help. And although I still feel like I’m putting my daughter out when I ask her to pick up something at the store, or when I ask someone to do me a favor, but I am getting better at it. I force myself to remember that they want to help me and don’t mind a trip to the store, the fixing of a cup of tea, or to find my glasses. The act of assisting me is one way they show me they love me.

Families and friends who honestly love and care for each other are eager to support one another and show that affection. I verbally remind myself of this, and it serves to quiet down the self-limiting, nagging whisper in my head.

“When we face challenges and feel overwhelmed, asking for help means caring enough about ourselves to get the support we deserve, thus increasing the likelihood that things will work out in our favor.” ~ Galina Singer, “Why it’s So Hard for Strong Women to Ask for Help,” Elephant Journal

Additionally, asking for help simultaneously increases our positive connections with our family and friends. Asking for help, allowing that vulnerable and loving give-and-take, strengthens our bonds with them and makes us all feel better, more loved, more accepted, more cared for, and it increases everyone’s well-being.

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