Asking for Help

All of my life I have prided myself on being independent.  Even when I was a child I wanted to do everything myself, with no help from my mother or father.  As I became older, it became a point of pride not to ask for help from anyone.  I was always so sure that I could handle any situation myself.  Now that I’m older, I am a bit wiser and realize that this isn’t always the case.  Over the past few years I have had to take a really close look at myself and admit that I couldn’t do it all alone.  Sometimes I needed help to navigate some of the twists and turns my life took.  But it was still hard asking for it.  Why was that?  Why is it so difficult for many of us to ask others to help us?

1)  The first reason is that we often interpret needing help as a sign of weakness.  Strength is character is a very highly treasured trait in our society.  Just look at the popularity of Superheros in our culture.  And I’m not talking about just Superman and Batman.  I’m also talking about all the “Supermoms” out there – those women who believe that they can do everything; be a perfect mother, wife, sister,daughter, and corporate executive, all without a hair out of place.  To not be able to do everything perfectly, and without help, is a sign that we have failed in some way; that we are less of a human being.  But this isn’t necessarily the case.  Everyone has their limit as to what they can do and cope with on their own.  Once this limit has been reached, then asking for help actually becomes a strength.  Instead of representing failure, it shows that you have good judgement and the desire to do the best job possible.  This is particularly true if a person is having problems coping with stressful events in their lives.  I know that when I was facing a really stressful time in my life, I thought I could handle it on my own.  And it wasn’t until my life spun out of control that I realized that I needed help.  And it took a lot of strength to take the steps I needed to take to go out and find that help, and then to ask for it.  I discovered that asking for help when I needed it wasn’t a weakness after all – not asking was.  It was a tough lesson to learn, but a valuable one that I now carry into every part of my everyday life.

2)  The second reason, for me anyway, was that I didn’t want to impose on people.  I mean, whatever I needed help with was my problem, right?  Why should I impose my problem on others?  I didn’t want to be seen as being “needy” or “dependent”.  It took a casual comment from a friend to turn this thinking around.  A few years ago I fell while on vacation and tore the cartilage and lignments in my knee.  I couldn’t drive for a number of weeks and getting around was tough.  I knew that I needed help but was really reluctant to ask for it.  I even contemplated taking the bus to work because I felt so uncomfortable asking someone for rides!  What if they said “no”.  That would be humiliating!  When a friend heard me mention my dilemma, she said, “You know Cath, that is what friends are for.  When you ask me for help it means that I can give back for all the times you have helped me.  You are paying me a complement”.  How many times have I potentially hurt friends who have wanted to help me by not asking them?  The same can be said if you are a manager and won’t delegate work to your team.   Effective delegation is a great motivator because it builds trust and respect.  Yes, I will admit that there is a limit to how much we can expect someone to help us before it becomes a burden for them.  For example, I know that my friends will only move my sofa bed once…I know better than to ask them for help a second time!  But people are usually pretty good about letting you know when that limit has been reached, and most of us know when we have reached it without being told.    When that limit is reached, it is the right time to look for professional paid help (I rent movers from now on!). 

3)  Finally, many times I was reluctant to ask for help because I was in denial I had a problem to begin with.  Three years ago when my own stress started to build, I thought I was just going through a rough time.  Sure, several of my volunteers had passed away suddenly over a short period of time but they were just volunteers, right?  I mean, they weren’t family or anything?  I ignored the fact that the physical problems I was experiencing (upset stomach, muscle tension) were important messages being sent by my body that something major was out of balance.  I even ignored it when I started to get angry at people for no reason.  I saw it as my becoming more vocal about my needs, not as stress finding a new way to make itself known.  It wasn’t until my thoughts started to scare me to death that I was jolted out of my nice pink cloud of denial and forced to admit that something pretty major was wrong…and that I couldn’t handle it alone.  That was the first step toward recovery.  It’s funny, once I realized that I needed help, asking for it wasn’t difficult.  In fact, it was the easiest thing I ever have done.  Admitting to myself that I needed it was the tough part. 

Can you think of a time that you struggled with something alone because you were reluctant to ask for help?  In hindsight, how good a job did you really do?  There is truth in the sayings, “Two heads are better than one,” and “There is strength in numbers”.  No person is an island.  Asking friends and others for help is a sign of respect – for yourself and for the other person.  It is also a sign of trust.  And you will find that few people will let you down.  In my opinion, those who do aren’t truly your friends or the professionals you wish to work with.  Asking for help is one of the first steps towards surrounding yourself with kind, caring and compassionate people who have your best interests at heart.  And isn’t that what we all want, to truly belong?

My challenge for you this week is to take a close look at your life and identify any areas where you could benefit from getting some help.  Then ask for it – ask a friend, hire some help.  Either way, take that first step.  Also, if you see a friend who is struggling with something, offer your assistance in some way.  It could be as simple as putting them in touch with the right helper for them.  Note how helping makes you feel.  How can you honestly deny someone else from having the opportunity to enjoy the same feeling?!