“Just because you accept help from someone, doesn’t mean you have failed. It just means you’re not in it alone.” – (Life As We Know It, 2010)
For many people, asking for help is difficult and something to be avoided at all costs. In highly individualistic cultures, like that found in much of North America, independence is highly valued and dependence is viewed as a sign of weakness. This can be reinforced in the workplace and family cultures as well. While each individual is responsible for their own lives and healthy boundaries are important, we were also made to be connected with others. Social support is highly beneficial for overall wellness and an important factor in resilience to the many challenges life brings.
Why, then, do so many people find it difficult to ask for help and rely on others? As mentioned above, some family cultures discourage asking for help because of the value they place on independence. This can be done in explicit and implicit ways. They might praise the child who doesn’t need or ask for help while expressing disapproval or frustration with the child who asks for help. Some spoken or unspoken family mottos also reinforce independence over asking for help. There is also the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure. A belief that accompanies this is that if you can’t do it all by yourself there must be something wrong with you. This can lead to feelings of shame when you experience difficulty and find that you do need help.
Another thing that keeps people from asking for help is making assumptions about other people. You might think that others are too busy or that they don’t want to be bothered. When you make assumptions like this you make the decision for the other person without giving them the opportunity to respond for themselves. A major reason people do not ask for help is the belief that they are not worthy of help and that they’ll just be a burden to others if they express their needs. There are a wide variety of experiences that can lead someone to this conclusion and it becomes deeply held, making asking for help seem like an impossible task. What are some of your reasons for not asking for help when you need it?
Support from others is an important factor in dealing with challenges and coping well. It is comforting knowing that you are not alone, even if others can’t change the circumstances you are dealing with. It takes courage to ask for help and, contrary to popular belief, it is not a sign of weakness. Developing the social support you need takes action on your part. You will have to express your needs clearly and directly, giving the other person the chance to respond. Sometimes you need someone to help you solve a problem, or move something, or just simply listen and be present. When you pay attention to your needs you are better able to communicate them to others. Just like you can’t read their minds, don’t expect others to be able to read your mind and know what you need without your asking. Lastly, building social support begins even before you need help. The time you invest spending time together, talking, sharing meals, and helping others out is all part of building your social support so don’t overlook that time.
Asking for help is important but often difficult to do. If you’d like help exploring your reasons for not asking and how to build the social support you need, call today!
Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt
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