I would venture a guess that you are reading this because you have a hard time asking for help, and it has gotten you in trouble once or twice. “Real men don’t ask for help.” “It’s not safe to ask a stranger for help.”
Whether we grew up with beliefs that we should figure things out on our own, or grew up in a time of intense, frequent news on television and internet, many of us struggle to ask for help, even though we know we are “allowed” to.
You probably remember a time in school or out shopping when you wanted to ask for help, but stopped yourself. You might have even had a prompt from the teacher: “Does anyone have any questions?” or from an associate “Is there something I can help you with?” Still, even when it’s their job (or their joy) to help, you might hesitate.
It can be even more difficult when you’re going through difficult times and can really use another set of eyes or hands. If you’re overwhelmed with work and home life, or if you’re going through some tough emotional business, sometimes you just need someone to help.
If it is hard enough to ask for help when we’re lost driving, it is much more difficult to ask for help when we’re feeling sad, angry, or anxious.
WHY IS IT HARD TO ASK FOR HELP?
If you look back to your past, you might see where the roots formed that made it more difficult for you to ask for help. Your parents might have made you learn to figure things out on your own, then given you a great praise when you did.
As a child, you may have been met with resistance or anger when you reached out for help. Maybe you had a parents who modeled the “do it yourself” attitude, always refusing to ask for help. These early formative experiences can leave you with the impression that asking for a help is a deficiency. You might also have difficulty asking for help because you don’t want to surrender control to an outside person, or because you don’t want to feel like you “owe” anyone anything.
When we are young, everything is new to us. We are a blank slate. Whatever we learn, we “know” to be true. If we learn that asking for help is a weakness, or that doing it ourselves is praise-worthy, or if someone does something for us, we are “required” to do something in return for them because that is what is “respectful and the right thing to do” these become our truths.
If we grow up in a family with both parents asking for help from family, friends, and professionals, we learn that asking for help is acceptable and appropriate. This becomes our truth.
As we go through life, our truths are solidified by our experiences. We find the examples that agree with these truths and dismiss the examples that do not fit these truths.
FRUSTRATION, NOT GETTING NEEDS MET, WASTING TIME AND ENERGY
The problem with not asking for help when we need it is we end up frustrated and having little energy. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to figure everything out on our own. We often do not do it right the first time which ends up wasting a lot of time and money.
Not only do we feel frustrated and overwhelmed, but our loved ones feel it as well. Something that seems so simple to fix if we just called someone is taking a very long time. This puts our loved ones out for an extended time both because you are working on the issue and therefore you are not spending time with your loved one.
Even when we finally figure it out, we’ve spent so much time trying to figure it out, our loved ones aren’t exactly “thrilled” when we do get it. We may be excited because we learned something new, but the time and effort may not be appreciated by our loved ones.
It is more complicated when what we are trying to fix is ourselves. When we feel depression, anxiety, stress, feelings of burnout, PTSD, anger/irritability, our desire to fix it ourselves is compounded by our beliefs about mental health and therapy.
It is also stressful enough when our families have to wait for something tangible to be fixed. When they are dealing with our irritability, PTSD, sleeplessness, and anxiety, it affects them at a deeper level as well. Our loved ones want us to feel good, ourselves, and confident.
ARE YOU READY TO FEEL RELIEF, SUPPORTED, AND CONFIDENT?
You’ve been dealing with this stress for long enough. Your family has suffered long enough. The night time pacing, the crying spells, the panic attacks; enough is enough.
When we ask for help in a way that we are able to be heard and therefore get our needs met, it is a feeling of relief. We can get back to life quickly and not lose out on our lives or our family.
Everything that is worth doing is worth doing well, right? Many people who have the belief that it is a weakness to ask for help believe this other belief as well.
If asking for help is worth doing, it is worth doing well; worth doing in a way that will guarantee results. If we don’t know how to ask for help effectively, we potentially set ourselves up for feeling even more frustrated because we won’t get our needs met.
HOW TO ASK FOR HELP
If you have difficulty asking for help, you may have learned some less than optimal coping mechanisms over the years. You might try to make someone feel guilty or feel sorry for you. Or in your haste, you may ask the wrong person, instead of someone who would be better able to help you.
If you’ve learned less than optimal coping mechanisms, you are not a bad person. You are not a failure. We are all doing the best we can with what we have in the moment. You learned a way to survive. You learned a way to get through.
Just like you learned these coping mechanisms, you will need to learn how to ask for help effectively. This is not something that we “just get.” Due to our individual life experiences, we learn different things. Unlearning and relearning is hard for everybody.
As an extreme example of relearning (and I emphasize this is just an example, not truth), let’s say you’ve learned that physically harming someone else is not a healthy or appropriate thing to do. This has been ingrained into you since you were a little child. You know this to be true. Every fiber of your being knows this to be true. Now as an adult, you started to learn that harming other people is not only appropriate, but is the right thing to do in many situations. You try to hit someone and you feel guilty. You even hesitated before doing it. It feels wrong in every way. It would not be easy to do this again…and again…and again…until it starts to feel normal and ok.
Now let’s bring this example back to asking for help. The first time you do it, you may feel guilty. You may feel awkward. It won’t feel good or right. But this is the right thing to do, right? So you tell yourself you just have to keep doing it, as uncomfortable as it is.
Relearning requires many parts. It requires a behavior change (the act of asking for help), it requires thought changes (This is not only ok, but is the right thing to do), it requires recognizing the benefits of doing it (we are more likely to do something again if it had a positive outcome), it requires us accepting the feelings of discomfort, and it requires us challenging the negative thoughts we have about the behavior and about ourselves (moving from “I am a failure for asking for help” to “I am a strong person to know my strengths and weaknesses and ask for help when I am not confident about something”).
TOP THREE SKILLS WHEN ASKING FOR HELP
You may choose someone who is more likely to say yes if:
- You are specific: To ask for help, it’s best to be straightforward. Vague requests will get vague answers. The answers may not fit the need you are seeking either. “Please paint my house” is different than “please paint my house this specific color of yellow.” “Can you give me a ride tomorrow?” is different than “can you give me a ride to the airport tomorrow?”
Know in advance what you need. If you don’t know what you need, how can you ask for help with something? “Please bring your tools” versus “Please bring your tools including your ratchet set” If you don’t know what you need, that is ok too. But still be specific. “Please bring all of your tools; I don’t know what I may need.” Or “I am feeling very stressed right now, and honestly I don’t know what you can do to help.”
- You go to the source: Instead of going to people who are easy to talk to, or people who are more likely to help you, seek help form those whose help you need. It can be easier to go to a family member or friend, but this person may not know the answers any better than you would. In this case, you’ll still waste time and energy.
None of us can know how to do everything. Sometimes we are too close to the problem, which makes it more difficult to see the answer also. Asking for help from someone who is outside the problem can often result in an answer we have been searching for for a long time.
- You offer an exchange: It may be easier to ask for help if you offer something in return. For example if you need someone to pick up your child at daycare so you can work late, offer a playdate in return.
This exchange is often helpful for people who struggle with the belief they will “owe” someone after they ask for help. The great thing about exchanges is we are all busy and none of us know everything. When you offer an exchange, it’s like “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”
However, if the other person doesn’t accept the exchange, it doesn’t mean you now owe them something in the future. When someone turns down an exchange, they are willing to provide their expertise or time in exchange for nothing.
Asking for help can be a very difficult thing to do. We come into adulthood with many core beliefs about ourselves and the world. Challenging and changing these core beliefs takes a great deal of time and patience. The above three techniques can aid in this change.
Asking for help for ourselves comes with even more challenges. These techniques will be challenged because you may not even know what you need. (Being specific). You may not know who the expert is (going to the source). You may not be able to offer an exchange as it may be an ethical issue for a therapist.
When you are asking for help from a therapist, you do NOT need to know what you need. You and the therapist will figure this out together. Every therapist can help you figure this out and get you where you want to be. However, if you know that you are “angry,” or you have nightmares, or you get panic attacks (you may have gone to the ER once thinking it was a heart attack), you can start there. Talk to the therapist about their specialty.
A therapist who specializes in specific mental health components (anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc), will be well equipped to help you figure out your needs and help you get you where you want to be quickly. A therapist who specializes is equipped to work with everyone looking for help, but has a passion and more training in one or more specific components.
When you are ready to take the next step and ask for help, I look forward to talking with you. I specialize in PTSD, Secondary trauma, and burnout in professionals. Even if I am not the right therapist for you, I will help you find someone who is. Thus getting you back to yourself, your family, and your life as quickly as possible. Call me for a free consultation at 941-462-4807.