Everyone on earth has challenges to cope with every day. Big challenges, little challenges, and often multiple challenges. Despite difficulty, there is a tendency for a lot of people to avoid seeking or accepting help from others. Why is it hard for us to need help?
We are wired in many ways to do things on our own. This starts in childhood – children are often insistent that they can do things by themselves, even when they can’t quite. The “I can do it” attitude is nurtured in childhood for good reason – we want children to grow into independent and competent adults.
We may also have a hard time asking for help because we don’t want to be a burden to other people. We are all aware that people are busy, that other people have their own things to deal with and challenges to overcome. Asking for someone to help us with something may feel like too much to ask.
In many cases, we don’t ask for help because we don’t want to appear weak or fragile. We may want to be seen as self-sufficient and capable of taking care of ourselves with no help.
Interestingly, though, one thing that often makes people feel really good about themselves is — wait for it —
So – in general – people feel good about helping other people, and at the same time – in general – people don’t like to ask other people for help. Isn’t there a better balance here for us to think about?
Thinking about this in terms of balance, as individuals we need to consider what we need in the way of big asks and little asks. On a daily basis, do we ask people to help us with little things? Asking a family member to take out the garbage, asking a friend for a small favor? Some daily small asks may feel easy, because we do them frequently and don’t need to put a lot of thought into them. Asking a family member to help with a chore is nearly a no-brainer because it is part of daily life and we are all in it together as a family. These types of helps are a little easier to balance.
But asking for bigger help, for bigger things, is a more challenging issue. During the pandemic, for example, people have needed to ask for help in unprecedented ways. Outside of the pandemic, there are always times that people need help but still don’t ask. It can be so difficult to do this. So how can we correct this imbalance?
It seems like we need to stop thinking of ourselves as potential burdens and start thinking of ourselves as part of a fellowship of human beings, who can best enjoy the time we have together on earth by helping and doing for others, and allowing others to help and do things for us. The phrases we hear, such as “It takes a village” or “Do unto others“, are meaningless if we don’t ask for or accept help. Opening your mind and your heart to the notion of letting someone else help you is the first step towards having better balance.
Asking someone for help in a time of need can, in some ways, be seen as a gift to the other person. Keep in mind that people feel good about helping other people, for the most part. So if you trust someone enough to ask for help in a time of need, you are gifting them with this trust, and gifting them with the opportunity to help someone they care about.
Offering help is an equal gift. When you know someone is struggling, offer to help. If she declines help but you believe she needs some support, find a different way to provide the support. An example if this might be if you have a friend who is ill, and you ask if she needs anything and she says no. Instead of just accepting the “no”, you could drop off some food at her home or send a thinking-of-you note to her to brighten her day while she recovers.
Finding this balance within relationships is an important piece of the equation. We have to be able to trust friends enough to ask them for support, but we also have to trust people to let us know when they can’t provide the support we need because of their own busy schedules, stress, or other burdens they have at the time. If you have one or two trusted friends that you know you can count on in times of need, you should be able to have honest conversations about what is possible in the way of help and support at any given time.
One final thought about seeking and accepting help when needed has to do with professional support. If you are sick, you likely will go to a doctor. If you need a haircut, you will likely go to a hairdresser. But if you need professional help in the way of counseling, or special support for your children (such as special education or behavioral therapy), it is often more difficult to take the steps to seek this help. Sometimes people may see this as a weakness or a stigma. It is so important that we strive to help reduce this perception. If you or someone you care about needs emotional or behavioral support, there are thousands of talented, compassionate and highly trained professionals to help people get through challenging times.
To find a better balance we can all benefit from looking for more ways to be supportive to others, while opening up our own minds to allow others to be supportive to us. With this balance, there is a potential for benefit to everyone.