The time arrives in each of our lives when help is needed. What shall I do, we think. The very fact that help is needed can cause anxiety and can present a daunting challenge: Asking For Help.
Whether the matter is simple or complex many of us have an aversion to Asking For Help (or having to, or being made to). We find ourselves in a position that we may not wish to be in. This is certainly true when in the throes of healthcare or in planning for aging successfully within all of life’s uncertainty.
Who knew asking for help would be such a big deal? Who knew we’d struggle with this so? Who knew Asking For Help would become a life skill?
I went overboard in my extreme independence.
Oh, I know how the difficulty first began with me, I’ve always had a hard time with asking for help. In my case, I fell into some sort of cycle. As a kid, I was independent. Then I got praised for being independent, so “on my own, self-sufficient.” Then I felt that I had to be that. It was an expectation and one that was set for me.
Then it was “live up to” -time for that expectation, and the expectation became mine more so than anyone else’s.
Along my way, I met with success and praise. Then ego and pride entered my picture. I was independent. Not a bad trait, mind you, I thought it to be a good one. So I got reeeeeally good at it.
I became independent to the point of thinking that if I asked for help, I had a weakness and would have to admit and show it to others.
I’d found a certain security in knowing that I don’t have to depend on others to make it in the world. Sometimes it felt easier to carry a heavy load by myself and not say anything about it. I even have an aversion to people trying to do kind things for me. Just ask me when I am sick. “May I bring you anything?” kind folks will inquire. I – don’t – need – anything (thank you).
Over the years, I’ve learned to rebut my own notion that independence was good and preferred. To do that, I had to acknowledge and notice that there are indeed many forms of Asking For Help.
- Collaboration – two or more Independents that agree to work toward a goal.
- Delegation – at work. The boss gives the work out and expects the work. Some employees expect the delegation and are glad for only their part, phew!
- (being in) Mediation – when a family comes together for a goal, or example, and are planning for someone’s care. They gather and decide on a plan that fits the family, then the tasks are divided and shared, which will bring everyone to the goal.
- “Building A Team” – a term I often use with clients, means choosing your team of professionals or neighbors, clergy, and all kinds of helpers to help and support you toward your goal.
Interdependence – Whuzzat?
Then one day, I heard a new term during a lecture and really heard it. The term was “Interdependence”. Whuzzat? I did some reading. I came across definitions like
- Interdependence is the state of being dependent upon one another: mutual dependence.
- Interdependence is “ the quality (It’s a quality, y’all!) or condition of being interdependent, or mutually reliant on each other. Reliant. That sounded strong.
I read, “Staunch independence is an illusion, but heavy dependence isn’t healthy, either. The only position of long-term strength is interdependence”. Yes, I thought. After all, where do you think the term Win-Win came from? 😊
The ability to ask for and obtain help is difficult but is very much a valuable life skill. Over time, carrying a heavy load without enough support can lead to burnout – the exhaustion and disengagement resulting from the stress of having too many demands and insufficient resources.
If we look, interdependence is occurring all around us.
We Ask For Help and are given help all the time! Consider these everyday matters.
- Preteens need a ride to soccer practice – loved ones give rides and set up carpools. > There’s another! If ever you’ve arranged a ride or a carpool, there’s been an Ask For Help. (I bet help was given, too).
- “Please open this jar of pickles for me – I cannot get it open!”
- In Estate Planning > you’ve asked an attorney to help with planning and enabling how things will go by way of legal counsel and documents.
- “I sprained my ankle. Can you mow my grass this week?”
- As a Patient Advocate and Consultant, I will help my clients where they need to go, whether through healthcare navigation or aging with success.
- “Sure, I will bake a cake for the church bazaar; we want to raise money to further our missionary work”.
Have you ever had someone do something for you, and they were glad to do it, only too happy to lend a hand? Logic will tell us that we do need each other, that this Interdependence thing is good. Add in that hindsight will tell us we had it aaalllll blown up in our head, those preconceived notions about Asking For Help.
Asking For Help enables interdependence to work like the very term it is: Inter – dependence.
Here’s how we can begin to get OK with Asking For Help and enabling interdependence to work like the very term it is: Inter – dependence.
First, we can take a look at ourselves, we can find where this resistance is coming from. We may need to revisit our origin of thinking to see if any of those preconceived notions may be in error. If we look at ourselves, there could be
- Negative associations: you might associate help-seeking with a negative view of ‘taking handouts’, or you yourself may think that someone is weak or lazy if they can’t do something themselves. (Now I as you: Is that accurate?).
- Self-criticism: you could be your own worst critic. Perhaps a little of the “negative self-talk” and Imposter Syndrome at play? ( “I’m a dope. I can never… Silly old me… I can’t even do such and such.”).
- Concerns about how you will be perceived: you might worry that someone will think less favorably of you if you ask for help. (There’s that pride and ego thing).
- Self-sacrificing beliefs: actually, you might buy into a self-sacrificing narrative, believing that you should put the needs of others before your own. You might worry about burdening someone with your needs. I will say, we hear this often in eldercare and in healthcare, the patient stating that they do not wish to be a burden. (Is this accurate all the time? Have you ever helped anyone else, maybe because you simply wanted to? Would that negate this burdensome position?).
- Overestimating the likelihood of rejection: ‘No one is going to want to help me out,’ you might assume – ‘why would they?’ We may think, “He’ll say no. He always does”. Or, “she cannot. She has no extra time for me”. Or, “If I ask, she will laugh at me or taunt me to no end”. (Will they all, or always, say no?).
Even though these types of thoughts and beliefs about Asking For Help are quite common, they are often inaccurate. People are likely much more willing to help than we may realize.
Are we selling other people short?
Research suggests that we tend to underestimate the likelihood of someone saying yes to a request for help. Most people feel good when they do helpful things for others and prefer to think of themselves as generous and willing to help when they can. If you fear that someone will like you less if you ask them for help, consider the opposite: people might like you more if they’ve done you a favor. Helping people helps them.
So, when you catch your mind kicking in with unhelpful reasons not to Ask For Help, step back from your thoughts and see them for what they may actually be: preconceived notions.
Remind yourself that your thoughts aren’t always accurate, and you don’t always have to listen to them. Instead, you can let these thoughts and worries come and go without letting them run the show.
If you have to, push yourself. Here’s how.
- Remember, revisit what is most important to you in this situation.
- Is the short-term discomfort worth the long-term outcome (for all concerned)? Long-term, will Asking For Help bring you closer to an important goal?
In your Ask For Help,
Be as clear as possible about what you need
“I need this because of this”. If the person you’re asking for help doesn’t know why you are requesting it, you can give the request some context and justification, but you don’t need to belabor it or try to convince the person. For example, “I’m due to work late tomorrow night; can you get dinner started for you and the kids? Or, I need a ride to a medical appointment on Thursday. Are you available to help?”
Focus on the Ask, not reciprocity.
There’s no need to apologize or minimize your request. Nor do you have to offer something in return. Focusing on reciprocity can backfire ‘because people don’t like to be indebted to anyone. Refrain from the notion of “I’ll do this for you if”. And no more “I hate to ask you this…”. >> With the Nike slogan in mind, “Just do it.” Simply ask.
Don’t let perfection creep in if you are seeking help. If your helper doesn’t do something in a particular way, so what? The benefits of getting the help will likely outweigh how things get done, so it may be a good idea to loosen up on any absolutes of control.
A NO tells us to focus on getting where we want to go in the first place.
After The Ask, what if the answer is NO?
What if your request is denied? We must turn our focus on other options to get to our goal. Don’t waste time on their “Why”. Refrain from wondering, “was it you?”, or assigning blame (“He never says Yes”). The NO is telling us that we need to switch to -and focus- upon other alternatives to getting what we are after in the first place.
Takeaways – How to Ask For Help
- Asking for help can be uncomfortable, but it’s an important skill. It can yield much-needed practical and emotional support and protect you from burnout.
- Check your assumptions about Asking For Help. Self-criticism, concerns about how someone will see you, and other thoughts and beliefs can discourage help-seeking, but they might not be reasonable or accurate.
- Make a decision to ask for help. There might be pros and cons, but likely the long-term benefits of asking for help often outweigh any short-term costs. Nike again: Just Do It.
- Choose whom to ask. Think about who has the skills, ability or knowledge to help you effectively – and who is likely to respond well to the request.
- Ask in the face of discomfort. Notice any fear, anxiety or shame that arises as you proceed to ask for help. They are clues for things to work on later. Summon your courage, and ask anyway.
- Be as clear as possible about what you need. Try to make your request simple and specific. If you’re not sure exactly what kind of help you need, ask if you can talk it over together. Plenty of folks like to be consulted!
- If someone agrees to help, let them – and receive it gratefully. Getting help can mean giving up some control. Let the helper take ownership of what they have agreed to do.
- If the request is denied, consider other options. Don’t assume the worst about why someone turned you down. Getting help may require asking several people.
It’s a big world out there, and if we’ll take a look, we will see we are already interdependent to some extent. We simply need to clear our own baggage and work together better.
I believe most folks are inherently good people and wish to help, but they have to know help is needed. Our job is to Ask For Help, and then the interdependence can continue toward what we were after in the first place.
I consult with clients and their loved ones toward patient advocacy, healthcare navigation, and successful aging. Contact me for a Complimentary Consultation. I’m also a Solo Ager myself, and so I facilitate an online group for Solos called Savvy Solos. Check out my website and other social media for helpful tools and tips about today’s topic, Asking For Help, and other important matters. www.nancyruffner.com 919.628.4428