Asking for help may seem easy for some and difficult for others. Usually it is not asking for help itself that is the issue, but the meaning or beliefs you may assign to such actions. Common physical, life-threatening scenarios such as yelling from a burning building for a rescue or falling off a boat and flailing in deep ocean water make asking for help feel justified. However, when it comes to needing emotional help, a mindset could prevail that can be self-defeating instead of leading to the benefits that asking for help has to offer.
There are many factors that could interfere with a person’s willingness to ask for help depending on how you were raised or even the culture that you grew up in. Below are some common beliefs that serve as barriers to asking for help and can potentially keep you feeling stuck:
- “Asking for help means that I am a weak person.” This is a common thought pattern where self-reliance is expected implying that there is something fundamentally wrong with you if you enlist the assistance of another person for emotionally-based reasons. This belief can keep you isolated and negatively impact your self-esteem because realistically we do not always have all the resources needed to solve certain problems on our own, thereby preventing us from moving forward.
- “In my family, we do not talk about problems outside of the house.” This is a tricky one because in some cultures, this is a very real expectation where talking about issues outside of the house is perceived as being disloyal to the family. However, if you feel you are not getting the support you need from your family, and want to do something more to help yourself, then seeking outside help may be necessary. Remember that a trusted friend and therapist can offer objective feedback and this does not mean you are going against your family values, only adding on to it in order to find the emotional relief that you deserve.
- “I don’t want to become dependent on someone [i.e. therapist, friend] to always help me.” While this is a respectable position and makes good sense, seeking help from other people for a specific issue does not mean you are not capable of helping yourself in other areas of your life. In fact, a good therapist or friend will help you help yourself as no one can do the work for you. As a result, utilizing the help that is offered to you can empower you to help yourself the next time that issue arises.
- “If I get help outside of my relationship, then my partner may think I do not trust them.” Depending on the kind of help you are getting, seeking assistance outside of your relationship can help more because a therapist or friend can see your issue through a more unbiased lens compared to your significant other who may be equally affected by the solutions you choose to solve your problem.
- “I do not have the time to talk to someone.” This could be a friend, a mentor, a clergy person or therapist. When it comes to professional help, a lot of folks put it off because of not only having limited time, but a shortage of money also. Although there could be a lot of truth to this, it is important to be honest with yourself by contemplating how much time and money was spent on the problem. For example, if your issue is a type of addiction, the amount of time and money spent on the addiction likely exceeds the cost and time investment that is needed to help you recover from it. When it comes to not having the time, it is important to also consider the potential emotional and health consequences that could emerge if you do not get the help that you need in an earlier time-frame. In other words, an investment in time and money now, could save you time and money later if your problems get worse.
Below is a new framework that I offer to you if asking for help causes more stress than the problem itself. What if you changed the word “help” to “support?” This may seem like a small adjustment, but the self-defeating interpretation changes when you are open to changing your beliefs about how you see assistance from others. What was once thought of as a helpless, needy act (asking for help) could now become conceptualized more collaboratively and with a greater level of integrity (asking for support). I will further demonstrate this new mindset in the following exercise.
Take out a sheet of paper and place it on its horizontal side. Across the middle of the paper, list about 3-4 problem areas you are currently facing and/or the name of at least one person involved. For example, you may need help with walking your dog while you are away or need advice on how to manage an emotional problem. Then under each issue, put the name of at least one person who you believe can help you with that problem. Next, put a stick figure or the word ME underneath your horizontal list to represent yourself. Then draw downward arrows from each problem area, pointing at yourself, as if to illustrate how you may feel below the problem. As you can see, it can feel intimidating asking for help from a lot of different people, especially when a bunch of arrows from the various problems are being pointed downward at you and appear as though you are in a lower position. It could also seem as though a lot of negative attention is being brought on to you that could very easily discourage you from asking for help if you are viewing it this way.
Now draw the same diagram, but instead of putting yourself below the problems, write ME (or a stick figure representing yourself) above them with downward arrows from yourself toward each of the problems listed. Also, replace the word help with support in your mind when looking at the second diagram. For example, I need support with an emotional problem or support with walking my dog. When replacing the beliefs from “help” to “support,” the same problematic barriers can occur, but with a more empowering, solution-focused feel. The arrows in your second diagram represent columns of support rather than perceived metaphorical lifelines that could foster a negative association about asking for help. In addition to the diagrams, write down your answers to the following questions:
- How does it feel to me if I were to think of asking for help as asking for support? How, if at all, do the two mindsets feel similar to you or different?
- What are the advantages to asking for help/support?
- How do you see asking for help/support as having a negative emotional impact on you?
- In what specific ways would you want to be supported and how can you ask for this from the person(s) who you need to provide it? For example, how would you ask someone to help you with walking the dog?
- If you were to ask someone for help/support, how specific do you need to be in order to get the help/support you need?
- What is it like for you when a close friend or family member seek your help/support? Do you have the same beliefs that you project others may feel toward you if you are the one in need? Why/why not?
Another tip to keep in mind is that the more specific you can be about what you need and for how long, the more empowered you are likely to feel. Opening your heart and mind to let others in can be equally rewarding to you as well as them.