Only the Brave Ask for Help

Debunking the Myths Behind Assistance Resistance

An earlier blog post focused on the affects of our individualistic society ~ how, by denying ourselves the right to ask for help (which I call Assistance Resistance), we are denying the deepest magic of our existence. In this post, I will explore the most commonly held misperceptions surrounding asking for help.

In the U.S., our society places a great deal of importance on the individual, which rules out the power of community (the benefits of which is a topic I want to address in a future post), which allows us to access greater collective wisdom, helps us push past our boundaries, and gives us support and accountability. So why do people refuse to ask for help?

As I did some digging around, I realized that, while it may sound simple enough, accepting help is extremely challenging for all of us at one time or another; for some of us, we continue to have a hard time accepting help. I know that when I was diagnosed with cancer, I probably would have endured all of my tests alone had it not been for a few insistent friends. Thank goodness I was smart enough to accept ~ had I sat alone in those laboratory waiting rooms, my frightened thoughts my only company, I think I would have had a breakdown.

Seeking help can be especially hard for those who believe that getting support undermines our independence, our abilities, and our ability to cope. Self-sufficiency is held in such high regard in our country, we even have anthems dedicated to it (think “I Did It My Way”). And self-reliance is especially prized by those of us brave enough to start our own businesses or who have the grit and determination to pursue (and achieve) our professional callings.

Dustin Hoffman at the Unemployment Office - Oct. '67. Photo credit: Life magazine

Dustin Hoffman at the Unemployment Office – Oct. ’67. I love this photo because it shows that everyone can benefit from assistance in one form or another. Even those who are legends in their fields have needed help. Photo credit: Life magazine

I had an intense debate the other day with someone who felt most successful business people made it to the top on the merit of their blood, sweat and tears; therefore everyone else should be expected to make it on their own, too. The implication was that assistance should not be made available to people because it breeds laziness. Really? Even the President of the U.S. has his staff of trusted advisors. To think that one person is the “jack of all trades and master of all” is nearly impossible – plus it’s exhausting. Our admiration for “going it alone” can be an impediment when it prevents us from realizing that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, needs help sometimes.

I also noticed another trend: People consistently talk themselves out of getting help. Why? There are many possible reasons that might influence a person’s unwillingness to seek help from others; if you are at all interested in living an extraordinary life, it becomes vital to identify your feelings of reluctance.

Here are the top reasons, as I see it.

People will think I’m weak if I ask for help.
In the U.S., we glorify self-made people. You never hear about people who asked for assistance while pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to achieve the American Dream. As such, we view accepting help as a sign of weakness, especially for those who believe that seeking help undermines our sense of independence, our skill and abilities, and our ability to cope.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a recognition that no one person has everything she could possibly need to do the job. No one is perfect, yet we persist in putting up the illusion that everything in our lives, and in our businesses, is perfectly polished and operating smoothly. That there are no chinks in one’s armor.

What’s more, it actually takes a strong person to admit you need help. For example – when I refuse to ask for help, I tell myself it’s because I’m strong, but that’s not true – it’s because I’m reluctant to be vulnerable, scared to admit that I can’t do it all on my own. I’m nervous that the people I ask for help won’t help me. In reality, asking for help is the brave thing to do.

Needing help is a sign of unprofessionalism or vulnerability.
If you’re a business owner, entrepreneur or professional, you may be worried that needing help can serve as a sign of unprofessionalism; in the world of relationships, you may fear that getting help indicates that you are a wimp or damaged goods because you can’t figure out how to navigate it alone. The truth is, there are proven benefits in reaching out. We’re not meant to do everything on our own. I know of so many stories of people in business realizing that they saved so much time, money, and heartache when they finally outsourced jobs that were not within their specialty range. And in reaching out, they positively affected not just their own businesses, but also the businesses of those with whom they contracted. In the world of relationships, people who have sought help and support have not only saved themselves so much agony and heartbreak, but they found relationships that were healthy and happy. Not wanting to show vulnerability that prevents you from asking for help causes you to spin a cocoon of self-reliance as your chief defense – which could ultimately backfire on you, cost you profits (if your a business professional) and in the world of relationships, can drive an emotional wedge between those you care about.

I got through it alone before and I can do it again.
There’s a common belief that we’re supposed to be able to handle anything, that asking for help is whining and it inconveniences and/or hurts those who have to help – that we “should” be able to cope alone, to manage without help. This isn’t healthy thinking in the long-term; no one can get through life on her own. We all have struggles and we’re not able – or meant – to face them alone. You are surrounded by people who would love to lend you an ear, a hug, or in my case, a little coaching.

Asking for help serves as a reminder of your  problems that you’re unwilling to face ~ or that your problems are not big enough to seek assistance.
Sometimes we refuse to seek help because to do so forces us to realize that there’s an actual problem* in the first place. So many people I talk with are in some sort of a bind but absolutely refuse to seek help – probably because it’s a shock for them to admit what they’ve been doing all along is not getting them anywhere. Or they don’t know what they don’t know (i.e., they don’t realize that they’re doing the same thing over and over again, and getting the same poor results). (*For the record, I believe that we all have opportunities or challenges, not problems.)

Also, beware of the illusion that our problems aren’t worth the trouble of imposing on someone. I know so many people who dismiss the worth or depth of their problems, and thereby apologize for their need for help. There is no hierarchy of problems, or scale of pain. A challenge is a challenge, whatever its ease or difficulty – the litmus test is how much it is impacting you negatively, preventing you from moving forward. Reducing your challenge as not worthy of being solved only serves to make it even more challenging to cope with.

Fear of rejection or judgment
I think this is really the underlying factor here: we’re afraid that if we open up, admit that there’s something we can’t resolve on our own (there’s that vulnerability again), that we run the risk of being rejected or judged as inadequate. Ask yourself if this fear is true. And how do you know its true? If you can’t come up with hard specifics, then I’d encourage you to take a gamble. And if you have been able to come up with concrete evidence, then maybe its time to rethink your social circles. In any healthy relationship, the give and take needs to be equal. Asking for help every once in awhile strengthens your relationships and makes them more authentic, balanced, and intimate. Consider how you might attract more people who are on board with the natural flow of give and take.

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