This month’s blog theme is about the difficulties we experience when asking for help, why that is and what we can do about it. This post is part 1 and focuses on how guilt can get in the way of us asking for help.
Living with health issues can mean that things take longer to do due to physical and/or cognitive changes and the subsequent impact on your psychological/emotional health. And there may be some things you can no longer do on your own. It feels like you need help with a lot of things, you are reliant on others more, and that your independence has been snatched from you.
You want to do it yourself. So you do, like you did before the health issues arose. You soldier on. But it’s so physically and mentally tiring and there’s not much energy left over for the fun things in life.
This is a common and normal response. We are often very keen to help others, yet when it comes to asking for and accepting help for ourselves, we often don’t. There are some really valid reasons for doing so, which I’m going to share here. The aim is to demystify why asking for help is so hard and by doing that enabling you to make conscious choices when asking for help is appropriate for you.
The myth of help being an imposition
You may feel guilty asking for help. You certainly don’t want to be an imposition and ask too much of the other person, they are busy and have their own lives to get on with. So you are quick to say no to offers of help.
But underneath all this, there is the meaning often associated with asking for help that acts as fuel for propelling the imposition myth. Asking for or receiving help is us proclaiming our vulnerability, a sign that we have a need which we cannot meet ourselves. Let’s look at the definition for vulnerable.
Vulnerable – Susceptible to physical harm or damage, emotional injury or attack; open to censure or criticism (Free Dictionary, 2016)
That’s pretty full on. Someone who is susceptible to harm, damage, emotional injury or attack is often perceived as a sign of a weakness because who would open themselves up to that? Now let’s look at the definition for weakness.
Weakness – The state or quality of being weak; a deficiency or failing, as in a person’s character; a self-indulgent fondness or liking: a weakness for chocolates (Free Dictionary, 2016)
So if a weakness is seen as a deficiency or failing in a person’s character, that’s double full on. It’s no wonder that asking for help can be so hard.
The vulnerability= weakness equation is also reinforced by cultural norms. In the UK, there are the commonly heard sayings ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’. In the USA, you often have the ‘lone hero’ being depicted as saving the day. The message is you must get on with it and sort it yourself, there is strength in that, and being strong is good. Yet we humans are social beings and crave connection. If we did the lone hero thing for all of human existence, we wouldn’t be here today.
Vulnerability – The risk of disconnection
Using the language in the definitions, when we make ourselves vulnerable, we open ourselves up to potential criticism, ridicule, or emotional injury. There is the chance we will make ourselves different from the group we belong or want to belong to. We risk setting ourselves outside of the group and disconnecting ourselves from the belonging we crave.
Setting ourselves apart highlights how we are different, and our difference can be seen as a weakness, a ‘deficiency or failing in one’s personal character’. No wonder why we don’t want to be vulnerable or show our vulnerability! We have equated that to being less than. So we don’t impose on others and we stay in the group.
What to do about that guilt?
Let’s turn guilt on its head by considering a couple of questions. A heads up, to really turn guilt on its head, the questions are challenging.
Many times, when we are in a position to help others, we offer that help. We don’t think about it too much, it’s a good thing to do and we do it. But when you are quick to say no to an offer of help or not ask due to feeling guilt for possibly imposing on another, what is being assumed of that person’s ability and desire to help, of their level of resourcefulness? What if that person has the same ability, desire and resourcefulness to help you as you have for others?
The guilt protects us from the horrible kind of disconnection we fear most. But it can also keep us from connecting with people in a very meaningful and mutual way. This has been reinforced by what clients have said to me: the guilt associated with asking for and accepting help dissipated over time, you get used to asking for help and it’s ok, they got to do something they needed or wanted to, and the person helping them enjoyed enabling that to happen.
What is it like for you?
What’s it like for you when you ask for help or someone offers it? Does guilt creep in and you worry about imposing on others? When you ask for help, what enables you to do that? Let’s get the conversation by sharing below.
P.S. Pass it on
Although these blogs are written in the context of living with serious illness/injury or a chronic condition, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. So if you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or email using the icons below. And come back in a couple of weeks where I’ll be talking about the relationship between asking for help and self-worth.
Definition of vulnerable, Available from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/vulnerability, Downloaded 2 February 2016
Definition of weakness, Available from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/weakness, Downloaded 2 February 2016
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016