How to explain when recovery from your illness isn’t possible

How to explain when recovery from your illness isn’t possible

It can be hard explaining to people when recovery from your illness isn’t possible. You’re trying to understand why recovery isn’t possible yourself in addition to dealing with people, who are well-meaning people or not, ask questions, give (unsolicited) advice, and make comments.

  • “What happened to you?”
  • “Oh, but you’ve recovered?”
  • Some variant of you looking well so your recovery must be good. (But on the inside you are feeling the opposite.)
  • And when you say your recovery is taking its time or there will be no recovery, you might hear:
    • “Why? Maybe you need to do XYZ, do more of ABC, stop doing DEF, be more positive…”
    • “You’re not any better yet? But you look well. You must not be working hard enough at your recovery…”
    • “Oh, I use insert-your-solution-of-the-month, it really works. Highly recommend it!”
  • “You shouldn’t be using that disabled parking bay/loo” or “You don’t look sick/disabled.”
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Responding to the question: Have you recovered yet? B Babcock 2016

You feel yourself hesitating and wondering how to respond. Do you tell the truth, do you want to, will they get it? To answer their question truthfully, your response may take time, not be a straightforward yes or no, and so may invite more questions. You may not have the energy to educate someone by explaining, the energy to tell a stranger what happened to you, the energy debating with yourself how much to share, the energy to convince someone you know well that no, a recovery is not possible (despite how well you may look at the moment). And it’s ok to feel that way.

So how do you explain when recovery from your illness isn’t possible? If you do? Read on to find out.

When responding, consider what you say to whom

Regarding what you say, factors such as how well you know the person or not, the setting, and will you have ongoing contact with the person can all come into play.

  How well you know the person Setting Ongoing contact with this person?
1 Random person you do not know On the street, in a restaurant or shop No
2 Semi-stranger, i.e. friend of a friend or work colleague Social and work Possibly not but who knows
3 People you know but are not close to like acquaintances and colleagues Social and work Yes
4 People you know well like family, relatives, close friends, some colleagues Assume ongoing contact Yes

The first thing to keep in mind is it is YOUR choice as to how much you say or not

It is YOUR body. YOU are dealing with the health issue. You do not have to disclose anything you do not want to.

This especially applies to strangers’ comments and questions. If they make a nasty comment that you look too well to use the disabled loo or parking bay for example, it can be hard to hear when you know how much that loo/parking bay is necessary to you.

What they say speaks volumes about them. It is their ‘stuff’. You’ve got enough going on, you don’t need to take on their stuff too. Leave their stuff with them. If you choose to respond, some common ones I’ve heard clients use are:

  • Not all disabilities are visible. – It’s a fact and can be delivered matter-of-factly.
  • You don’t look ignorant. – This is a come-back along the lines of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. Your choice whether or not you use it.
  • I hope what happened to me never happens to you. – This can be a come-back or a sincerely felt wish on your part depending on how you respond. Again, your choice.

Then move on.

If a stranger asks a genuine question, nothing nasty, like ‘What happened to you?’ or ‘Why do you use the stick?’ or ‘But you have recovered?’, again it is your choice what you say and how much. If you don’t feel like saying talking about the actual situation because it may  take too long to explain or possibly invite more questions, you can respond,

  • ‘Nothing really, the situation is manageable, thanks.’ 
  • ‘I don’t want to talk about it, but thanks for your concern’.

Smile and nod your head once. Look away. Touch your watch. Subtle signs indicating conversation has ended. Move on.

Or you may choose to give a brief response, ‘I had XYZ’ or ‘I use a stick to help with my balance’ or ‘Recovery is a long road with this condition/injury’. If they ask more questions and you are ok with responding, go for it. If you don’t want to respond further, you can say, ‘You know, I’ve got to get going. Good to chat, thanks.’ or ‘There’s really not much more to say. It’s one of those things.’ Smile. Move on.

With people you have ongoing contact with like family, relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, some more explanation and education may be needed. How much will depend on their own experiences and assumptions regarding health, illness and recovery and how they feel impacted by what has happened to you.

Some people just take things on board, support you and get on with it. Others do not because their definition of recovery may align with society’s go-to definition that you go back to the way you were before the illness/injury. Or they may also be missing what you used to be able to do and what you were able to do together and are going through their own process of coming to terms with what has happened. In these cases, explaining many times may be needed.

If they ask, ‘Have you recovered (yet)?’, some simple go to responses can be:

  • No, I won’t recover in the sense I will be like I was. I’m living with a changed body now.
  • No, it’s not like recovery from a cold or the flu. I won’t go back to the way I was.
  • No, I won’t recover to how I was before. That’s not possible with this condition/illness/injury because…

Providing educational material from a third source to families and work colleagues can really help to educate them, thereby helping them readjust their expectations of you, your recovery and current abilities. It also highlights that there is a different definition of ‘recovery’ for situations like yours, which can help to evolve the current societal definition of recovery.

Managing yourself when responding is key

We touched on this above, particularly when dealing with strangers. When people say, ‘Oh, but you have recovered, haven’t you? You are looking so well!’ in a happy, maybe expectant voice, it can feel like an in-your-face reminder that no, you haven’t and you won’t. That kind of reminder can be draining when given in a casual way and/or you hear it a lot.

When people say what they do, they are working to their definition of recovery.

It is what they know. It’s not about you. I also think at times, people genuinely want the best for you. They want you to feel better, even when they mistakenly assume you are better because you look better. Or in their minds they may not even be thinking of your recovery when they say that you look well. They might mean it as just that.

But I know it can hurt and feel draining. And if you feel that, spend some time with it. But you don’t need to dress yourself in it. It’s definitely not an outfit to wear and never take off. There is something here about owning your power over how you want to feel on a longer term basis. And the best way to get to that point is to feel your way through the hurt or draining feeling out to the other side so it is then behind you.

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Moving beyond feelings of hurt and feeling drained. B Babcock 2016

What’s it like for you?

How do you deal with people asking if you have recovered? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts so share below by leaving a comment.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

Recovery definition

  1. a) To have (the use, possession, or control of something) restored
  2. b) To regain the use of (a faculty) or be restored to (a normal or usual condition)
  3. c) To regain one’s health, strength, composure, balance, etc., after illness, trouble, disturbance, or the like
  4. d) If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury.

Recovery definition obtained from

Dear Mum, I may never recover from this illness

Dear Mum, I may never recover from this illness

Dear mum, I may never recover from this illness. It’s been a year now since I suddenly got ill. So much has changed. Some days when the fatigue and pain gets too much and I can’t do anything else, I feel like my body is broken. Other days, I feel I have come so far in the past year, I am so proud of myself and feel on top of the world.

I’m aware of the impact this has had on you and everyone else in the family and I feel guilty. I took so much of everyone’s time and energies and caused so much worry. But I am so thankful that you were there for me. It must not have been easy for you.

I wonder mum, how is it for you now?

From here, where I am, it doesn’t seem any easier. I am sorry for bringing this on you, I really am. If I didn’t get ill… but that is a wishful thinking.

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Illness and mother and daughter relationships. B Babcock 2016

I wonder if you may never recover from this

It seems hard for you. Sometimes the way you look at me, it looks as if you don’t quite believe me when I say I don’t feel well. I know on the outside I look like the ‘old me’. I look fine, well even.

But on the inside, some days I feel awful. The crushing pain and fatigue I feel is like a heavy heavy blanket that I cannot push off. On these days I can’t do much even if I look ok. But know mum, I’m not faking it. Trust me. If I could just jump up and go out with you to do something fun or to help you around the house, I would.

I see how hard it is for you when you refer to me as the ‘old me’ and the ‘new me’, that wishful look in your eye.

When you refer to me like that, it hurts. I wonder if you don’t like who I am, how I am now. I have changed. That didn’t feel like a choice. No longer can I be the high-achiever. I simply do not have the strength physically or mentally. My achievements made you proud. I hope you are still proud at what I am achieving, despite the achievements being so much smaller.

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Mothers, daughters and illness – The wish and the guilt. B Babcock 2016

Maybe you can’t accept what has happened

Some days I am not sure I can accept it myself. Mum, please understand, I didn’t want this to happen. If I had a choice, I would go back to the ‘old me’. But I don’t have that choice. What has happened has happened. I have to deal with what is in front of me. And I am doing that the best way I know how.

You could not have prevented what had happened to me and if you could have, I know you would have tried everything possible.

I need your help now mum. Because I may never recover.

I need you to dispose of the wish for what was. Please trust me when I say I am not well. Because I may never recover from this illness. The doctors don’t even know. I sincerely hope this won’t be it, but it might be. And if I will always be as I am now, will it be enough? Will I be enough for you?

You’re my mum. I need you. And want to know I am ok as I am in your eyes despite my body not working as it once did. That you still love me. Know that I love you. This love is all I ever want for us.


Your daughter

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You are my daughter, you are enough. B Babcock 2016

What’s it like for you?

Do you have an illness, condition or injury you may never recover from? And has that fact impacted your relationship with your mother or daughter? What was your situation like and what did you do? Feel free to share your story below as it can resonate with other people and help them see that they are not alone.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

This blog has been inspired by several individuals I’ve spoken to regarding the impact of their illness or injury on themselves, their mothers and acceptance (or not) of the situation. This is their story, the story of a daughter to her mum. It can equally apply to a father and son, to the son and mother relationship or the daughter and father.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

Why asking for help is so hard: Because being ‘needy’ is not good

Why asking for help is so hard: Because being ‘needy’ is not good

Being ‘needy’ is not good in our society. You don’t want people to think that of you. So you try and do as much as you can on your own rather than ask for help. It’s all for good reasons I explained in previously: not wanting to impose on others and wanting to maintain our sense of self-worth.

But you know deep down that since your health changed, you can’t do things like you used to. And you need help. But you worry about being seen as ‘needy’.

Feeling ‘needy’ and being perceived as such can also stop us from asking for help. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘I don’t need (help with) X. I’m not a needy person. It’s almost as if needing help with something means we may be perceived as needy, and that is somehow not good.

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Society’s conundrum regarding help. B Babcock 2016

So I picked neediness apart, thought about the cultural assumptions around it in the context of asking for help, and came to a realisation. I want to share all this with you to demystify why asking for help can be hard, thereby enabling you to make conscious choices when it is appropriate for you to ask for help.

Picking ‘need’ apart

Let’s pick apart need, needy and neediness (Free Dictionary, 2016). Definitions can give clues as to why society laces words and phrases with sometimes unhelpful assumptions and stigmas.


  • Something required or wanted to maintain something or achieve a desired state: people in need of water and food; your need for affection, validation
  • Necessity; obligation
  • To be under the necessity of or the obligation to a person or situation: They need to attend the meeting. You needn’t be concerned.
  • To have an obligation (to do something): You need to clean your room.
  • A condition of poverty or misfortune


  • Being in need; impoverished
  • Wanting or needing affection, attention, or reassurance, especially to an excessive degree.


  • The state of being needy; poverty

You read the above and you see how aspects of need are a necessary and an accepted part of life. For example, we need food and water to survive. This is when a need is acceptable.

Need can also be a necessity or obligation to someone or a situation. This is where ‘need’ can sometimes rub people up the wrong way, i.e. when they don’t want that sense of obligation because it creates an inter-dependence as described previously (hence why people say no to giving help when asked).

The definitions of needy and neediness can have negative connotations for some people in our culture

It’s a very real issue when your health has changed and you need more help than you did previously. People who used to know what you were like now see you asking for help and stating what you need more often. It is no wonder you may worry about coming across as ‘needy’ and fear people responding negatively.

I don’t have the answer to make things suddenly better or different as what works for one person may not work for another and everyone has a different perception of how much need is too much. But I have a realisation to share, and an exercise which can help reduce worry and help you find a way forward in relation to what you need.

The realisation

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We are all needy. B Babcock 2016

We are all needy. Every day.

If I help you, I am fulfilling a need in myself, whether it is to reaffirm to myself that I am a good person, to meet a value that being in service to others is good, to use my strengths which gives me joy, whatever.

If you receive help, you are getting a need met.

And help is given to us every day in ways we do not readily see. For example, our need of food: there are people who farm the food, get it to the supermarkets, stock the shelves and sell us the food. Every day the majority of us, often unknowingly, seek to meet our needs to be loved and to belong. We are networked and interdependent to such an extent it is difficult to not give or receive in some way.

So I invite you to do something different

Given we are all needy every day, I invite you to connect with your neediness.

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When your “woo woo” alarm goes off. B Babcock 2016

Your ‘woo woo’ alarm may have just gone off

Or your ‘psycho babble’. That’s alright. It sometimes does because it may not be something we normally do so it feels alien. I am asking you to trust me, continue reading and have a go.

The reason I am asking you to do this is many times our neediness is a part of ourselves calling out for something it needs. When we sit with our neediness, we learn what we need to give ourselves. And this can enable us to identify the action we can take in the external world to meet our needs.

  1. Think about something you need, whatever it is.
  2. Notice how you feel about needing it. Check how you feel in your body below the neck.
  3. Spend a bit of time with these feelings even if some feel non-descript, uncomfortable or unsettling. If you aren’t feeling anything, that is ok. Feeling nothing is something.
  4. Acknowledge that these feelings are present for you.
  5. Ask yourself if these feelings represent anything you else you may have been wanting (but you were not quite aware of). This could be anything like support, security, love, recognition, affirmation, reassurance, certainty, trust, anything really. They are often intangible qualities and many times sit below unseen and unacknowledged underneath our needs.
  6. Whatever qualities come up for you, acknowledge them and spend some time with what they feel like.
  7. Ask yourself what your life is like as these qualities filter into how you are as a person and what you do, including in relation to the need you thought of at the start.
  8. With these qualities a part of your life, ask yourself what actions can you take in relation to the need you have. Look for small actions, they do not need to be big, grand or revolutionary. Baby steps are ok. Note any actions you can take.
  9. Thank yourself.

What’s it like for you?

What do you think about us being needy every day? If you tried the exercise above, what was connecting with your neediness like for you? Feel free to share below.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016


Definition of need, Available from, Downloaded 15 March 2016

Definition of needy and neediness, available from, Downloaded 15 March 2016

When asking for help doesn’t work – Moving beyond no

When asking for help doesn’t work – Moving beyond no

It can be hard when asking for help doesn’t work. It’s hard enough to ask for help. So it can feel doubly hard when people refuse to help. You then you ask yourself, ‘Now what?’

Sometimes the people we expect or hope to readily help us – parents, partners, children, good friends, colleagues, teachers, etc. – don’t. They may simply not be available at the time we need help. Or they may tell us to ‘get on with it’ or ‘everyone has problems’ and to ‘just sort yourself out’. Some people float away, never to be seen again. The one person or people you thought you could rely on is not there for you when you need them.

It can feel hurtful being on the receiving end of that. You can feel as if your difficulties have no validity, as if you are not valid. It’s no wonder we don’t ask for help. Your needs are not validated and the message you get is you have to do it on your own.

So here are three things you can do to help you maintain your valid sense of self-worth when asking for help doesn’t work.

  • Exploring the possible reasons why people say no
  • How to move beyond no
  • Consider who to ask for help
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Moving beyond no. B Babcock 2016

Why people do not give help

People can say no to a request for help for a variety of reasons.

They feel they are too busy with what they already have going on in their lives.

Or they may worry that they will become the go to person for help and do not want to feel relied upon. When you help someone, an inter-dependence happens in the relationship. Some people are not comfortable with that.

They don’t want to help.

Maybe they are the ones who are used to being helped and are not used to giving it.

Their assumptions around receiving and giving help, for example, ‘you just have to get on with it’, i.e. do it yourself.

They are upset with you for a previous perceived transgression and this is their way of ‘getting back’.

And sometimes, the other person just cannot handle seeing us in the position we are in. They see us as vulnerable, and as I wrote previously, some people interpret vulnerability as weakness. It’s almost as if there is a fear that vulnerability is contagious.

Take heart, it’s not about you

Of course their refusal doesn’t have a positive impact on you and it can make your life temporarily more difficult. In the above examples, the reason behind the refusal to help is their ‘stuff’, not yours. Their reasons are about them. This doesn’t excuse any insensitive behaviour. They are just not capable of helping right now, or in every circumstance, or ever.

But also, sometimes people are just too tired themselves or they need to do something important for them.

When asking for help doesn’t work, then it’s about how to move beyond no

The Drama & Empowerment Triangles (Karpman, 1968) are models my clients have found really useful when moving beyond no and even to prepare themselves to ask for help. They focus on Power, Vulnerability and Responsibility.

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The Drama Triangle

In the Drama Triangle, common features of the Victim role include wishing someone would come along and sort out your issue and make things better without us having to ask, and/or feeling others do not understand and are making your life worse. It shows up in the words we use to express ourselves: continual ‘why me’; references to what others have said you can, cannot or should do; getting upset at others when they cannot help us.

When we are in Victim mode, we can look to others as our Rescuer – the person we hope will sort out our issue for us or who does. Or we may look at them as the Persecutor, the person who does not help and makes our life miserable. We in turn may move to the Persecutor role, getting upset at the other person who has refused to help us. They are then in the Victim role. It can be a merry dance around this triangle!

The Empowerment Triangle is the place to be

The Empowerment Triangle offers an alternative view which takes the emotional struggle out of the refusal and reminds us of what we can do.

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The Empowerment Triangle

Consider who you ask for help

Consider people’s capabilities and willingness. Not everyone is capable of helping or willing in every situation, even some of our nearest and dearest.

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Asking for help – capability and willingness. B Babcock 2016

For those people who said no, think about times when they may have helped. That will give you a clue in which circumstances they may be more willing to help.

Also think about those times when you will settle for capability and not willingness, i.e. you ask someone to help and they usually do, but they don’t appear happy to do so.

For those who are just not capable of helping nor willing, find other people who are. They are out there. It does require taking a leap of faith when asking people for the first time to help you.

Having a network of people around you, who can help at different times and in different situations, recognises that people have different capabilities and levels of willingness. It is important to find those people and create a supportive network.

Clients who have become accustomed to asking for help said

  • They’ve learned over time that it works more often than it does not
  • You cannot rely on one person to do everything and be your everything

What’s it like for you?

When asking for help doesn’t work, what are your strategies for moving beyond no? What makes asking for help difficult or easy for you? Participate and leave a comment below.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

Why asking for help is so hard – The role self-worth plays

Why asking for help is so hard – The role self-worth plays

This month’s blog theme is about why asking for help is so hard – the difficulties we experience when asking for help, why that is and what we can do about it. This post is part 2 and focuses on the role self-worth plays when we don’t ask for help. Part 1 focused on the role guilt plays.

When you can no longer do things for yourself due to health issues and you have to rely on others for what feels like basic living requirements, you can start to lose confidence and your self-esteem. You wonder if you will ever be able to do things yourself again. It’s common to think you probably should ask for help more but you don’t want to. You want to be able to do it yourself.

There are really good reasons for that, which I will explain here and they will help you understand why you may be feeling the way you do. I’ll also share 3 things you can do to help you find ways of rebuilding your confidence and self-worth and enable you to make conscious choices on whether or not to ask for help.

Why doing it yourself builds self-worth

Doing it yourself gives you a sense of achievement, which makes you feel good about your abilities and yourself, and therefore contributes to your sense of confidence and self-worth. When you can no longer do things for yourself, there are less immediate opportunities for that and so your confidence and sense of self-worth can start to float away.

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Confidence and self-worth leaving the building. B Babcock 2016

On top of that, there is the loss of doing favourite activities. Many times we link activities we really enjoy into how we view ourselves as a person. For example, I am a dancer, I am a table tennis player, I am a mechanic. When you can no longer do those favourite activities, it is like you have lost a part of yourself. That loss can manifest itself in refusing to ask for or accept help, because when we do, it is a reminder to ourselves of what we have lost.

3 steps to rebuild self-worth

I write that and feel it may sound contrite, as if rebuilding one’s self-worth was as easy as one, two, three. This isn’t a magic wand recipe. There are 3 steps you can take to restore your confidence and rebuild a sense of self-worth and this can take time. But it is some of the most meaningful work you can do for yourself.

  1. Acknowledge your loss
  2. Find alternative ways of doing things and new projects
  3. Remind yourself of the asking for help paradox

Acknowledge your loss

Firstly, acknowledge what you have lost, the impact on you and others, and how you feel about it. This may not feel like a normal thing to do and may seem downright unpleasant. I am not advocating you unpack and live in unpleasantness, it is not the final destination. Only that you visit these feelings and emotions on your journey.

The reason we perceive spending time with unpleasant feelings and emotions as not the ‘done thing’ is we see them as ‘bad’ as a society. And therefore we should not feel them. Yet they are part of the wide spectrum of human experience. Making room for them acknowledges that we are human.

This approach is very restorative. It helps us to rebuild our inner foundation. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Just have a go and notice what you feel.

How to acknowledge your loss

You acknowledge your loss by saying, writing or in whatever way feels right for you (baking, playing music, drawing, sport, etc.), ‘I feel, I think, I believe…’

Using ‘I’ statements allows you to own what you are feeling, thinking and believing, rather than pushing it away or disassociating yourself from it. That’s not good for your longer-term psychological/emotional health as negative emotions and feelings are being hidden. When emotions and feelings are not allowed expression, they will find a way to leak out to express themselves.

As you spend time with those unpleasant feelings and emotions, notice where you feel them in your body, in your chest, legs, arms, stomach, wherever. Ask yourself if love is available for you even as you sit in the difficulty you are experiencing. Keep asking the question. It’s about making room for love to be present even among the unpleasant feelings and emotions.

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Even super heroes cry. Loving oneself builds self-worth. B Babcock 2016

Find alternative ways of doing things and start new projects

When you rebuild your inner foundation, you free up energy to focus on other things like finding alternative ways of doing favourite activities or starting new projects. To demonstrate this, here are real-life examples of what others have done. They experienced a sudden onset of a long-term condition, which affected their physical abilities to do everyday things.

A man’s favourite hobby was table tennis but his mobility was affected. He reached out to share how discouraged he was. We ended up working together to figure out what he could do, set a small goal, and he played table tennis for 5 minutes. Over several months, through adapting his approach and rebuilding his stamina, he was eventually able to play for 30 minutes. He was overjoyed with his accomplishment.

A woman experienced bad neuropathic pain and some sensory loss in her hands, affecting her ability to use them. She was experiencing fatigue, so could not do much physically, and anxiety regarding the uncertainty of her recovery. The boredom of sitting at home motivated her to find a project to occupy her mind. She chose genealogy research, which required using a computer and her hands. It was painful and slow. But the research was interesting, a distraction from the pain, uncertainty and anxiety. It also provided a sense of accomplishment. Although unintentional, using her hands was a form of rehabilitation. She regularly updated family on her research, which they loved and they encouraged her to continue.

What helps to rebuild confidence and self-worth

These examples demonstrate what helped these people to rebuild their confidence and sense of self worth: setting small goals, which made them more achievable, focusing on what they could do, openness to considering alternatives, willingness to adapt, realising it’s a journey that will take time, tolerating some pain and discomfort, persistence, doing something enjoyable and interesting, learning a new or relearning a skill, and reaching out for support from others. (And they had bad days too.)

The help these people received from others was broad: a listening ear, sharing updates, setting a goal together, recognition and encouragement. To obtain that, they had to be willing to reach out in order to share information and ask for help.

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Finding the alternatives to change one’s situation B Babcock 2016

The paradox of asking for help

Reaching out and asking for help is a paradox in that it is not a demonstration of weakness but one of you taking control. It is you recognising your needs and finding alternative ways to meet those needs. You can rest easier because your energy is not being used to fight your health issues, but looking for ways to work within your capabilities. It is also you recognising that you continue to be a very capable being.

What’s it like for you?

What motivates and enables you to reach out and ask for help? When you have found alternative ways of doing things, what did you learn about yourself?

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

Why asking for help is so hard – The role guilt plays

Why asking for help is so hard – The role guilt plays

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 the impact of your health issue that can have a knock on impact on your psychological/emotional health. There may also be some things you can no longer do on your own. It feels like you need help with a lot of things, you’re 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.

alt="when you are doing everything on your own"

When you are doing everything on your own. B Babcock 2016

This is a common and normal response. We are often very keen to help others, yet when it comes to asking for help and accepting it 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)

Vulnerability = Weakness = Deficiency

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.

alt="doing it all oneself"

Doing it all oneself – Mammoth 1 – Lone hero cave man 0. B Babcock 2016

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.

alt="helping is a mutual relationship"

The mutuality of helping. B Babcock 2016

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.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Definition of vulnerable, Available from, Downloaded 2 February 2016

Definition of weakness, Available from, Downloaded 2 February 2016

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

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