Asking for help can be one of the most challenging endeavors for some people to undertake. Whether it stems from a lack of trust, not wanting to be indebted to another, not wanting to be or appear to be “weak,” being hypervigilant about being independent, or some other reason, many of us struggle with the otherwise simple task of asking for help.
On those occasions where we don’t even have to ask for help because it’s been freely offered, we sometimes have trouble accepting that help. There are even those of us who overcome the challenge of asking for help, but then struggle with accepting the help for which we’ve asked.
I’m sure we can all recall a time as a child, or know a child now, who refuses help because he wants to conquer the challenging task on his own. We can hear that child proudly exclaiming, “I can do it by myself!” We can see the child working diligently to overcome the challenge facing her. On many occasions the child does, in fact, succeed with no help at all. When we are the child, we are extremely proud of ourselves and receive a boost in our self-esteem. When we witness a child succeed in this way, we are proud, satisfied, and receive a boost in our confidence in the child’s development.
On the other hand, as a child we did not have trouble asking for help when a task was beyond our abilities or capabilities. When a child seeks help from us, we do not view the child as weak or otherwise negatively. In fact, we commend the child for reaching out when she realized the problem was too big, complex, or challenging for her to handle alone. Even when the child has not asked for our help, if he has realized he cannot handle the issue alone he openly accepts our help when offered.
Where along the path to adulthood do we begin to believe and accept that we must go it alone? When or where do the rules change and we think that asking for and/or accepting help is unacceptable? Many of us battle problems alone when we do not have to. We face serious issues like substance abuse and addiction, domestic violence, sexual assault, and mental illness alone in the face of massive networks of readily available assistance. Some of us even resist asking for or accepting help with minor tasks like carrying groceries, picking up a pen dropped to the floor, or the opening of a door when our hands are full.
Much of the time we believe we have control over our struggles. We truly and firmly believe that we have a handle on the issue(s) and will eventually conquer whatever is troubling us. Whether in real life or on television, we’ve heard a drug addict/alcoholic say, “I can quit whenever I want to. I just don’t want to.” Maybe, for any particular individual imbibing “illicit” substances on a relatively regular basis, that sentiment may very well be true and correct. However, we know that is not the case for most of them. We may initially believe a particular issue is not a problem per se, but there always comes a point when we know the situation is untenable alone. Yet, many of us, upon that realization, still choose to go it alone.
When I was a child, all the adults in my life (teachers, aunts, uncles, parents) taught me independence, problem-solving, critical thinking, and self-reliance. They all required that I face the challenges before me and attempt to solve my own problems, first. The rule was that I could seek their help only after I had made valid, diligent effort on my own and was unsuccessful. That rule, and the experiences stemming from it, have been incredible life lessons that have served me quite well into adulthood. It taught me self-reliance, independence, boosted my self-esteem, creativity (thinking outside the box), and self-trust, just to name a few. I have had to face many obstacles completely alone, and because of that rule and the lessons that came with it, I have always been able to, in one way or another, overcome each and every one of them. However, in retrospect, I realize that I faced many of those obstacles alone because I simply refused to ask for and accept help. I made certain circumstances more difficult for myself because I refused to trust anyone else enough to help me. I didn’t want to appear weak or needy. I didn’t want to break the rule and seek help before I had done all that I could do on my own first.
I still live by that rule because I know that it is more beneficial than harmful and serves me well. However, I’m not sure where I distorted the rule to the point that I had come to believe that I hadn’t done everything I can do to solve my own problems unless and until I, in fact, solved them completely on my own.
I very recently faced a problem that I was determined to handle on my own even though I was well aware that I could not. Someone I trust, respect, admire, and care for deeply offered me help with this grave issue. I adamantly refused her outreach, resented the fact that she offered, and was upset that she thought I was too weak to handle it on my own. I, in no uncertain terms, made it clear I did not need or want her help. I was incorrect. I was incorrect in believing I could handle it on my own. I was incorrect in believing I had to handle it on my own. I was incorrect in believing I appeared weak by accepting help.
Whatever the struggle, whether it is serious like sexual assault or addiction or minor like carrying the groceries or picking up a pen you’ve dropped, ask for help. You are not alone. You don’t have to handle it alone. You do not have to solve all your own problems alone. You don’t lose your independence by accepting help. You are not weak or needy because you ask for and accept help. Ask for the help until you get what you need. Remember to accept the help when it arrives in whatever form it arrives.