September 22, 2019

Why Is Asking For Help So Difficult?


At one time or another all of us need some type of help. We may be unsure about a financial decision. Something about our important relationship seems a bit off. A relative has a health problem we don't know enough about. The point is, none of us comes with a complete set of knowledge on every subject. So, we ask friends, experts in the field, even strangers on the Internet for some feedback. (the irony of this post after I wrote about not liking to be a beginner is not lost on me).

Even knowing we could use some assistance doesn't mean it is easy for us. We love to give advice, we're not as anxious to receive it. I certainly needed help at several times in my life, but was slow to ask. In looking back I have come up with a list of some of the reasons. So you don't repeat my silliness here are some thoughts on why you shouldn't hesitate to seek and accept help when you need it (me, pay attention!). 

Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. From time to time every one of us needs the advice or opinion of others. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. You recognize a need and take an assertive step to fill it. A true leader knows his strengths and weaknesses and takes action to shore up the areas that need reinforcement.

Asking for help allows you to tap into a large pool of knowledge. There are people who know a whole lot about something you don't. To seek out that advice when you could benefit from it is a smart thing to do. After all, if you are asking for help shouldn't you check the best source available? If you look closely you will notice that the most successful people surround themselves with people stronger than they are in other areas.

 Most people love to be asked for their help. Unless you are asking a complete stranger, someone you approach to give you a helping hand will be quite willing to do so. If that person is qualified to advise you, both of you will benefit. Don't worry about others judging you because you asked for their help. They are likely to think quite highly of you for turning to them for advice.

Don't assume the person you need help from isn't willing to give it. Most of us are leery of imposing on a friend or someone who has experience solving your particular problem. We may rationalize they are probably much too busy to spend time with our issue. If that's your thought, re-read the section above.

Accept help or advice graciously. If you ask for help, it is not a good course of action to tell that person why his or her suggestions won't work. Remember, you asked them. Accept what they have to say and decide later if the answer will work for you. Even if a friend, co-worker, or spouse offers unsolicited advice, accept the offer to help with a smile. That person may have noticed something you didn't or has fresh insight. Ultimately, you decide whether to take action on the suggested fix.

Ask for input before you are overwhelmed, frustrated and angry. You won't be at your receptive best if whatever is bothering you has reached a critical stage. You will be looking for a quick fix that may do nothing to solve the underlying issue. You won't have the patience to explain the situation fully so the other person can give you good advice. Ask for help as soon as you are aware you need it. 

Finally, say thank you. People like to help other people. They also like to be acknowledged for that assistance. Someone went out of their way, probably invested some time in the problem, and gave you their best advice. Thank them, even if you don't plan on using the suggestions.


Many of us do everything we can to avoid admitting we could use assistance. We will knowingly make the situation worse before asking for help. I am living proof. At one point or another I have ignored every single item listed above. I think I'm a bit smarter in my old age. I realize that asking for help is not an indication I'm weak. I hope this post will help you to avoid my mistakes.

If so, then I will have been helpful.


Not quite what I meant, but you get the idea


14 comments:

  1. It's true, most of us should ask for help more than we do. I learned this years ago in our first house when we had an old, and very heavy, window air-conditioner that someone had given us. After that first summer I moved it into the basement for the winter and it was real struggle carrying the heavy unit down the narrow stairs. In the late spring I retrieved it back from the basement and my wife asked if I needed help. Not me, I was young and strong, I don't need any help. I struggled up those narrow stairs with that heavy air conditioner and my knees had just about buckled by the time I got to the top. In the fall I took it downstairs again by myself but the next spring I agreed that my wife could help me bring it up. What a difference! With the 2 of us it was actually quite light.

    I know you are talking more about emotional support or help with decisions but my air conditioner story is a good metaphor. It sure made me realize that help is not something you should turn down immediately so you don't appear weak.

    Years later I took advantage of the Employee Assistance Plan offered by my employer to help deal with issues with one of our teenaged daughters and again when our marriage had a rough patch as all marriages do. Their assistance was a big help. EAP programs are offered by many employers but I wonder how often they are used by those they are meant to help. At work I became a big proponent of them and often advised coworkers that were dealing with home issues to give them a call but I don't know anyone that actually did.

    It's unfortunate that more people don't reach out for help, whether to a professional, clergy, spouse or just a good friend. It really is true that a burden shared is a burden halved.

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    1. Excellent summary of the times when asking for help have been important to you.

      As an aside, I can relate to the window air conditioner story. In fact, once when I was prepared to wrestle an old failing unit out of a second story window and carry it downstairs, Betty suggested I simply push it out of the window and let it drop to the ground. I did and saved my aching back.

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  2. I've always prided myself on being self reliant. So it's really hard for me to ask for help. Not a good trait to have as I age.

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    1. Good point...aging makes opportunities for accepting help more important. Like you, I am better at offering rather than accepting what others may be anxious to do for me.

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  3. I recently took a class on aging and falling issues. A session and a half was dedicating to being willing to ask for help and accept it. This again was not about emotional issues as such. But it is so easy for me to say I dont need help and then half way up that set of stairs with no railing realize I should have accepted it.

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    1. Falling is a major issue for all of us as we age. Your example of when accepting help could save a life or serious injury is on target.

      I guess we just don't see ourselves in a realistic light when it comes to issues like this. I am a guy...I don't need help!

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  4. It can be hard to ask for help, but once you try it, it becomes easier. I engaged a therapist a long time ago, and I still see her intermittently today. She has saved me from myself multiple times. As far as asking for physical help (moving things, lifting things, hanging things, etc), I'm still struggling with that a bit. But I did see a couple older people in my youth who permanently injured themselves doing things they were probably too proud to give up. I'm trying to incorporate that lesson so I don't repeat their mistakes. It's hard, though. I still feel young and agile in my mind. :-)

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    1. I gave up lawn maintenance several years ago at the insistence of my wife. Cutting grass and trimming bushes in a Phoenix summer is a good way to suffer from heat stroke. I wasn't happy turning that chore over to someone else, but now can't imagine ever trying it again myself.

      I find asking for help more difficult for non-physical things. Since my career was built around helping people solve problems you would think I understand the value of another opinion or suggestion. Well, not as much as I should.

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  5. Bob, reading your previous reply to Hope Springs "Since my career was built around helping people solve problems you would think I understand the value of another opinion or suggestion". This made me think about why you find it hard to accept help.

    From the sounds of things in your career you pretty much ran a one man show. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, if you don't do it doesn't get done, and in all honesty admitting to your clients that you have no idea what to do isn't likely to draw in a lot of new work. There is also a societal culture of self-reliance -- the myth of the farmer battling the elements or the lone cowboy out on the range. Given that, it's hardly surprising that you've developed a habit of trying to solve everything yourself.

    For me I spent much of my career in management and had the good fortune to work with many smart and talented people. I recognized early on that I am not the one with all the answers.


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    1. You are probably right. Yes, I was basically a one man show handling multiple clients from coast to coast. Days off were rare and time to think through problems or find fresh solutions didn't exist. Clients wanted things to get better, now.

      At one point I was approached by someone to join me, but I didn't want the added responsibility of another person representing my name and reputation.

      And so it goes, 18 years after retirement.

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  6. Bob, another problem with having difficulty asking for help (something I suffer from as well) is that people then are put put in the difficult position of trying to guess what type of help you need and perhaps offering the wrong kind of help. The person needing help might think that by not asking for or accepting help, they appear to be strong and capable, but in fact it is still obvious to the caring people around them that they do need help but are just too stubborn to accept it. My mom, who had a strong streak of independence, always insisted she didn’t need help with anything, so during the last years of her life, we (my siblings and I) were always trying to guess what she needed and help her with it in a way that wouldn’t hurt her feelings. It made the whole process so much more difficult than if she would have asked for or accepted assistance. We were always worrying that we had missed noticing something, and were filled with guilt whenever she had a serious health setback that might have been prevented if she had just phoned one of us when she first started to feel ill.

    My point is, denying that you need help when you obviously do doesn’t make people think you’re strong; it just makes them think you’re stubborn or difficult. If they love you, it causes them a lot of anguish.

    I am still learning to accept help graciously. Accepting help is the other side of giving help, and it is what makes our human connections strong.

    Jude

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  7. I am one of those people who has difficulty asking for help, both from the fear of imposing on others and the fear of rejection. Decades ago, a psychotherapist asked me how I felt when others asked me for help. "I like it," I said; "It makes me feel good, needed." "Then why," she asked, "are you so determined to deprive other people of those good feelings?" It's a lesson I remind myself of whenever I'm having trouble asking for help.

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    1. She is a smart lady. Allowing someone to help you helps two people: you and the person who offers. He or she feels needed and valuable.

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