I am rubbish at asking for help. You are more likely to find me stacking the dishwasher by crashing the cutlery or forcing the plates in or spending hours researching how to do a task than to ask for help.
I am also bad at receiving help! If offered help by my partner I am often found snapping “it’s fine” (it really isn’t fine). If offered help by anyone else, I usually politely decline with an excuse or an “oh it’s ok, you’re so sweet to offer”
Not asking for help is an act of self-sabotage
So what’s up with that? For me there are a few things that come up:
- Asking for help means I am surrendering to someone else and so I am no longer in control
- Asking for help means that I have failed
- Asking for help makes me look needy or incompetent
The truth is that not asking for help is an act of self-sabotage. We might say that it’s easier not to ask because it will take too long to explain but by not asking we pile up our own mental load and sabotage our own efforts to meet our goals.
"The biggest barrier to generosity is not that others are unwilling to give but that we're afraid to ask." -Adam Grant
Reasons we’re bad at asking for help
My main reason is that deep down I believe that I have to earn love, that I don’t deserve love or support for being who I am. That I am not good enough to receive their support - and who would want to spend their precious time and energy helping me? As such, I give support but prefer not to receive it. (I know that these are misguided beliefs by the way, and am working on it!)
Do any of these resonate with you?
There are other reasons that I hear in my clients:
Codependency: When we don’t feel we can ask because other people have their own needs. Being co-dependent means that our sense of worth is based on what others think of us. We always put other people before ourselves.
Counterdependent: Opposite to co-dependents, if you are counter dependent you see asking for help as being weak. You might believe that you don’t need people, but deep down, you are lonely.
Victim mindset: “No one ever helps me. I have to struggle alone” - sound familiar? When stuck in the victim mindset we can’t ask for help because if we did, we’d have to give up on the ‘woe is me’ story and tap into our own personal power to make a change. (This is a mindset I fall into when I am completely overwhelmed and am crashing dishes into the dishwasher!) You might believe that you are supposed to suffer - a limiting belief you may have taken on board at some point.
Big emotions we experience when we need to ask for help
There are two big emotions that come up when we need to ask for help. We need to be vulnerable and trust other people won’t let us down and we have to allow people to get close to us. The opposite emotion to vulnerability is the feeling of shame. Does the idea of asking for help fill you with shame? Some people have an inner critic which puts us down and criticises us. It might tell us that asking for help is weak and pathetic, that if we were strong we could do this, that other people manage. This inner voice is usually that of a critical parent or caregiver that we have internalised and carried with us.
Lessons I have learned in asking for help
- You can move forward. Rather than staying stuck where you are - either in goals or mindset, you know that you can proceed. When I feel like I am stuck in my goals, or if I have fallen into that victim mindset I focus on when I have previously asked for help. I remember the relief of finding out what I needed to know. I feel grateful for the support that others have given me.
- Collaboration is fun. Even if the task I need to do is something I need to do by myself, seeking advice or assistance gives someone the opportunity to share with me. It allows me to value and honour their skills and expertise to enquire, even if they can’t help this time.
- There is an opportunity to learn. If there’s anything I have learnt in my journey to be my best self it’s to tap into a growth mindset. Seeing asking for help as a strength rather than a weakness is key. I pay attention to those people who are willing to help and what they are willing to do. I respect their boundaries and I open mine (around asking that is!). I am open to learning the lessons and taking action on them.
Boundaries around asking for help
A quick thought on boundaries. I am a serial volunteer-er and am always willing to help others. As I mentioned above, I recognise that this comes from a place of wanting to please, of proving myself. This means that I empty my own cup first and during the pandemic, this became very obvious. I have been working on setting my boundaries for how, when and if I can help. However, it has also made me more aware of others boundaries and made me check in with them to ensure they keep theirs. This allows all of us to honour the value we each bring when we support others and when we ask for help.
Asking for help doesn’t devalue you in any way. There is no shame in it. In fact, when you ask for help it can give you the opportunity to advance, connect more meaningfully with others, increase your productivity and prepare you for your next challenge.