Unlocking Strength Through Help: Overcoming Barriers to Asking for Support
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I lean toward an independent mindset. I love the challenge of doing things on my own, learning from my mistakes, and growing in knowledge and experience. For me, this has made me into a strong person and personality.
As my mother likes to say, “No person is an island, and we all must have the support of our community even if we know how and why things are done.” To be honest, I mostly nodded along and ignored diving into this sentiment deeply. Being with my husband for over married for over 25 years not only tested my ideas of independence but taught me lessons–sometimes hard, most times needed–on why learning to balance independence and being open to or surrendering to outside support is not only necessary but essential to being human.
Asking for help is a simple thing to do. Technically. But for many people, it is incredibly difficult. Whether it’s seeking support from a loved one, asking for help with a problem at work, or reaching out for personal or professional assistance, many people struggle with the idea of asking for help.
But why is it so difficult?
One reason is that there is a stigma around it. Many of us have been taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Whether by words or deeds, we have been assured that we can–or should be able to–handle everything on our own. This is particularly true for men who are expected to be independent and self-reliant. But this mindset is harmful and unrealistic as no one human can do everything on their own. No matter how skilled or intelligent we may be, each of us needs help from time to time.
Another reason why asking for help is tough is because we fear rejection. When we ask for help, we make ourselves vulnerable by putting ourselves out there. Asking for help puts us in a position to be told no, or what often feels worse, it puts us in the place of being criticized or judged. This fear can be debilitating, and it can stop us in our tracks and prevent us from reaching out for help even when we are in desperate need.
If you have a life situation and need resources like advice, support, money, a listening ear, or even a hug, not being able to ask for help only prolongs desperate situations. If you’re at work, sitting silent when you need guidance, assistance, or a new direction, or are in a toxic situation only keeps you in a state of desperation that does not motivate you as an employee to find new or better opportunities or a changed situation. By not asking for help, you are not doing yourself any good as you stew in whatever complicated situation you find yourself in.
A third reason why asking for help is difficult is because we fear being seen as a burden. This is a big one as many of us worry that if we ask for help, we’ll not only be seen as a burden but that people will resent us for it. This fear can be paralyzing, especially when it comes to asking for help from loved ones, as we don’t want to put them out or cause them any stress or, if at work, we don’t want to be seen as incompetent or a failure.
Lastly, many people find it difficult to ask for help because they don’t know how to do it. They may not know who to turn to or how to articulate what they need. If you have a different communication style from the person you seek help from, this can be tricky, uncomfortable, and frustrating to you and to the person you seek help from. If this comes up in a work situation, this can be especially true as many people are not familiar with the resources and services available to them, or perhaps you are intimidated by the person you need information or support from and avoid communicating your needs because you believe they will not help or they will have a false impression of you.
Despite these struggles, it is important to remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength because it takes courage to admit that we need help, and it is a crucial step in addressing our problems and finding solutions.
If you find yourself struggling with the idea of asking for help, remember that it’s okay to ask for help and that it’s an integral part of taking care of yourself. Rather than focusing on potential negative outcomes, do your best to focus on the benefits of getting the help you need. And if you’re not sure whom to turn to or how to ask for help, find that person you have established trust with and ask them to brainstorm ways of identifying and communicating your needs and a method of asking for help that makes you feel confident and gains you the support or resources you seek.
So, did asking for help get easier for me? Yes and no. I still have an independent mindset, and I still enjoy figuring out things on my own, but I have learned to embrace inviting others into my challenges and process and exploring possibilities through the help and insight of others. As a leader at work, this enabled me to tap into the skillset and abilities of my team. The benefit of learning how to do this at work is that your team or peer group feels seen and part of the contributing whole of the work you do together because you recognized their abilities when and while you struggled.
I have learned that (shhh, don’t tell her I said this) my mother is right. No person can be an island and survive this complicated world without assistance, and inviting others to help us when we need it most honors not only ourselves but the people we ask for guidance. People, most people that is, like providing a helping hand and being seen as a resource. When we ask for help, we are being our most human in that we are being seen and seeing the abilities and promise of others.
What about you? Do you find asking for help easy or difficult? Does it depend on the circumstance or the people? Do you like being sought after as a helping person?
DEBORAH BLAKE DEMPSEY is the CEO & Founder of Human Being Human, LLC. Deborah is a Life Strategist, Leadership & Transformational Coach, Writer, and Speaker. She is the author of The Hoppernots, an uplifting, can-do story about forest dwellers coming together to defeat a common enemy and is told within a diverse ecosystem teeming with life and purpose.
Deborah’s mission is to engage with and encourage people to fulfill their greatness in their personal and professional lives by helping them understand who they are, identify their motivational drivers, define their purpose, find their voice, and develop their potential and curiosity. She brings to her coaching more than 25 years of experience as a healthcare leader, having held strategic, financial, and operational leadership roles in physician practices, academic hospitals, and for-profit healthcare settings. She has also done the work–and continues to challenge herself–to figure out who she is and how she shows up in this complex world. Deborah is particularly interested in working with individuals struggling with self-confidence, personal or professional identity, facing burnout, and trying to redefine themselves.
She is a certified coach and holds an MS in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.