Asking for help

by | Feb 1, 2024 | help, mental health, survival

Asking for help

People think that asking for help is one of the hardest things in the world to do, and it’s true, for many of us it can be difficult…..but there’s something that’s even harder; admitting to yourself that you even need help in the first place.

The standard British response when people ask how we are is, “fine thanks, you?”, to which we then get (and expect) the response of, “yeah, everything’s fine”, before we go on about our daily business. It’s pretty much hardwired into our DNA at this point. We don’t want to burden other people with our problems, so we lie and use that horribly overused word ‘fine’.

Car’s broken down and you’re waiting for breakdown services in the rain? “Could be worse.” House is on fire with all of your worldly belongings inside? “I’m sure it’ll all be fine.” Bleeding out on the floor from a gaping chest wound? “It’s only a scratch.”

But why do we do this? Why do we push our own thoughts and feelings down and put on the mask? Psychologically it doesn’t make sense. We are hardwired for altruism, for doing nice things for other people. Research shows that being generous activates the same reward centre in the brain as food, which is why it makes us feel good. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like feeling good about themselves! Volunteering our time, money energy or services has been shown to improve our mental and physical health and increase our happiness. Even seemingly small acts of kindness such as holding a door open or picking up an item that’s been dropped can make us smile.

This idea of generosity begins in childhood, with studies finding that young children are innately driven to want to help others. They are naturally generous (for the most part) and able to cooperate but as they grow older, this generosity becomes a bit more selective. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (learning to say no and set boundaries is important) it can often go too far. We may be hardwired to be generous, but we can also be somewhat self-serving. So then why, if we are inherently an altruistic society, do we have so much trouble asking for help from people who are primed to give it?

The reasons are numerous, but they mostly stem from fear. Fear of rejection, fear of people thinking we’re weak and unable to cope, that we’re frauds. That imposter syndrome starts to kick in and we simply freeze; fear becomes the overwhelming emotion and logic and reason go out of the window. It’s the brain’s way of protecting itself and saving us from feeling hurt, because emotional pain is processed in the same way as physical pain. This fear then becomes validated in our mind as a perfectly reasonable response.

All of this is backed up by the self-help industry, whose entire rhetoric revolves around being self-sufficient and only relying on yourself. That you are the only person who can get you where you need to be. I have issues with this, because while there is some truth to it, it’s not the whole story. The idea is to get you moving and get you motivated, but every successful person had some help along the way, even if it was only in a small way. My concern is that people will burn themselves out trying to do everything on their own when it’s not really sustainable.

So how do we overcome this fear and realise that needing help is the opposite of failing? Admitting it to yourself is the first step. Once you’ve done that, you can start to work through all the reasons why you think you can’t ask. If you’re feeling really confident, you can work through them with a trusted friend, someone you know will be honest or play devil’s advocate for you.

99% of the time, people think more highly of a person who asks for help. It shows that you know your limits and can make the person who was asked feel that their knowledge and expertise is respected. Watching someone not know how to do something, do it anyway and get it wrong when all they had to do was ask, is what makes people think you can’t do it.

We spend too much time comparing ourselves to others thinking that we should be able to do everything they can. Yes, theoretically we do have the same number of hours in the day as Beyonce, but she has staff; nannies, assistants, managers, cleaners, chefs and who knows what else! For us mere mortals, it’s not always feasible to plan a world tour before dinner and still go to the gym. Asking for help can take some stress away and lower the risk of things going wrong.

Good. That’s the point. We want to make our lives easier, who wouldn’t? It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or you’re looking for a handout. It means you don’t want to live with unnecessary stress when you don’t have to. That’s ok.

What’s more important, your pride or actually failing? Will asking for help get you towards your goal faster? Do you have the knowledge and expertise to fix the problem yourself? We have a tendency to equate independence with self-sufficiency and that is absolutely not the case. You can be an independent person and still ask for help. I consider myself to be relatively independent, but if something broke in my house or on my car I wouldn’t have a clue how to fix it. It’s not an either/or situation and does not make you a failure.

Possibly true. However, I’ve found that if people really don’t have the time, they’ll say so. Sometimes they’ll offer an alternative time for when they can help. If someone wants to help you, they’ll have the time.

And here we have the heart of the matter. You may have been able to come up with rebuttals for all of your worries, but if you can’t get the conversation going, it’s a pointless exercise. Fortunately, I have some handy tips to get you started.

Admitting you need help and then asking for it can be one of the most excruciating things to do. It’s something I struggled with for a long time so I get it, but it also makes life a lot easier and can prevent you from reaching burnout. So embrace the discomfort and don’t let the fear stop you!