Asking For Help: Why It’s Hard for Some Folks
The other day, an old friend of mine called me for some advice. We have known each other since our college days (now that is a long time ago) and we have remained in touch throughout the years despite living 3000 miles away from each other. He has gone out of his way to help my kids at different times and I have gone out of my way to help him during a particularly difficult time in his life. We are good friends.
He is having surgery for a serious condition which will require hospitalization for three to five days and a long recovery. It’s all happening at a bad time, since he is moving his 97 year old mother to live closer to him in Boston. After we talked for a while about his concerns, I offered to fly to Boston next week to help him while he is in the hospital. I know it is going to be hard on him, and sometimes it’s helpful to have an old friend around—especially if the going gets tough. But I also wasn’t surprised when he declined my offer.
Honestly, I would be on the next plane to Boston if my friend Bill needed me. I know he would do the same. Yet, I also realize that it is hard for some of us to ask for help or to accept it when it’s offered. And this seems to be true for many individuals who are the first to offer a helping hand to others. That’s my friend Bill. He is always helping others. But it is hard for him to accept help from others.
I think many of us are like this. We think nothing of helping others, but somehow we are uncomfortable when we might need help. We don’t want to impose on others, yet we don’t mind being imposed upon. I wonder why?
Being in a dependent situation (recovering from surgery) can make a person feel vulnerable. I remember when I was in the hospital for my foot surgery. I told my wife that she didn’t have to hang around and that she could stop in after work. But actually, in retrospect, I felt very helpless in the hospital and would have been a lot more comfortable if she had taken a couple of days off and spent the time with me. But I didn’t ask her. And like most people, she couldn’t read my mind.
Sometimes this fierce independence comes from an unprotected childhood, where adults were not so helpful. Children learn to depend on themselves and not to depend on their parents. This can result in an unconscious decision by a child that persists into adulthood—“I will never allow myself to be dependent on others if I can help it!” This is often the case for adult children of alcoholics. But, the march of time and circumstance can create conditions where we are utterly helpless. This can be very frightening for these adults. Not that anyone enjoys being in that situation!
Some people have been fortunate and so they don’t have much experience being in need. It is an unfamiliar situation—and they are simply uncomfortable in this new experience. They are unsure how to navigate through unknown waters.
So what is important to remember if you happen to be an adult who has difficulty asking for and accepting help?
Accepting help is a gift to the helper. Yes, that is right! When we help a friend, a neighbor, or a family member we feel good about ourselves! Helping gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling that is good for our self-esteem and contributes to our sense of worth. Letting someone help you enables them to have that uniquely positive feeling. It’s a gift.
We are all in the same boat, and it is pretty leaky. I am reminded of this fact every day in my role as a psychologist. Perhaps today I am helping you bail the water out of your boat. But tomorrow, who knows, maybe you will be helping me keep my boat in the water. In this life of ours, we are all vulnerable to the strong winds and uncertain weather of fortune. Everything can change on a dime.
What about you? Is it hard for you to ask for and accept help?