Helen Keller captured my thoughts beautifully when she wrote the comment “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. If only people would believe this and see that collaborating and asking for help is a sign of strength rather than a weakness. So many people struggle with asking for help, whether it’s help in understanding an assignment question, help in moving into a new home, or help in trying to manage their emotions over a situation. So if we can achieve more together and asking for help is a strength, why do some many of us struggle? Here are the top 5 reasons I think people struggle to ask for help:
1. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help requires courage and accepting help takes strength – not weakness. We all have different skills and resources available to us. Asking someone for help is an opportunity for someone else to experience the happiness that comes from giving or teaching a new skill. In teaching them a new skill they have to help them not only in the moment but for the future as well.
2. It’s my way or the highway – I am the only person who can do it right. Sometimes people like things done in a specific way. They might think that pushing ahead to exhaustion by doing all the work themselves is a better alternative than asking for help, and risking something not being done the way they’d usually do it. For me I know asking my husband to hang the clothes means that they won’t be hung the way I do it and that it creates more work for me later, when folding and putting them away. But when faced with being late for work it’s a higher priority for me to ask for help with the job. It might seem trivial but sometimes it’s the little tasks that we feel the need to control because they are easier than the bigger ones.
3. Accepting help means I have to pay it back. If someone helps you it doesn’t mean you have a help debt. People don’t help others just so that they can ask for help themselves at some point. Think about it: do you think that your tutor is going to ask you to mark papers for them, or maybe do some of their housework because you asked them for some help with an assignment? Or that my husband is counting the number of times I ask him to hang the washing for me so he can trade them for me taking the bins out on bin night? (Because if he is, he would need to hang the clothes at least 3 times for one bin night; our driveway is like a mountain). Besides, in asking for help, you are actually giving to the person you are asking. Giving a gift or help to another stimulates and releases Oxytocin, a powerful bond-stimulating hormone, making the other person feel good about themselves.
4. I am a burden to others when I ask for help. Yes, other people are busy, just like you are. Ask yourself: if someone asked you for help—a favour—would you say “No, I’m too busy”? Most people like to help others, whether it’s to procrastinate so they can avoid a task of their own, a genuine belief that helping others is rewarding, or to make them feel better about themselves because they can see you are not perfect.
5. Allowing someone else to help me means I have lost control of the situation, lost control of my life. Hold on there, this sounds like a catastrophising thought taking hold. Does asking for help in one small aspect of your life mean you can’t do anything for yourself? Have you lost the ability to cook for yourself or feed yourself if you need help to manage your outburst of emotions when you lose someone close to you? Or does asking for help in preparing for an exam mean that you will never be able to prepare for an exam independently again? Absolutely not! Asking for help is a sign that you are looking to maintain control of the situation, not that you have no control.
There are a lot of benefits to asking for help with lots of different things in your life. Asking for help might reduce your stress levels, it might give you some relief from your thoughts and feelings through sharing the load. You could find some useful strategies and ways to cope, or learn a new skill. It could help you to feel less alone and allow you to connect with someone new, or strengthen a relationship with someone you already know. You could stop a problem getting bigger, from spiralling out of your control.
I know I struggle at times to ask others for help, and I sometimes struggle to accept that I have flaws and can’t do it all by myself. At other times I’m really good at asking for help – like right now I’m about to ask my husband to proof read this post so that you don’t realise how terrible my grammar is. Knowing when to ask for help can be tricky. Knowing who to ask for help can be just as tricky. One of the reasons I started this blog was so that you could all get a sense of what types of help are available, and find the right source of help for you. So if you are wondering, have a look through the previous posts and check out the reviews, online resources and tips sheets. If face-to-face help is more appealing then give us a call and make an appointment to see a counsellor. If you want face-to-face or personal contact but you are studying by distance, or can’t attend during business hours then maybe try the Skype Drop-in hours we have available.
Remember what Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” and next time you are struggling reach out and ask someone “Can you help me?”