About Asking For (and Receiving) Help from Others
It’s hard to find a consensus about anything these days, but in my experience most people agree that it’s hard to ask someone to help you. It’s even hard when you didn’t ask, but they offered - and you need their help! What is the deal with that and what can we do about it?
What's the Deal?
I’m not going to spend too much time digging into what the deal is, specifically, because 1) Your deal is unique to you and 2) There are always ways to move forward with this even if you don’t completely unravel the knot that got you stuck in the first place.
If you are curious about why this is a sticky situation for you, consider the following questions:
What is the underlying cause of my jangled nerves? (We all have ideas about life that seem to ‘come out of nowhere’ but trust me - they came from somewhere (either your own brain or your family or origin or the broader culture or a delightful mix of all of those))
What do I give up when I ask someone to help me or receive help from someone?
What do I gain up when I ask someone to help me or receive help from someone?
What Can We Do?
Since moving forward is the business of Life Coaching, which is to say it’s my business. And, if you’re reading this blog because you’re stuck with asking for or receiving help, well now your business is my business. So let’s do business!
1. The George Costanza: Do the Opposite!
You may remember 'Do the Opposite' from the Seinfeld episode where George does the opposite of every instinct he has and his life improves. Now you and I are (probably) not as hopeless as George so we don’t need to do the opposite of everything but in this situation, it works wonders.
During a particularly difficult chapter in my life I recognized that my go-to strategy of hunkering down and avoiding everyone until I felt better was perhaps not the ideal way to go into this fray (or any other for that matter!). So I decided that every time I thought of hiding and holding it all in, I’d reach out to a friend, even if just to say “I’m having a hard day.”
After making this super easy decision I asked myself the following million dollar question: “Then why am I not already doing this?” It was because I never knew if I was reaching out to someone at a bad time for them. Like are they even more stressed than me or trying to poop or just not in the mood for someone else’s BS? The solution was more ‘do the opposite’: instead of sitting there by myself wondering if that was the case, I would just ask them directly. So I’d start a conversation with “Hey! How are you? I am having a time and was wondering if you had the capacity to talk to me about that right now.” The Worrier part of my brain always wants to add: “And if you don’t please tell me, it’s fine!! I don’t want to bother you! So please answer honestly so I don’t overthink this forever and ever until I die!” I leave that part out because 1) if someone is your friend and they trust you and you trust them, then you gotta trust they will be honest with you and 2) if they aren’t being honest, that’s their damn problem (and an opportunity for them to learn about their own boundaries) and 3) that is a kind of weird and long winded thing to say to your buddy (my friends already know I’m weird and long winded, so it doesn’t seem necessary to belabour the point).
This is a pre-decision, which takes away the opportunity for your mind to negotiate you out of the new, different action you want to take. That frees up mental energy for actually doing the thing, and that’s smart and efficient (good for you!)
2. The Reframe: It’s all for Them!
Sometimes to get yourself to change you’ve got to sell yourself a new angle from which to see the situation. In this case, it’s other people.
It’s easy to think about how letting someone help and support us would be work for them, and possibly unpleasant. And maybe that’s true. But there is something else that is also true: people love making themselves useful (especially to people they care about). We want to feel like we are making an impact, we are important and significant in the world, and that we can be effective in getting shit done (shit like helping people we love!). It’s part of our underlying need to be needed (and therefore valued) by others.
Most of us were taught that helping others is beneficial to ourselves: it teaches us caring and compassion, responsibility and reliability, and it warms our hearts with warm, fuzzy feelings. All good points. So why are you denying that to others in your life? Do you want them to never experience the warm, fuzzy feelings that come with altruism? Or it’s okay to help as long as they don’t help you? Or have they evolved beyond the need for warm, fuzzy feelings? See how the logic of our resistance to being helped starts to fall apart? (That’s because it’s not logic - it’s plain ol’ silly brain nonsense!)
If you are the kind of person who helps and supports others regularly, it can be hard to switch gears. Especially if you are not being offered that help and support, and you need to learn to ask for it (more on that in the next section!). But what if you are the kind of helper who has a lot of people trying to reciprocate, but you are rebuffing them? What’s the deal? (scroll up to figure that out for yourself!). Consider this: if you help others, they are more likely to help you in the future. That’s called the Ben Franklin effect (that guy had all the ideas!) Does that seem more ‘fair’? Great - use it!
Reframe that resistance: By letting others help me I am giving them the gift of feeling useful and important and giving them the opportunity to express how they care for me. That will strengthen our relationship and that benefits us both! Alternatively: By allowing myself to be helped and supported, I am sending the message to others in my life that this is a good thing and being more efficient with my own energy, thus allowing me to do more helping for others I care about! Either way, reframing can really help you move forward.
3. The Training Program: Safe-to-Fail Experiments
You might be thinking, “Cool ideas, but how am I going to do this?” `And the answer is *drum roll*: practicing. Yep, it’s not that exciting and you probably saw that coming. That’s because new habits are based on consistently repeated behaviors (oh hey, neuroplasticity!). Why haven’t you been practicing already? Likely because people are amazing at making new things feel way too complicated or difficult or both. That’s where safe-to-fail experiments come in: choose some low stakes situations and give it a go.
Let’s say someone offers to get you a coffee. Your mind might react with something silly like, “Why do they think I am some sort of weakling who needs help getting their own coffee?! I must disabuse them of this notion by saying ‘No’ immediately and without reflection!” (in which case you might want to probe some of those ‘What’s the deal?’ questions again). Instead, you respond to your mind with a stern but compassionate remark like, “Quiet you silly bean, that’s not what offering coffee means. They are just being nice to me and since I deserve that and love coffee, let’s do this.” It will likely feel uncomfortable if that’s a new way of being, but it should feel tolerably uncomfortable if the stakes are low enough.
Try it when it ‘doesn’t matter’ so that when it does matter, you can do what you need in that moment and rise to the occasion of asking for help or allowing yourself to be helped. (It’s really quite nice, I highly recommend it!)
I hope this helps you if you’ve been struggling with asking for or receiving help. You can rest assured you are in good company, as this is a common problem. So as a bonus tip, if you’re comfortable with someone you could be honest and say, “Yes I’d love your help. Well, actually this is really hard for me, but I’m working on being more receptive to support. So thanks for offering, it means a lot and helps me work on his new habit, too. Now let me buy you a coffee!”