Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Too often, we try to take on life’s burdens alone. Even if we can tackle challenges on our own, asking others for help amplifies our efforts and makes life more enjoyable. We get to connect with others from a place of vulnerability and honesty. Sometimes, feeling in control (but all by yourself) isn’t the best strategy – you may be able to do it all by yourself, but the process will likely be easier, more enjoyable, and keep you healthier with the help of others. When we fail to reach out and ask for help, not only are we shouldering the heavy load alone; we’re also depriving people who care for us and love us of the ability to express their generosity and satisfy their own needs for connection. Here’s how to get better at the "art of asking". This is particularly true for those of you who are dealing with the challenges of having a chronic illness yourself or for people who are a care-partner to someone who is.
Step 1: Know when you need help
Before asking for support, we need to get in touch with our needs. This is not always an easy first step if you're not used to recognizing those subtle needs. It's easier to identify needs like hunger than it is to identify a need like emotional support. When you are feeling overwhelmed or disconnected, try making a list of things you need help with, being as specific as possible. Do you need help figuring out why you might be feeling sad or angry? Do you need a friend to run a few errands for you? Do you need a professional contact to make an introduction? Or do you need a shoulder to cry on?
Think about who might be able to help you out. Has anyone in your social circle offered to help in the past? Make a list of these contacts. Pick one item off your list of needs and match it up with someone who can help. Categories like practical support, emotional, or spiritual support might be helpful.
Next, it’s time to reach out and make the ask. For many of us, asking is difficult. What keeps us from asking others for help?
Step 2: Overcoming shame
Even when we know we could benefit from help, and hear that others are willing to help us, it can remain difficult to reach out. Often, the dark and shadowy force holding us back is shame. We think people are likely to reject our request, and we worry that we will look weak.
It can be scary to let ourselves show up and admit we need a helping hand. When we are most in need of help–in the midst of an illness, going through a difficult divorce, having challenges with our children, looking for a new job – we can get overwhelmed by shame and become unwilling to connect with others. It can feel like asking for help is drawing attention to our imperfections. We’re often afraid we’ll appear weak. These feelings of shame and unworthiness cause us to turn away from others and mask the sides of ourselves we’re not comfortable sharing. The truth is, we all have hidden parts of ourselves that become buried if we don't admit that they exist. Looking at those parts of ourselves shines light upon them, opening the door to healing our shame. Taking it a step further, and sharing these hidden parts, makes us feel closer to the chosen ones we share with.
Step 3. Try It Out
Finally, if you're going to ask for help, it's best to be explicit and direct. Remember, when you show that you are vulnerable and can't do it all on your own, you give the other person the opportunity to be vulnerable too, and ask for help from you. You end up building up each others sense of self-esteem and belonging, so give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Disclaimer: The sole purpose of this content is to educate and inform. Please note that none of the content on this website constitutes medical or psychotherapeutic advice. We provide consultations and require that all patients be followed closely by their primary care provider.