“You cannot judge yourself for needing help.” ~ Brené Brown
As I was putting away laundry earlier this week, I came across a picture of my son.
It’s still one of my favorite photos. He was three years old, standing in the backyard with a smile on his face that still lights a fire in my heart. However, as I take a more discerning look, I can see a look in his eyes that takes me back to that stage of child development. His favorite saying was, “I can do it myself!”
For those of us who have exposure to young children, I’m guessing those words sound familiar or that the sentiment is there. It’s a hallmark of normal development, to see ourselves as separate and to actively discover what life entails.
My son’s photo also reminded me of the bigger implications of autonomy and separation as we move into adulthood: not asking for help when we need it.
What makes it so difficult to invite another person into the situation when flying solo isn’t working? Many times, we see ourselves as separate, weak, or failing. We compare our reality with someone else’s manufactured image. We lose sight of the bigger picture, of what we’re striving to accomplish, and find ourselves stuck in the minutiae of how to accomplish the task independently rather than looking at all options for success.
I still remember a time when I decided to move two large and heavy pieces of furniture down two flights of stairs by myself. I was cursing under my breath, praying that I wasn’t going to fall or get crushed. In that moment, it didn’t even occur to me to wait or ask for help—I was doing it on my own.
Here’s the hardest part to come to terms with: Being self-reliant is not how we were created. Humans are connection-oriented beings, made to be social and interdependent. We were never intended to be isolated during times of need or struggle. During those vulnerable times, we often perceive ourselves as isolated and separated, even though that’s when we need each other most.
What stands in our way of asking for help?
For me, fear has been the root of my inaction, and this is how it’s shown up:
>> Lack of trust: I needed people to show up for me in dire times, and it didn’t happen. Lack of trust in others was the foundation upon which my self-sufficiency was built. If I couldn’t trust others at critical times, how could I trust them for help with everyday life?
>> Shame: Many times, I didn’t feel worthy of asking for help. I was supposed to be perfect, which then removed me from the gifts of community and interdependence. I wanted to talk with my closest friends about what I was experiencing, but stopped short because there was a sense of deserving the situation.
>> Pride and ego: They are my perceived comfort zones. I’m a survivor and thriver at heart, and I have been ever since I can remember. My identity is “warrior.” At one point, I believed it was woven into my DNA that I could handle and do anything. The phrase, “the answer is inside you,” took on a distorted meaning, where I was the hero who could save myself and others.
>> Comparison: I judged what others were doing, or what I thought they were doing, and used that as a gauge to determine my approach to a situation. Comparative suffering kept me from being brave and inviting people in to share my experience. I believed that I either had it too good and that the situation didn’t warrant help, or that my situation was too big that others couldn’t understand. I chose silence over connection.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Having a trusted and safe “someone” we can ask for help is critical when making this mindset and behavior shift. It can be a friend, family member, paid professional, or anyone who can serve the purpose of that helping role in situations big or small. For me, it started with a faithful relationship with the God of my understanding. It’s my private and successful way to ask for and receive help. Asking for His guidance in times of joy and struggle created courage and confidence to reach out to people for help when needed.
Asking for help when needed is a way to build trust and connection. Especially in American culture, it feels vulnerable to invite someone into the reality that we can’t do it all. However, vulnerability and authenticity are magnets for connection. These help-based situations are opportunities to show that we all have a shared experience.
Deepened relationships occur when engaging in a shared situation. Isn’t this why guys go on fishing, hunting, or sports-event weekends, or women get together for 5K runs, yoga classes, or coffee? Bonding happens side by side, as well as across from each other. Helping situations are how we can belong with others and create community, rather than simply being part of the crowd.
Hiding and pretending to have our sh*t together autonomously is exhausting, dishonest, and distancing. We cause harm to ourselves and stifle our innate desires by creating a mirage of our lives.
I don’t earn merit badges when I choose to push through a situation. Sometimes, I earn a sense of gratification for independent accomplishments, but my motives need to be checked as to why that’s important to me.
Asking for help has been harder to embrace than accepting imperfection. It feels even more vulnerable to open up and ask someone to join me in and through a situation than it is to lower the bar of self-expectations. At times, I still fear rejection and judgment. Other times, the words, “I should be able to do this myself,” still ring loudest. The old habits and ways of thinking die hard.
Progress, not perfection, has been a key phrase for this new life chapter. Some situations have been easier to ask for help in than others. Certain people have been easier to reach out to in times of need than others too. What’s been most helpful, though, is assessing each situation and determining what I need, rather than forcing autonomous solutions. Pausing to make decisions that support my peace and energy has been a real gift, whether I need some extra help or not.
How are you about asking for help? What works for you? What holds you back? We can all learn from each other to create more effective results, strengthened relationships, and connection to our community.
Author: Sarah Pederson
Image: Matthew Henry/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton