As I lay on the operating table, eagerly awaiting the anesthetic mask that would bring relief from my fear, I was humbled.
Contrary to popular belief, I am not made of steel.
I read somewhere that we manifest diseases when we need attention. Is this how I get attention now? This is what my body has to do to force me to take a break? Is this the way I ask for help?
I’ve always preferred being self-sufficient. Not needing to rely on anyone just seemed easier and more efficient. It felt as if I were in control. It also allowed me to avoid disappointment.
Being perceived as weak is one of our greatest fears. Even in our most intimate relationships, we find it difficult to open up and share our emotional reactions, to admit when we feel hurt. We fear being rejected or told “no,” so we pretend that we do not feel or need anything.
We live in a society that is based on perfectionism and shaming.
The fear and shame of being “found out” and exposed as an impostor or a fraud haunts us from childhood. We are raised with all-or-nothing notions—believing that if we don’t know everything, then we know nothing. At work, the competition keeps us on our toes and makes it impossible to ask for help. For many, life at home has become another battleground, leaving no space to be vulnerable.
It takes great self-awareness and courage to accept being imperfect, to admit that we are struggling, and to ask for help. Since most of us never develop sympathy or gentleness toward ourselves, we cannot imagine that someone else may have those feelings toward us. Asking for help even from people with whom we share our lives becomes a confusing and torturous process.
There are so many illusions and expectations that complicate communication within a partnership. We feel that if our partner truly loved us, they would have noticed we are struggling. They would have somehow foreseen or anticipated our needs. The fact that they do not leaves us feeling rejected, reinforcing our suspicion that they are too self-focused to be attuned to us or that they simply do not care.
In my own partnership, by the time the severely past due conversation finally explodes out of me, I have waited in silence for spontaneous fulfilment of my desires for so long that I feel completely unappreciated. Often it starts with my accusations and disappointment, not a particularly effective way to broach a complicated subject with anyone. Needless to say, it rarely produces the results I am hoping to achieve with my partner. The next time the same issues rise to the surface, I prefer to continue seething silently than start another family drama.
Over many generations, women developed hyper-vigilance and attunement to the needs of those on whom we depended for survival. Add that to our maternal instincts and our antennas are always engaged, feeling for situations when we may be needed, often long before anyone even asks us for help. Relationships based on co-dependence and sacrifice have created a lot of confusion about self-responsibility and our role within a partnership. Many women have come to express their love through self-abnegation and sacrifice.
But most men do not seem to have the same reflexes. When our partner is not in the same state of high alert as we are, we feel neglected, rejected, unseen. Often our projections do not reflect reality.
As the gender roles within a family dynamic slowly shift from what we observed in our own childhood homes, many couples are treading uncharted territory. This is actually a great opportunity to redefine and clarify our roles not only within a partnership, but also in our relationship with ourselves.
The prevalent dynamic is still one where we feel we must choose between what is right for “me” versus what is right for “them.” These choices are presumed mutually exclusive. When we choose to attend to our own needs, which would involve asking for help or taking time off, we feel that we take resources away from the people we love. Such thinking keeps us trapped in old dynamics: a dominator and a sacrificial lamb, or martyr.
Most women feel guilty when we take time for ourselves. Our conditioned sense of inferiority incites us to want to be better than we think we actually are. In order to counterbalance the feelings of guilt and shame, we try to make sure that everything is “perfect” before we attend to our own needs. Since nothing is ever perfect, our own needs never get addressed.
This kind of dynamic leads to hidden resentment toward people with whom we share our lives and makes it even harder to be vulnerable.
Even in harmonious and respectful relationships, no one can see life from our perspective. Our partners shouldn’t have to guess our needs. We need to learn and allow ourselves to communicate clearly, calmly, and consistently.
We all require rest, regeneration, and help. There is nothing abnormal or shameful about it. In order to survive, we must listen to our bodies’ messages and take care of ourselves. Physical manifestations of dis-ease come when we have suppressed the emotional signs for too long. There is no escape from this.
When we face challenges and feel overwhelmed, asking for help means caring enough about ourselves to get the support we deserve, thus increasing the likelihood that things will work out in our favor.
Something changed when I came home from the hospital.
I understood that the only way to truly love my children, my partner, and to be able to give to all those who share my life is to love and take care of myself. My children need me alive and well. People who love me want me in their lives for as long as possible and are prepared to do whatever it takes, once they understand what is needed.
Knowing how to receive from others is opening ourselves to receiving from life itself.
When we ask for help, our vulnerability provides the opportunity to connect with others and strengthens that bond through pooling resources. The resulting sense of well-being spills out to everyone around us—a contagious positive virus.
“To know pain is human. To need is human…Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both. Need is the most beautiful compact between humans.” ~ Brené Brown