Why it’s so Hard for Strong Women to Ask for Help.

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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

author: Galina Singer

Image: Audrey Reid

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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Galina Singer

From Communism to Consumerism, from Atheism to Spirituality, from Victimhood to Self-Responsibility, Galina Singer has traversed several cultures and conflicting philosophies in search for meaning. The answers came when she took the time to look within, piercing through layers of dogma and multi-cultural conditioning and uncovering her authentic voice. Today Galina investigates reasons behind the depression pandemic and how to take back control over our lives through self-knowledge and self-acceptance. By peeling away layers of societal and family conditioning Galina helps clients to re-discover their authentic voices and wake up to the lives of freedom and fulfilment. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.

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Galina Singer Jun 24, 2018 10:13am

Thank you, Allison! I am so happy to hear that this was helpful to you, that is the biggest blessing. Please, by all means, share this article to anyone who may need to read this.

Allison W. Cone Jun 21, 2018 2:19pm

Thank you so much for this article. You've helped me put some of my feelings into words so that I can more clearly and accurately share them with some folks around me who need to hear them. Best wishes for your speedy recovery and complete health.

Galina Singer Jun 19, 2018 9:40am

Thank you, Amy! May this be of benefit!

Amy Kirchoff Frison Jun 18, 2018 11:07pm

Your singing my song soul sister. I may have gone too far by raising my daughter's to be the same way.

Galina Singer Jun 18, 2018 9:45am

Thank you for commenting here, Laura! I actually never knew that I was anything but strong and therefore did not think that I "deserved" help. Today I know that we are both: strong and weak, courageous and fearful. In fact, we cannot be one without the other. And yes, the path to self-awareness is a learning curve; I send you many blessings on your journey!

Galina Singer Jun 18, 2018 9:35am

Thank you, Mia! Yes, indeed: ask and you shall receive, except help comes in unexpected ways and from unexpected places sometimes :) Thank you for your comment!

Galina Singer Jun 18, 2018 9:33am

Dear Rakai, this is the best praise a writer can get! I am so grateful that you found my words just when you needed them most. Your generous sharing here confirms what I have always sensed: that our human experience is what unites us all, and it is when we share openly our struggles that we become aware of that fact. I send you many blessings for a full and speedy recovery! <3

Galina Singer Jun 18, 2018 9:27am

Thank you for reading, April!

Laura Derry Fellows Jun 18, 2018 7:12am

I recognise so much of myself in this description! But I never consider myself "strong"- or rather I never feel I am "strong enough"... slowly I am learning to recognise when I need help & ask for it, although it is a learning curve.

Mia Sykes Jun 18, 2018 3:49am

Rakai, I wish you a speedy recovery and I, too am here in Los Angeles so I know how stressful it can be. Breathe. Slow down and take it easy. We need you around.

Mia Sykes Jun 18, 2018 3:49am

Yes and Yes! Thank you for a well written article and you touched on great points. Ask and you shall receive!

Mia Sykes Jun 18, 2018 3:48am

Rakai, I wish you a speedy recovery and I, too am here in Los Angeles so I know how stressful it can be. Breathe. Slow down and take it easy. We need you around.

Mia Sykes Jun 18, 2018 3:47am

Yes and Yes! Thank you for a well written article and you touched on great points. Ask and you shall receive!

Rakai G. Whittiker Jun 17, 2018 7:11pm

Hi Galina: Believe it or not, I am reading your article from a hospital bed. I am 48, with a nine year old daughter. I was *literally* driving to court to submit the final paperwork for my divorce when suddenly, I could no longer feel the right side of my body--from my scalp to my toes. I have had a tiny stroke, brought on by high blood pressure, which was brought on by an overactive thyroid, which is the auto-immune form, which was brought on by stress, anger, resentment, hurt, loneliness and my inability/unwillingness to ask for help. I just wanted to thank you for putting my feelings and thoughts into words. Your words are a blessing. Best, Rakai

April Westover Jun 17, 2018 2:46pm

Made perfect sense. Thanks!

Galina Singer Jun 16, 2018 6:17pm

Thank you for reading and your wonderful comment, Jenny! So glad the timing was perfect for you <3

Jenny Hartzog Jun 16, 2018 3:45pm

Thank you for this beautiful post. It was exactly what I needed to read this morning. ❤️

Galina Singer Jun 16, 2018 11:20am

Thank you very much, Hellen!

Hellen King Jun 16, 2018 8:11am

Love your article.