Asking for or accepting help can bring up a wide range of complicated emotions. There’s the fear of being seen as needy or weak; the nervousness associated with showing vulnerability; or the worry that asking for help means you are entitled. But as hard as it can be to accept help from others, giving and receiving is a necessary part of life.
“We all need help,” said Dan Neuharth, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “We need other people.”
Having needs ignored can make asking for help difficult
For many people, the difficulty in asking for or receiving help are tied to childhood. As clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone points out, these feelings often develop from having our requests go unnoticed at an earlier age. “If you adapted that way, which is to turn down the volume on your needs and wants, it can be really hard to get in touch with them, to say them out loud,” Firestone said.
Sometimes these unnoticed requests are a byproduct of neglect or from having parents that are too overwhelmed to notice. Maybe they were working multiple jobs to make ends meet or didn’t have additional family support themselves; whatever the cause, when your needs go unnoticed, it can create feelings of shame about asking for or receiving help, while also fostering an extreme sense of independence.
As Neuharth points out, sometimes we grow up in situations where help comes with strings attached, which can also cause people to develop an aversion to accepting it.
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How to get better at accepting help
One way to get better at accepting help is to start small with low-stakes requests, such as asking for directions. “Make it a habit,” Firestone said. “Start small.” Practicing this in benign settings can ease some of the loaded emotions that can crop up.
Neuharth also recommends listening to your internal reactions to someone offering help. “Tune in, and see if there is some automatic reaction,” he said. “Do you welcome it, do you feel uncomfortable, do you automatically say no?” If your reflex is to say, “no, I can handle it,” or to feel acutely uncomfortable, wait a few moments to let these feelings settle before accepting or denying the help.
Helping others feels good
Although asking for help is hard, one way to make it a little easier is to focus on how it feels when you help others, and to remember that the same applies when others are helping you. “It can feel like a burden to ask for help, when it’s a gift to another person, to let them be generous to you,” Firestone said. “Generosity feels good. We know that from doing it ourselves, but we don’t apply it to people doing it for us.”
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