Benjamin Franklin said, “…nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Clearly, Ben forgot “needing help.”
Without exception, nobody escapes needing help in their life. Yet, also without exception, nobody wants to ask for help. We’d rather pluck our nose hairs than ask for help.
What is that? Some kind of cruel joke? We all need help eventually, yet we all hate asking for it. That sounds like a human design flaw.
And why, much like being busy, has refusing to ask for help become a badge of honor?
Why are we so, SO attached to our independence, even in the face of the obvious benefits that a little help provides?
Some call it ego. Some call it pride. Some call it stubbornness. Some call it shame.
I call it stupid.
Be honest with yourself. Do you really think you can make it from your first days of independence from your parents to dying without relying on anyone for help? Is it really worth your energy to find ways to continuously avoid asking for help? Isn’t that just a recipe for continuously avoiding connection, the very thing we need to live?
One of the best life skills you can learn is asking for help.
But how do you convince yourself to go THERE? Let’s chat about that…
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.” Those words convince me–and likely you–of nothing (although they evoke a compelling episode of the podcast Invisibilia). While truthful, they don’t make me feel any better about asking for help, but I bet this will…
My friend Linda–who is more like a sister to me–noticed I was struggling with asking for and accepting help following my knee injury and 8 subsequent surgeries. Wisely, she intervened with the intention of teaching me a life skill. It worked.
“Heidi, when your friends need you, you jump at the opportunity to help them. In fact, it brings you joy,” Linda said. I nodded. “Well, don’t you realize that when you need help but don’t ask or refuse offers, you’re denying your friends joy? Don’t deny your friends joy.”
I had nothing to say in response because she was exactly right. Nobody, until Linda, had put the concept of asking for help in words that penetrated my painstakingly-tended independence shield.
When Linda talks, I listen…and I hope you do too.
We were not designed to do this thing called life alone. We were designed to be connected. Connection is your fuel when life serves you a pile of steaming horse poop. Connection is so powerful that the latest research on addiction points to disconnection and social isolation as the cause.
Yet, when we’re injured or otherwise challenged by life, we spend our time trying to figure out how we can remain disconnected and isolated by not asking for or accepting help. We don’t want to appear weak; we don’t want to be a burden.
You’re not intentionally isolating yourself by refusing help, but isolation is an insidious side-effect of your ego’s need for independence.
What you really need is connection. Here’s why…
I love knitting. It’s something I chose to learn after my injury to help soothe my impatience and frustration. I’ve noticed knitting is a metaphor for life in many ways.
We are all imperfect. We all struggle. I call those imperfections and struggles our frayed edges. They’re the parts of ourselves that unravel over time.
When I’m knitting, I intentionally leave parts of my work unraveled with pieces of yarn dangling. In order to put the garment together at the end, I need those pieces of yarn to join everything together. If all the edges had been perfect to begin with, I’d have nothing with which to connect the pieces, for example an arm to a sweater body.
Human beings are exactly the same. Our unraveled or frayed edges knit us together…if we allow them. Think about who you feel most comfortable talking with about life challenges. Is it the friend who has a perfect life or a friend who has shared their frayed edges?
Your frayed and unraveled edges connect you with other people in the same state, and those are ultimately the people who know how to support and help you. Now let them.
When you ask for help, you build connections; when you don’t ask for help (but your friends and family clearly see that you need help), you dismantle connections.
People sense that they’re not an important part of your life when they find themselves uninvolved in something that clearly is an important part of your life.
Your attitude about asking for help will result in one of three inter-personal patterns:
1. Creating connection–you know you’re part of someone’s life when they’ve shared their frayed edges with you, asked you for help, and you’ve been able to help them
2. Maintaining distance–You know you’re not really part of someone’s life when you don’t know what frayed edges they have
3. Creating distance–You really know you’re not part of someone’s life when you know darn well they have frayed edges but they haven’t asked you for help (or responded to your offers to help)
My friend Francine said, “Asking for help and allowing others to see our vulnerability is a difficult lesson to learn. At least for us humans that highly value our independence and self-sufficiency. It serves us well, but our vulnerability is what makes us human and loveable.”
I’m not saying it’s easy or without awkwardness, but starting with small (before you really need help) requests on a consistent basis will help train you to feel comfortable asking for help. Remember, life is a circle. You enjoy helping, and that’s one half of the circle. Receive help, and you will complete the circle. You can’t have one without the other, no matter how hard you try.
In the next 24 hours, think of someone you feel comfortable with asking for help, and then ask.
When we’re suffering, we have a choice. We can turn into the vulnerability, at which point we are gifted with connection. Or, we can turn away, at which point we slip deeper into isolation. Which will you choose? (I hope it’s #1 above.)