Becoming Aware – Help Me, Help You

It is 7:30 in the morning. You are rushing to get the kids in the car, so you can get them to daycare, and you can get to work on time. Your three-year old still needs her shoes and jacket on. As you are trying to help her with her shoes, she looks at you and says … “I do it myself!”

Are we hardwired to want to do everything for ourselves? Are we hardwired to resist asking for help?

I have been thinking about how difficult it is to ask for help because the topic has come up so much over this past year. As we became more and more socially isolated in March, April, May of 2020, we didn’t even know who we could ask for help.  Everyone was in the same boat. Should we go to the grocery store or use Instacart? How many of you thought of a third option, like asking a younger neighbor or family member if they could pick something up for you? We don’t like to ask for help.

This is a topic that came up during some of the discussions on The Caregivers Bakery podcast. As a caregiver, you feel that you are the only one who can adequately take care of your partner, parent, friend or child. Sometimes you don’t even know what help you might need. Your three-year old self kicks in … “I do it myself.”

I have had clients who are working hard at overcoming limiting beliefs, who are working at redefining their lives in life after retirement, and who are so reluctant to ask for help even with things that are unfamiliar to them.

Nora Bouchard, an executive and leadership coach, and the author of “Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need,” explains that asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control to someone else. 

We fear that we could be perceived as needy, or we might come across as a burden. We may be concerned that asking for help will create a sense of indebtedness, or we may feel that our needs are insignificant compared to others needs. There is also the fear of rejection. What if you ask for help and you are told “NO?”

The title of this blog, “Help Me, Help You,” is meant to have a double meaning.

Most people are happy to help. In fact, it makes them feel good to be able to help. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist at the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University has said that “asking for help is a nice thing to do for someone else – it gives them a sense of feeling effective and useful, and a feeling that their life is about more than their own problems.”

Isn’t that an interesting perspective? When you ask me for help, you are actually helping me feel better about myself. The key here is to be specific in your ask. Do you need me to pick up something at the store, water your plants when you go away, sit with your loved one so you can go get your hair done, or simply have a cup of tea together and talk? If you ask for what you want, and the person you ask is unable to help at that time, you now have the opportunity to reframe that response from a rejection to simply understanding that they were unable to help with that specific request. Maybe another time. Maybe someone else could help.

The flip side is that if I ask you for help, I may actually be helping you feel better about yourself also. It is well known that volunteering often helps people who are depressed start to feel better because they are feeling useful, they recognize that others need help also, they become distracted from thinking about their own problems and focus on someone or something else.

Here are a few tips to move from the three-year-old “I do it myself,” behavior to a more wholistic behavior of asking for help.

  1. Practice asking for small things.
    1. Could you borrow a cup of sugar?
    1. Could you ask someone to reach something on a top shelf in the store?
    1. Could you borrow that book your neighbor has been telling you about when they are done with it?
  2. Reframe your request so it’s a conversation rather than a transaction. “Let’s talk through this problem or situation and see what we can come up with together.” This creates a solution that both people can feel good about, without the feeling of indebtedness or being a burden.
  3. Identify the people in your life who you could consider your support system or support team. Three to five people is the right number. Talk to them about this before you need help. Ask them how they would feel about being part of your support team, if and when you might need it.

Help Me – Help You. Let me know how I can help you. I may be asking you for help sometime in the future.

5 thoughts on “Becoming Aware – Help Me, Help You

  1. I have always found this quote from Audrey Hepburn to be so spot on correct. However, as you have written, Wendy, we on the other side; we who need the help of another tend to forget how good it feels to offer help. I suspect that one might take a few minutes to consider how good it feels to offer assistance before deciding to ask another to do the same for you. And now, I will reach out to my neighbor and ask her to gather my mail for a few days when I am out of town. And I won’t feel guilty doing so!

  2. Thank you Wendy for this article. I agree, it is hard to ask for help. It suggests vulnerability and that is hard for many people especially independent types. Also, it requires trust in another enough to ask that person too. I had to learn it and do a bit better with asking but still struggle especially with family, when one thinks they should be easier to ask. I think it is a good idea to ask some others to be apart of your support team, like some close friends. I see and talk to them often and they have helped me through tough times. I get by with a little help from my friends as the Beatles sang. Good quote from Audrey Hepburn shared too.

  3. I have a lot of trouble asking for help. Maybe because I was the oldest of four and had an unconventional childhood. I was always the one helping so I think it becomes second nature. Very interesting and important topic.

  4. Great article Wendy. When I was a kid, I often heard, “Real men don’t ask for directions,” from my father. As coaches, we are up against this and other inaccurate phrases with which we were raised. I for one, have no problem asking for directions. Doubt I would have made it around the world without help.
    All the best,

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