It’s sometimes a challenge to ask for help. We all want to be as self-sufficient as possible. But there’s a difference between, say, painting a room and dealing with complicated issues by yourself. So why do we find it so difficult to reach out when we need support, guidance, and encouragement? Researchers have some theories.
Why Is Asking for Help So Hard?
A lot of the time, it’s due to our sense of self and what we perceive others think of us—both of which might not be accurate. For example, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries is a psychoanalyst, management scholar, and an executive coach. In this article for the Harvard Business Review, he identified many factors relating to the “go it alone” approach that interfere with asking for help including, but not limited to:
- A fear of vulnerability. “Some might suffer from (a usually unjustified) impostor syndrome and worry that others will see through their carefully constructed facades.”
- A sense of victimhood. Kets de Vries also suggests that “people who go through life thinking I don’t deserve to be helped; I’m not worthy rarely seek support. Constantly hearing this inner voice, they develop a ‘poor me’ attitude and believe it’s their fate to sacrifice and struggle on their own.”
- The need to be independent. “When you prioritize self-reliance and self-sufficiency, asking for help feels uncomfortable,” Kets de Vries says.
Author and leadership coach Nora Bouchard shares an additional perspective. In an interview with CNBC, she says, “People are hardwired to want to do things on their own. Asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control to someone else. There are some people who really have a hard time with that piece of it.”
Xuan Zhao is a scientist at Stanford University’s SPARQ behavioral science center. She’s studied this topic extensively and believes asking for help is hard because:
- We often have “a concern about burdening or inconveniencing others.”
- We consider it a form of weakness or incompetence. Zhao says current research indicates that even young children believe this.
- We fear rejection, “which can be embarrassing and painful.”
Additionally, Zhao states that “these concerns may feel more relevant in some contexts than others, but they are all very relatable and very human.”
We All Feel Better When We Can Help Each Other
One of the reasons why 12-Step sponsorship is so successful for many people is because it feels good to help someone else succeed. This type of support extends in other areas of life, too. Zhao references many studies that indicate most people are glad to participate when asked to help—and they feel better as well because of being in a position to provide acts of kindness. So, while it’s important to establish healthy boundaries and not let certain people take advantage, helping each other is also an essential give and take. But it only happens when we share our needs.
“People want to help, but they can’t if they don’t know someone is suffering or struggling, or what the other person needs and how to help effectively, or whether it is their place to help— perhaps they want to respect others’ privacy or agency,” Zhao says. “A direct request can remove those uncertainties.”
Kets de Vries reinforces these points through a story of one of his clients. He says her stoicism was causing her to feel burned out personally and professionally. “I encouraged her to communicate more openly and authentically—for example, by disclosing when she was feeling too much pressure. When she showed vulnerability to her husband, admitting that she couldn’t do it all at work and at home, he was much more prepared to lend a hand.”
Get Better at Asking for Help
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. To the contrary, it can be one of the more courageous things you can do,” Kets de Vries notes. “Be smart enough to know when you need help and to ask for it effectively.” He suggests the SMART approach: “detail the help you need, explain why you need it, suggest steps the people you’re asking could take, ensure that it’s within their ability to do so, and spell out when you need things done by.”
Zhao says that even when the request can’t be easily defined, ask anyway. For example, “when we face mental health challenges, we may have difficulty articulating what kind of help we need. It is okay to reach out to mental health resources and take the time to figure things out together. They are there to help, and they are happy to help,” she says.
A perfect example of the power of reaching out to others is within the veteran and active military community. Many brave service people have learned to break the stigma of toxic masculinity by seeking help for addiction, PTSD, and other issues they experience.
So whether you need help overcoming the fear of treatment, want more support for your recovery, or simply need another handy person to paint a room, don’t hesitate to ask.
Willingway Is Here For You
Acknowledging that you need professional help to achieve better health goals demonstrates courage, a strong sense of being, and the importance of commitment. If you’re ready to experience the healing, hope, and understanding that Willingway’s board-certified addiction rehabilitation professionals in Georgia can provide, please reach out.