Why do we find it so hard to ask for help? I’ve pondered this question many a time, and not really come up with anything useful. Over the last few months, I’ve come up with a theory that might help, so here goes!
Once upon a time, (not that long ago in our history) we lived in communities where we all helped each other – that’s how we survived. We bartered our skills or strengths for those of other people, and between us we could do more, have a better chance of thriving. Although a generalisation, there is no doubt that cooperation, sharing of abilities, helping each other out, were vital to the development of human culture.
This allowed us to go beyond survival mode, to begin to differentiate between skills, and give some more value than others. This weakened the bargaining power of some and strengthened the bargaining power of others. For example, once everyone knew how to preserve and cook their food, it was no longer a valuable skill. On the other hand, someone who was great at developing useful tools would have a special talent to barter.
So those who had the valued skills didn’t have to ask for help – it was given to them in return for their skills. Only those who were seen as weaker would have to ask for help, and risk being refused or taken advantage of. And although we no longer live in those communities, we have absorbed into our culture the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and leaves us vulnerable. If only we’d absorbed more thoroughly the other part of community living – that cooperation and helping each other out enables us all to thrive!!
So how do we counteract this underlying sense that asking for help shows weakness and makes us vulnerable? The most important thing is to collect evidence that the effect of asking for help is different from that.
If you think of when others have asked you for help, you will notice that, in most instances, it is a pleasure to do so. It feels good to be able to give someone a hand, whether that be just because it’s easier if two of you do it – carrying something heavy – or because it’s something you are good at, and they’re using your skill – checking spelling and grammar in an important document.
And if you think of times when you have asked for help, haven’t people responded positively most of the time?
When we do have negative reactions, either in ourselves or from others, it tends to be for one of two reasons: it feels like a power play, or it feels like someone is taking advantage.
The power play is someone refusing to help or putting major conditions on their help. This does make you feel weak and put down. Taking advantage is when someone is always asking for your help, without ever offering something in return – we feel used.
Now those of us who find it hard to ask for help are never going to come in the latter category! The last thing we’re going to do is to expect constant help in an unbalanced way. We may occasionally come across someone who tries the power play game, in which case we need to ask someone else!
Most of us will be good at offering help, being generous with our time and talents. Let’s not be superman or superwoman though. Then we’re the ones making others feel weak! Asking others for help shows that we also sometimes can’t do it all on our own, it makes us human. And it makes those around us feel valued for what they have to offer. It is that essential trait of human beings, their ability to cooperate and help each other out.
So start collecting your evidence that asking for help generally has a good effect on all concerned. And don’t struggle on, being independent – we all do so much better when we ‘re being interdependent, when we work together.