Why is asking for help so hard?

It’s a strange thing. We live in an interconnected society. Nevertheless, we often feel so much pressure to do everything on our own.

On the one hand, we are usually more than happy to assist other people with their challenges in life. From volunteering when a friend moves to providing a shoulder to cry on when a loved one is in distress, we willingly offer our own aid.

Still, when it’s our turn, we find asking for help to be such a struggle. There’s often no obvious reason why our friends, partners, and loved ones wouldn’t assist us. Yet, we won’t ask them. As a result, they often don’t know what to do for us. Eventually, we end up feeling even more on our own.

Why is Asking for Help So Hard?

People hate it for a variety of reasons:

We’re afraid of owing a favor. Most of us don’t like to be indebted to anyone. It can feel like the other person has a measure of power or control in our lives. We may feel unable to relax or enjoy the relationship until we find a way to balance the favor with one of our own.

We’re fearful of being vulnerable. When we ask someone else for help, we are left open to a myriad of responses.  That uncertainty may make us feel somewhat powerless or at a disadvantage. 

We let pride get in the way. Some of us were wired to think that bootstraps and hard work should make us impervious to the need for help from anyone. So, we just keep yanking on those straps when times are hard instead of reaching out. 

We are anxious perfectionists. When you have high, unrelenting standards, seeking help doesn’t feel good. It feels like a personal failure.  Not to mention the idea of someone else doing what you usually do may feel like an uncomfortable loss of control.

We can’t stand rejection. Nobody wants to feel rejected. There is always the risk that a request for help will be met with a “no.”  The rejection of your request can trigger negative emotions from childhood and past relationships. Not wanting to feel the discomfort of those painful feelings, you might avoid asking for help entirely. After all, if you never ask, then people can’t turn you down.

We’re worried our friends won’t come through. When we ask a friend for assistance and they don’t or can’t deliver, it’s disappointing.  Even if you understand why they have to say no,  you may still feel hurt, sad, or angry.  Their inability or unwillingness to assist you can feel like a betrayal of your relationship.

We Believe an Ask Implies Our Own Weakness

The need to feel strong and independent is a core reason that asking for help is so hard. Society places a lot of pressure on you to do things on your own. In contrast to more collectivist cultures, individualist cultures (especially the USA) teach us to prize the solo person over the family or larger society. As a result, it’s deeply ingrained in us that we should find a way to succeed on our own.

Therefore, asking for help can actually feel like a failure or sign of weakness. We have this internal belief that if we can’t do every single thing on our own then we are doing something wrong.

This is a false belief system. We actually live in a deeply intertwined society. Everything we do depends upon and affects other people. Thus, there’s no shame in asking for help, because what’s good for one is often good for all.

Asking for Help is a Risk Worth Taking

Asking for help might be challenging. However, when you think about it, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Most obviously, seeking assistance allows you to get the help that you need. If you need someone to watch your children, accompany you to a doctor’s appointment, or hold your hand while you cry, then you get it by asking. We all need support to get our needs met. Our mental and emotional health often depend on a sense that we belong to a reliable and responsive community.

In the same vein, asking for help strengthens those relationships with others. People often feel honored that you trust them enough to ask for their help. You will feel closer to others when you allow them to assist you. The people in your life will also feel closer to you.

In other words, it also draws people to you when you ask for help. When you show a bit of vulnerability, people often want to respond in kind. Moreover, you’ve given them a clear direction about how they can be of service in your life. Nobody wants to feel like the one-sided recipient of all of the care in the relationship. It makes them feel less connected, useless, and untrusted. When they can help you in the right ways, it empowers them. All of these things deepen your bonds.

Finally, it’s clear that asking for help can infuse your life with more meaningful interaction and boost your productivity. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.  However, it’s not easy to learn how to do it. Therapy can be one tool that helps you get better at asking for help graciously.

Learn more about relationship counseling services here.