Asking For Help: Why So Hard For So Many?

Why is asking for help—of any kind, not just the therapy kind—often so hard?

Peggy Collins, author of Help is Not a Four-Letter Word (2006), thinks many of us suffer from “Self-Sufficiency Syndrome,” which is “characterized by an inability and unwillingness to ask for help or delegate because of the belief that no one can do it as well as you can.”

Jeana Lee Tankh (Huffington Post) lists some other aspects of this syndrome: “There are short-term payoffs that self-sufficient people experience such as singular control, approval from others, career enhancement and self-confidence, all of which act as a catalyst for the behavior. Yet, when self-sufficiency is taken to the extreme, the burden of too much responsibility can cause stress, unrealistic expectations, lack of self acceptance and no acknowledgment of personal needs.”

When writer Alina Tugend (The New York Times) also researched this subject, she cited  both M. Nora Klaver‘s May Day! Asking For Help in Times of Need and Garret Keizer‘s Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Some of the various reasons include, said Tugend, “not wanting to seem weak, needy or incompetent,” fear of “surrendering all control,” fear of obligation and indebtedness, and lacking the skills to do it effectively.

Dr. Deborah Serani can remedy that last one. But first she cites (in a blog post) some myths that can prevent us from reaching out:

  • It makes us look vulnerable.
  • Holding things in and keeping personal issues under wraps keeps us secure.
  • It bothers others.
  • Highly successful people never ask for help.
  • I am a giver. I don’t like when others help me.

The truths, in a nutshell, are that aid-seeking is empowering, connects us with others, helps other people feel needed, and aids success. Plus, as with the last one, our resistances are just plain worth getting over.

Seek HELP, Serani says:

  • Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking
  • Express your needs simply and clearly
  • Let others know you are there to help them as well
  • Praise your pals for their assistance and pat yourself for asking for help

What about reaching out to a therapist—what specific factors hold people back?

Self-sufficiency is one of them. Others include, but are not limited to, mental health stigma, financial barriers, lack of local availability of therapy, being unable to get an appointment soon enough, and prejudice and discrimination.

Some of these are very real for some people, some are untested internalized beliefs. Most can be overcome, partly by researching the various available alternatives—online therapy, for example, versus in-office therapy, just to name one intervention that could be effective for those in certain circumstances. But in order to even look into such things, many people need a bit of assistance.

And now…? Aren’t we back to square one?

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