Why is it so hard to ask for help? We’re a society that treats self-reliance like it’s the crowning achievement.
But the truth is, we all need help from time to time. And learning how to ask for it can have a dramatic impact on our lives.
How, then, do we start to get over the unease that consumes so many of us at the mere thought of asking for even a small amount of help? By trying to get out of our own heads.
We’re worried about becoming a burden. But it’s our perception—and only our perception—that fuels that scenario. A 2008 study found that subjects “underestimated by as much as 50 percent the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help.” In other words, people want to help. You just have to ask.
In fact, the most primitive part of the brain, the same pathway that’s activated by food, lights up in response to altruistic giving. Helping makes people feel good about themselves.
The key is being specific in your request, and not just about what you need. You also have to say, “Can you help me with … ?” We’ve become hyper-conscious, as a culture, about respecting personal boundaries. In most cases, that’s a positive thing. But it can also cause someone to doubt their own intuition that you need help.
So many of us stop short of asking for help because it would also mean admitting to ourselves and those we hold closest in our lives that we’re not in complete control of our lives. Problems that had been simmering—a troubled relationship, mounting credit card debt—suddenly rush to the surface and leave us feeling and looking broken, incapable, even stupid.
But all of that is coming from within our own heads. Our insecurities are trying to convince us that we’re all alone, and this problem is going to become the crisis that sinks us. Having someone to ask for help, though, means that you are supported and connected.
So, reframe your problem as an opportunity to consult with an expert. And imagine yourself as someone who’s savvy enough to seek out and take advantage of the resources at their disposal.
Most importantly, remember you’re not alone. Whatever you’re enduring at this very moment, someone else—lots of someone elses—are experiencing it, too. As vulnerable as you may feel, asking for help is something that happens countless times each and every day. It’s the very reason why organizations like ours exist.