Why It Is So Hard to Ask For Help
In this podcast (episode #350) and blog, I talk about the importance of asking for help and why we all need help at times!
The Beatles really got it right. There are times when we will cry out “Help, I need somebody!” We can’t do everything alone, and we shouldn’t be shamed for needing help.
However, I believe that asking for help can be one of the hardest things for us to do, especially when we are struggling emotionally. It can also be hard to recognize when we need help and can’t just “get through it”. It can feel sad, frustrating, or even weak to think that sometimes we just aren’t “strong” enough. In a society that often prioritizes independence and power, asking for help can seem like a silly or even bad thing.
The important thing to remember is to not beat yourself up if you get to this point. We have all been there! Practice self-compassion and grace, and try to see asking for help as something that’s both incredibly hard and incredibly powerful. It is not a sign of weakness or failure.
Someone once told me about a type of experiential therapy that changed their whole perspective about asking for help. They were part of a group of people coming from all areas and backgrounds. Some were alcoholics, others drug addicts, some suffered sexual trauma, and others suffered from severe mental health problems. These people had gotten to a place in their liveswhere they were so broken by what they were going through that it became hard to even participate in normal life. They were going to group therapy to try to learn how to cope with everything.
One day in therapy, they did this activity: the therapists had everyone blindfolded and told them they were going to enter a maze made from ropes. The therapists also explained that everyone had to hold on the ropes—they must not let go. The “rope maze” was set up prior to the beginning of the activity, so the participants did not know what to expect. Once their hands were on the rope, they were given a set of instructions, including that they must keep at least one hand on the rope, and must be silent.
During this session, the participants would slowly start lookingfor a way out. They followed the person in front of them, and went in circles. Around and around and around again. Some people would think they found their way out only to realize they were still in the circle. Every five minutes, the therapistrepeated, “remember, there is a way out…raise your hand if you think you found the exit or need help”. During the last five minutes of the activity, the therapist played the Beatles’ song “Help!” as a clue to help them exit the maze.
The point of this activity is that there is no true end to the maze if the participants kept trying to leave on their own. The only way out of the maze was if the participants raised their hand and asked for help. Yet the participants were so focused on the rules that they completely disregarded the final bit where the therapist said, “raise your hand if you need help”. If they raised their hand and asked the therapist for help, the therapist took their hand off the ropes and helped them remove their blindfold so they could see that they have just been following the same pattern of in the rope maze—they had just been going in circles.
I think that this is something that everyone can relate to. We tend to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We think that being self-reliant is what makes us successful. But this is simplynot true. When we acknowledge that we can’t do something alone, it is a sign of both humility and strength. We are strong enough to admit that we don’t have all the answers. This doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human!
We need to be connected to not only survive, but also to thrive: deep, meaningful connections are our deepest need. We need to stop thinking that asking for help is a bad thing. We don’t have to feel guilty if we need to reach out to others; we need to balance working on ourselves with reaching out, being vulnerable and connecting with others. This brings perspective and helps us move through and overcome the issues of life. We all need to share, and we all need to listen and help others in a non-judgmental way, which, amazingly, helps us heal as well. Close relationships from childhood and into adulthood have actually been shown to offer lifelong protection against all kinds of illnesses, including heart disease! Loving support helps us deal with toxic stress, making it work for us and not against us, boosting our mental resilience and helping us cope with the vagaries of life. These kinds of connections positively impact our health, right down to the level of our genetic expression. (I discuss this in detail in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.)
Of course, it seems simple to say, “We all need to let peopleknow when we are struggling”, but it’s not that simple, and it can be quite terrifying. We are often afraid of the stigma around asking for help and feel ashamed, guilty, or just weak. We may even fear rejection, or we think we are able to handle it on our own (which I’m sure is what many people felt as they went through that rope maze!).
Social isolation is another major factor that prevents people from asking for help. When people are more isolated, they tend to feel more alone, and think they are the only ones going through what they are experiencing or having these feelings.
Asking for help is a big step. It takes a lot of bravery. It is not small or silly or inconsequential. And it is okay to be afraid or uneasy.
When you’re ready, there is a wealth of resources that you can turn to, including primary-care doctors, in-person and online therapists, support groups, trusted friends or family members, community mental health programs and clinics, employee assistance programs, student counseling centers, national helplines and so on. Some resources are:
When you ask for help, you extended something of yourself (your innermost thoughts or feelings) and the other person receives this by listening and accepting what you have to say. When this happens, a deep, meaningful connection is made. This connection has a purpose and can withstand a certain amount of stress—it isn’t flimsy or easily broken and requires some time and effort.
One great function in the brain that helps us build these kinds of connections that facilitate healing is the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is a primary network that we switch into when we switch off from the outside world and move into a state of focused mindfulness. It activates to even higher levels when a person is daydreaming, introspecting, or letting his or her mind wander in an organized exploratory way through the endless myriad of thoughts within the deep spiritual nonconscious part of who they are.
What’s remarkable about this default network, according to Lieberman’s research, is that it also “directs us to think about other people’s minds—their thoughts, feelings, and goals.”Whenever it has a free moment, the brain has an automatic reflex to “go social”. But why would the brain, which forms only 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of its energy, use its limited resources on social thinking, rather than conserving its energy? Because social interaction boosts energy and our ability to heal and live a purposeful life. This means that when we ask for help and reach out and connect with others, we are potentially improving our brain health and ability to heal.
For more on asking for help, listen to my podcast (episode #350). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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3:30 Why it can be hard to ask for help
5:00 Why we need a lot of self-compassion
9:20 Learning to listen to our “wise mind”
10:30 What the rope maze can teach you about asking for help
17:30 Why we need each other!
20:10 Why some people may find it challenging to ask for help
21:28 It is not just about you—it is about you in the world
22:00 The importance of the default mode network & asking for help
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.