Accepting Help as a Sign of Strength
Dr. Zan’s Thoughts:
“Me do it me-self!” This is a direct quote that we heard from our daughter as one of the earliest phrases she espoused repeatedly upon learning to talk. Many parents will attest to this fact: these early declarations of our children frequently offer us an accurate foretaste of who they are to become. In our daughter’s case, she was simply and clearly expressing her staunchly independent nature.
While I truly admire my daughter’s independence and have actually shared her determination to be as self-sufficient as possible for most of my life, in more recent years I have also learned the strength and courage that resides in accepting help when you really need it. When I was pregnant with my youngest child, complications required that I submit to bed rest for many months prior to his birth. When the stakes were so high, I was left with no choice but to accept assistance from the many people who were willing, if not eager, to lend a hand. My forced state of helplessness actually allowed me to relinquish my long held illusion that I was fully in charge of my own life and destiny. The best part was that surprising blessings emerged from my inability to embrace my usual presentation of uber-competence. For instance, I had the time to be still and present when friends came to call. I had the opportunity to listen fully, to connect freely, and to observe others rise to the challenge of household management. Sometimes when we insist on being in charge and fully responsible, we rob others of the opportunity to express their own gifts and capacities.
During Mental Health Awareness month it seems particularly timely to think about how willing we are to accept help when it is needed. But, given my own evolution, allow me to go one step further. We need to not only accept help, but we, as fallible humans, need to learn to ask for help in a genuine and courageous manner. Sometimes it feels terrifying to admit, “I can’t do this on my own,” in a moment of raw emotion. Believe me, as a mom who balances many responsibilities, I know that it is much more likely that I will express my anger that nobody has helped me as I huff about and tend to tasks late into the night. But to express, in full revealing of my human vulnerability and imperfection, that I need help--that’s much more challenging. And yet, I am learning to step up to that challenge--to admit that yes, sometimes I do need help. Other times, I would just appreciate the help. There are moments when I can be the one to offer help, but it’s okay that sometimes I need it too.
Dr. Nadine’s Reflections:
As I read Dr. Zan’s thoughts, I was reminded of so many times that I was pressed to ask for help from others. I use the word “pressed” because if I hadn’t HAD to ask for help, I wouldn’t have. I’ve had lots of conversations over the years with many people who’ve felt this same way. I’m not sure how it is that so many of us grow up with the notion that we should be able to manage our lives with no assistance. Well, that’s probably an overstatement as I think about it: there are some things that require help for which it’s acceptable to ask - for example, folding sheets. Have you ever folded queen or king sheets on your own? If not careful, you could actually get lost in them, and categorically become a “missing person”. But it seems that the really BIG things, the things that expose our vulnerabilities, the things for which we’d most benefit from having the help, are the ones we think we need to achieve on our own.
I just had a recent conversation with my Dear One about buying a car. He is confident about acquiring a pre-owned vehicle. I, on the other hand, cringe to think of that for myself. I’m remembering all the “used cars” I’ve owned in my life, and how many times I found myself unexpectedly stuck on the side of the road, or handing over money to a garage to fix a “surprise” mechanical issue. This ongoing concern illustrates my reluctance to put myself in a position in which I have to call my trusted friends to rescue me from these situations.
So my personal hesitation to ask for help comes, in part, from being a single woman living far from family, and not wanting to inconvenience friends who have commitments of their own. Nevertheless, I learned a great deal from two specific times in my life that I was forced ask for help. Both times I had to move out of my home unexpectedly and quickly. It was truly impossible for me, in the short time frame I had, to have packed up all my belongings, loaded them into vehicles, and delivered them to the next place. I was paralyzed by the daunting tasks which lay before me. But, in each case, one person - first Joyce, then Carolyn – literally grabbed me and reminded me that it was OK to need and ask for the help. Carolyn specifically said, “Don’t you understand? People WANT to help you! They would feel so good to be able to do this for you!” In that moment, it felt like getting hit by lightning. Really? People want to do this? Yes. Really. For the second move, my family drove six hours to help me out and stayed for several days. My students came from school, and my friends and colleagues came on whichever days they had free. Most of the time, I never knew who would be showing up each day. We got it done, though! And we all bonded over boxes, bubble wrap, packing paper, pizza, potato chips, cookies and chocolate.
I’m still not that comfortable reaching out and asking for assistance, but I remember two things to bridge my ambivalence between asking and not asking. First, I’m a psychologist. I went into this field because I wanted to be a help to others. And I value people’s ability to ask for what they need. Secondly, I see from both sides the value of helping one another. It feels great to get the help, and it feels great to give it. In this way, we connect, we build community, we develop relationships, and we become part of the fabric of human kindness and compassion.
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