Western society tells us to strive to be as independent as possible but this goes against our true nature as human beings. As a species, we simply wouldn’t have survived without mutual support and it’s still essential to ask for help instead of trying to do everything on your own.
Unfortunately, we are often encouraged to push ourselves to go it alone and soldier on without asking for help but this is doing us, and society, more harm than good.
I used to proudly wear my independence like a shield until I came to understand that being a little bit vulnerable and allowing others to support me is good for everyone.
Why asking for help is so hard
Asking for and accepting support can feel like a weakness, a failing, and an admission that you’ve somehow fallen short. It also means surrendering control, and this makes many people profoundly uncomfortable.
We usually avoid reaching out for support because we fear rejection; we’re afraid of being left hanging or judged as inadequate or ill-equipped.
Nor do we want to burden people or feel like we owe them anything in exchange. This self-inflicted sense of obligation was one of my biggest barriers to reaching out to people.
Acknowledging that we need help leaves us vulnerable to others, which is a deeply uncomfortable space for most. Vulnerability is associated with fear, shame, and the uncertainty of relying on others.
There have been so many times when I’ve been reluctant to ask for help because I’ve been afraid that I’d be judged or turned down. In hindsight, I’ve realised how counterintuitive this is.
Why fierce independence is not a badge of honour
We wear our independence with great pride. We think it tells people that we’re strong and brave, and we CAN do it all. But there comes the point when the converse becomes true.
Putting yourself under enormous pressure to be oh, so capable is exhausting. Before your independence leads to feeling isolated, burned out, and overwhelmed, it’s time to reevaluate what we’ve been led to believe.
The reality is that asking for help is a sign of wisdom and self-awareness. Knowing when you’ve reached your physical or emotional limits is integral for personal growth and self-improvement.
Why do we need to ask for help?
No one person can go through their entire life without needing at least some help from other people. And there’s a lot of good that can come from reaching out to others for assistance.
For a start, it helps develops stronger relationships with others. The people around you like to feel needed, and by reaching out to them, you’re saying that you trust them and value them enough to help you.
It says more to them about how you perceive them than how they are likely to perceive you. Letting people help is good for them too as it boosts their positive emotions.
The workplace is one area where asking for help can achieve the opposite of what you expect. You think that asking for help will erode your credibility and authority when in fact, asking for help shows a level of confidence and commitment to the task at hand.
The importance of seeking support at work shows that you’re self-aware enough to acknowledge that struggling alone out of pride isn’t the best way to get the job done. You show that you are a team player and willing to share the load when you become aware that going it solo won’t be the best use of your time, skills, and energy.
Asking for help connects you with others, increases your productivity, demonstrates a mature mindset and makes you happier by alleviating the stress and anxiety of doing things in isolation. It also offers you an opportunity to learn from others and grow.
Vulnerability makes us human
Being at the mercy of others isn’t always as difficult as it may seem to us. Humans are social animals, and we thrive when we work together.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable invites trust and empathy into our relationships. We feel better about ourselves because we aren’t struggling needlessly in isolation, and we also create opportunities for collaboration which help us grow and learn from others.
Why letting people help you is good for them too
Inviting help conveys to others that we trust them and value them. When someone asks you for help, you feel good about yourself and are only too happy to be of assistance, and there’s research that proves this. Humans are driven to be generous and helpful.
The benefits of working together far outweigh the bragging rights of having done it all by yourself. Nature shows us this in many ways.
Supportive systems in nature
The very concept of an ecosystem relies on individuals working together for the mutual benefit of the group. No one bee is out for itself. Each little bee individual has its role to fulfil for the betterment of the hive, but they all invariably work together to contribute to the ultimate success of the colony.
Thriving populations in nature are all about collaboration when it’s needed most. Trees rely on animals to eat their fruit and scatter their seeds to initiate the next generation of trees. Flowers depend on bees to spread their pollen. Fungal networks help with the decay of leaf waste which nourishes the soil for plants.
There’s simply no organism which exists and thrives independently of others. Even the tiniest organisms rely on and, in turn, assist other organisms in flourishing.
How to get over yourself and ask for help
So, you and I are also part of a bigger whole. When we look at the connectedness of every living entity, we can see that interdependence is natural and necessary. Getting the support you need begins with changing how you view needing help in the first place.
Knowing how to reach out to others can significantly improve the chances of receiving the help you need. The best way to do so is to be specific and direct and ask for what you need without apologising.
Confidently describe the problem, explain why it matters, and explain how the other person can assist. You may need to negotiate or answer questions but don’t feel like you need to apologise.
It might help to mention why you asked them specifically and what you think their strengths are in the situation.
Afterwards, make sure you express your gratitude to the person for their help and let them know how things worked out.
Like most things in life, asking for help gets easier the more you do it.
How to receive offers of help with grace and comfort
Receiving help can be just as difficult for some as asking for help. Sometimes, when someone offers to help, we might even perceive these as an insinuation that we’re not capable enough. We imagine a subtext that simply isn’t there. In these moments, we are quick to forget that offers to help come from a place of caring not judgement.
It’s also important to remember that offers of help don’t usually come with a return policy requiring you to repay some presumed debt. If you wish, you can pay the deed forward by offering no-strings-attached help to someone else, but typically the person offering to help you isn’t expecting you to repay them in any way so there’s no need to feel indebted.
The key to accepting offers of help with grace is to simply be grateful for the help and allow kindness in without attaching any judgement to it.
Try it, you’ll see your relationships will enjoy a greater sense of closeness.