Why Can It Be So Hard To Ask For Help?


Have you ever struggled with a problem and had a sense that you could really benefit from talking to someone, but you had some reservations about opening up? Have you ever wished you could share your struggle with family or friends, but didn’t feel comfortable going to them?
Have you ever longed to say whatever’s on your mind, but you were afraid that you might burden whomever you opened up to?
So why do we think we burden others when we reach out for help?
1. A History of Negative Responses Stay in Our Memory
Some people who are hesitant to burden others with their problems are being very selective with whom they open up to because they’ve learned from past experiences. Many of my clients have decided to trust a professional, because the people they’re closest to in their lives have responded in unhelpful or off putting ways in the past. Some negative responses send clear messages about how burdensome some people find our problems to be.  I’ve known folks who have dealt with anything from grief to cancer, whose closest relations repeatedly remarked how hard their struggle was on them. They may make the issues people choose to discuss ‘all about them’ or turn the discussion into a competition of ‘who has it worse.’ They may also express how frustrated they are with the person expressing their issue ‘all the time.’
2. Avoiding Judgment and Rejection
Many people who are cautious of opening up to others about the challenges they face are doubtful because they know there’s a chance they might receive judgment or exclusion. When we’re heard and our feelings and perspectives are validated, we generally feel good (not surprising). On the other hand, when we’re met with judgment and exclusionary responses, we’re more likely to feel alienated and out of place.  
3. Discomfort With Receiving Help
Some people are so used to helping others that it feels strange and unfamiliar to be on the receiving end.  When this is the case, people can be understandably reluctant to reach out for help when they need it. Their identity is wrapped up in being the one that helps and not the one that receives it. Society’s view has been one that people who need help are “weak.”  Most of us are probably familiar with this perspective to some extent. People who are giving help are assumed to “have it together”, while the people receiving the help are regarded as needing to “get it together”, and are therefore deficient.  Of course, this is a really problematic and creates a climate of fear around opening up when outside help could make a big difference.

What Can Help Make it Easier to Reach Out?
When your experiences have led you to feel isolated and excluded by others when sharing your thoughts and feelings, finding a professional helper who you can trust makes sense. There are some circumstances when it may be worthwhile to go out on a limb and reach out to others already in your life. In reality, everyone responds differently to issues people bring forward, and not everyone opens up about their struggles in the same way.  For example, a lot of people find others to be burdensome when the sharing isn’t reciprocated or when there is little in the way of equity in sharing. Some people resent the helper role when it becomes a thankless job and their is little appreciation being given for their efforts. As people receiving help, we can actually do things to decrease the likelihood of our helpers feeling burdened:
1. Say thank you (so simple, but so powerful when it is genuine)
2. Offer your help and assistance to them in return
3. Let them know how much of a difference they make in your life.

These are some things to consider the next time you’re on the fence about opening up and sharing your struggles with someone you feel you can trust.  You may be presenting them with a kind of gift... a chance to be close to you, know you deeply, and to have their own ability to make a change in someone’s life.

What have been your experiences of seeking or giving help? Feel free to share in the comments below.

If you sense that your outlets for expressing your struggles in life are limited, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.