Let's Help Each Other Learn How to Ask For Help

If you know how to ask for help, please help me (and others) learn this skill

For some years now, I’ve been connecting with people like you, who care about building a life around kindness, compassion, and the concept of enough. The people I like to hang out with, online and in person, believe that an obsession with fame and fortune—with what’s popular—blinds us to the essential aspects of a real life. Let’s build and strengthen authentic relationships, because real relationships are not about transactions. Real relationships are based on love. 
Still here? Good. Thank you. I have a problem and I will value your input.

I don’t know how to ask for help. Do you? 

If you know how to ask for help, please offer your tips and reflections, book suggestions, quotes, anything that will contribute to this conversation, in the comments below.
Only last night, I realized that not knowing how to ask for help has been my life long problem, my achilles heel. And now in midlife, I’m limping, getting nowhere fast, when I really, really need to be moving ahead. 
I’m too self-reliant and I take too much responsibility–I wasn’t aware of this. But recently I’ve been learning to open my heart to others, to listen to their wisdom. It can be helpful to see ourselves through the eyes of those who love us. This is what I’ve heard from my dear ones in the last month alone:

After giving a presentation on Book of Transformations: Poetry, Spirituality, Love (a book I’m writing) for the Studium scholars and Sisters of Saint Benedict’s monastery, my friend Chuck Huff (a professor of Psychology and soon-to-be-published graduate-level textbook author), came up to me, hugged me, and said. That was a really clever line about your mask. How did you put it? I had said,

I can handle all this, if I just stay here behind my spiffy mask of optimistic competence.

Right, he said. And then he looked deeply into my eyes—the windows to my soul—and said something that possesses the power of a prayer,

It’s time to take off that mask. 

I suppressed the urge to bawl like a baby. I don’t cry in public. 

Two weeks later, enjoying a wonderful, long-overdue girlfriend chat with my lifelong friend, the poet/writer Susan Thurston, I relayed that story. And she said,

Yeah, you don’t do vulnerability. 

Well, no, I don’t do vulnerability, because, egads, it opens you to more pain. I have plenty of that already, thank you very much.  

And then, just last night, proud of all I have accomplished in the past years, said to my husband,

I don’t do that cry-baby ‘help me’ thing!

My dear husband, who, by the way, is ten years into the process of non-Alzheimer dementia and, miraculously, while losing cognitive power is also becoming wiser, said, 

No. You do that ‘don’t help me’ thing.


So, I’ve been looking at online articles this morning, and they’re all search engine optimized to get traffic to a website. I enter the phrase “how to ask for help” into a search engine, and I get sent to an article written by someone who doesn’t actually care to help me, but instead is a content writer paid to turn me into a commodity, a “like” or “hit” to help sell a product or advertising space. This means, the articles I found are mostly superficial and not actually helpful. 

4 online articles about  ‘how to ask for help’

A social psychologist explains how to ask for help without making it weird

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This social psychologist offers 8 Suggestions and a lot of words about ways NOT to ask for help.

Asking for help

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This nonprofit crisis support center equates asking for help with mental health crises like depression. Here are 3 bulleted lists with no elaborations: Barriers to Asking for Help; Benefits of Asking for Help; Where to Go to Get Help. Shallow!

How to ask for help and actually get it

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This New York Times article comes with the subtitle “People want to help you. You just have to ask.” And that’s pretty much everything the article says. It’s also hard to read the article–it’s so surrounded by ads! 

How one company got its employees to speak up and ask for help

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And this article isn’t about how to ask for help at all, it’s a case study story about a company that figured out a way to provide better customer service and retain its customers, by making an environment where its employees are rewarded when they ask for help.  

Why I need to ask for help  

To support myself and my husband, while dealing with he intricate demands of being the primary caregiver to a spouse with dementia, I work as a strategic development and marketing consultant to nonprofit organizations, and small providers of integrative health care. I also take on free lance writing and editing assignments. Meanwhile, I’m working on completing a book, and now and then, a new poem. 
To stay sane, I practice Benedictine spirituality, including prayer, reflective reading, silence, service, and stable commitment to my community. I am also devoted to my immediate family—parents, siblings, children, grandchildren and beloved friends. I turn down most new invitations and requests for my time, but I’m still feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks. Thanks to my role models and mentors, I’m actually doing a lot less now than I’ve ever done. All my life I had been doing way, way, way, way, way too much. When I started “tidying up” my life commitments, I had no idea how much clutter I had. 
I have been a commitment-hoarder!
I feel overly responsible for getting things done, and done right, and I know that. I need help. 

Why it is difficult for me to ask for help

I still am carrying quite a few commitments that haven’t been cleared away, because I don’t feel it’s responsible to just dump them like an oil spill into the river of our interconnected lives. I’m trying to cart them away to a safe place, where there will be minimal damage when I unload them. 
Yeah, that’s a smoke screen isn’t it?
But asking for help is like ripping off a bandage that has been there a long, long time. I’m afraid to do it. I’m afraid to see what’s underneath. Would you please do it for me? I just close my eyes and on the count of three . . .

Tell me how to ask for help

Tell me (in the comments below, or via this form that goes directly to my private email) why it’s so difficult to ask for help and how to do it. I’m listening. 
According to the experts, I’m doing my blog all wrong. I’m not remotely concerned with what’s popular. I care about what’s meaningful and good in life. If you read this far, a meaningful life must mattes to you, also. Thank you for being here. Your presence blesses me, and this small community of spiritual seekers and book lovers. 

13 thoughts on “Let's Help Each Other Learn How to Ask For Help”

  1. I’m glad you started tidying up your life commitments, as you say. Still, I read all these obligations with eyes-popping:
    To support myself and my husband, while dealing with the intricate demands of being the primary caregiver to a spouse with dementia, I work as a strategic development and marketing consultant to nonprofit organizations, and small providers of integrative health care. I also take on free lance writing and editing assignments. Meanwhile, I’m working on completing a book, and now and then, a new poem.
    That’s A LOT! What is actually essential to your financial stability? What sparks joy? It sounds as though you are spread very thin and need to fill the depleted wells of energy, which you do at least partially with your Benedictine practice.
    You asked for help, so here are my thoughts: Pick out ONE thing you could delete or delegate to someone else. Only you would know what that is. “What task do you approach with dread?” Maybe that’s the one you could dispense with.
    Care-taking is hard on the body and the emotions as I know from experience. Could someone else interact with hubby so you get some “alone” time. Is there a friend or family member who would be willing to help? Begin by asking for a small favor. If you get a No, move on to someone else. I don’t know your situation precisely, so this suggestion is just a stab in the dark.
    Take walks! I find that getting my legs moving also helps my mental wheels turn too, especially when I’m writing.
    Please winnow out the un-helpful suggestions, and know that I care about you and admire you for reaching out in this way.
    Caring is a powerful emotion, and you are showing this quality with grace and love writing this post. Blessings! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Marian! Yes, it is A LOT! I’d drop all of the consulting and freelance work except finishing my book, if it wasn’t financially necessary.I’m hoping, and working toward, getting to a place where my writing is profitable enough, because that’s what sparks joy! But there must be things I’m doing I could just stop going and delegate. I’m going to take your suggesting and start with one thing to delegate. Giving myself the assignment, writing it down — I will identify that thing within a week, and then, if I can’t just drop it, I will work at finding someone who will be happy to do it for me.

  2. I’m reflecting on your post, my friend, and will be in touch soon (or Marlene-soon) with my thoughts. But it won’t surprise you to hear that, like you, I’m an over-committer who has trouble asking for help. (Almost-twinishness again!) On the other hand, I’m happy to try to help others, even if I struggle to apply my fine advice to myself. Thank you for being a fine role model by being brave enough to ask for help, and for sharing this post, which has sparked some much-needed reflection for me.

    1. There is no end to the discovery of our similarities! Your words I’m happy to try to help others, even if I struggle to apply my fine advice to myself, Really resonate with me. I suppose that’s just part of being human; and I’m beginning to realize how very, very human I am.
      I had a boss once, who when exasperated by something someone did, would say, “People! I’m glad I’m not one of them.”
      This was a big step for me, but once I realized (with the help of people who know me) that I have this problem, I saw I had to take this step. I really want to be healthier and more balanced in my approach to life. I’m learning to go step-by-step — we can’t do everything at once. First I practiced saying no, and am juggling far, far, fewer commitments at present than I’ve ever had in my adult life.
      I’m looking forward to hearing your reflections, after you’ve had time to think. I, too, am reflecting on Why! Why is this such a struggle for me? I fear there is more than a smidgeon of ugly pride behind it. Do I think I can’t trust anyone to do the thing as perfectly as I would do it? Is this my secret little control issue? Hmmm . . .

      1. So, I’ve been reflecting on this and here’s what I have to offer. It’s not meant to be trite, but …
        Sometimes the best way to learn to ask for help is to ask for help.
        I confess to taking a certain pride in doing things myself. After al, there was seemingly nothing my mother couldn’t do. And I’ve also carved out this role for myself (maybe only in my own mind) as a strong mother figure who supports her kids but rarely asks them for help.
        This winter, several of my patios were damaged to the point of shattering, probably due to the polar vortex and other factors. I found myself thinking about the unexpected cost of replacing the patio, then realized I could just replace the damaged stones. But with my injuries, how could I get those stones home and do the necessary work? You know where this is going, right?
        I finally picked up the phone and asked my son if he would help me. And without hesitation, he indicated he’d be happy to help. And I could tell he really meant it. I learned a lot from the phone call.
        And, reflecting on Natasha’s wisdom below, I think I do my family a disservice by not allowing them to be of service to me sometimes. And in particular, my grandchildren should have the opportunity to see what richness there is in a multigenerational, supportive family.

  3. It is so hard to ask for but I remember a line (from Tuesdays With Morris, I think) about how our not accepting help is not allowing others to show their love for us. When competence is one of our strengths, it feels like failure to need help. As I get older, I am SLOWLY learning to accept help and allow others to love on me in this way.

    1. And you are such a good helper! Yes, please do let us to “love on you” by helping. It’s hard, but I also heard once (from an unknown source I can’t remember) that people who can’t accept help, probably need to examine their motives for helping, because they’re probably not entirely pure. Ouch! I like to see myself, and be seen, as helpful — but I don’t want to ask for help.
      Time for some deep introspection.

  4. I am learning more and more that asking for help is actually showing an appreciation to those people who you are choosing to ask help from. Asking is a very humbling spiritual experience. Not asking is almost too prideful. And if we are not asking for help we are missing an opportunity to help others. My husband has a real trouble with asking but I am trying to convince him that if he wants to be helpful to others he needs to learn to ask and accept help with gratitude. I personally love asking as much as giving. It feels good to see people shine when they are able to help.

    1. This is wise, Natasha. Thank you for encouraging me to examine humility and pride in light of this. Not in the sense of debasing ourselves, but in the sense of giving others the right to feel good by being a help, or as Linda says, by allowing them to “love on us.”

  5. After much reflection. Here’s my two cents worth thoughts:
    Close your eyes for just a moment. Think about a time where you were able to help someone in need. Now as you think about that, notice the feelings that are arising. Likely the feelings are of joy, happiness, maybe even excitement because you have the ability to help someone you care about. You know at that moment your life matters. You matter. Now step back for a moment from that memory. That warm, loving feeling you have is what you rob others of when you choose not to ask someone for help! You rob them of the opportunity of feeling helpful! Let that sink in for just a moment!! Your requests for help are not a burden. They are a gift.

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