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Why Do We Struggle to Ask for Help?

Why Do We Struggle to Ask for Help?

There are many reasons why asking for help is hard sometimes. Maybe we don’t want to bother anyone. Or we feel the request indicates that we’re not capable of handling certain things. Not asking for help might also be a complicated symptom of mental health issues. However, researchers indicate that many relationships are strengthened when people trust each other to give and receive assistance. 

Why Do We Struggle to Ask for Help?

Social psychologist Xuan Zhao, a research scientist at Stanford SPARQ—a behavioral science “do tank” at Stanford University—says for many people, it’s hard to ask for help because

  • We fear rejection, “which can be embarrassing and painful.”
  • We often have “a concern about burdening or inconveniencing others.”
  • We consider it a form of weakness or incompetence. She points to current research that indicates even young children believe this. 
  • We underestimate others’ willingness to help.

While these concerns might be more valid in certain contexts than others, Zhao says “they’re all very relatable and very human.” 

She adds that “when people are in need of help, they’re often caught up in their own concerns and worries and don’t fully recognize the prosocial motivations of those around them who are ready to help. The truth is, most of us are deeply prosocial and want to make a positive difference in others’ lives.” 

In this Good Therapy article, psychotherapist Laurie Leinwand adds that, in addition to the reasons above, people also fear asking for help because they don’t want to be “found out.” As she explains it, “the fear of being ‘found out’ is akin to the fear of being exposed as a fraud, also known as impostor syndrome. It can coincide with all-or-nothing thinking or perfectionism: believing that if we don’t know it all, we know next to nothing.” 

However, no matter what’s happening in life or what role we’re in, Leinward says “it doesn’t serve us to pretend we have every answer. However, it benefits us and others to know where to go for assistance when we need it, and then to avail ourselves of those resources.” 

This approach also helps you move from a fixed mindset about your circumstances to more of a growth mindset, allowing you to recognize certain triggers and then make adjustments to accommodate new opportunities or connections. 

How to Ask for the Help You Need

In the recovery community, one of the best examples of giving and receiving help is in a mutual aid support group like a 12-Step program, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, and Women for Sobriety, to name a few. 

But it only happens when we share our needs and recognize what Zhao’s research and other studies reveals: most people are glad to participate when asked to help—and they feel better as well because of being in a position to provide acts of kindness.  

“Many factors can influence how difficult it may feel to ask for help. Our recent research has primarily focused on everyday scenarios where the other person is clearly able to help, and all you need is to show up and ask,” Zhao says. “In some other cases, the kind of help you need may require more specific skills or resources.”

She recommends tailoring your request to the SMART criteria, a technique often used for goal setting: 

  • Specific
  • Meaningful
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound 

“Of course, not all requests have to be specific. When we face mental health challenges, we may have difficulty articulating what kind of help we need,” Zhao adds. “It’s okay to reach out to mental health resources and take the time to figure things out together. They are there to help, and they are happy to help.”

Other ways to get better at asking for help:

  • Start small. Ask a taller person to reach something for you on a high grocery shelf, then smile and thank them once the task is complete. 
  • Prioritize care within your circle. In addition to your peer support groups, be more open to giving and receiving help with friends, family members, and your community. It’s important to establish healthy boundaries and not let certain people take advantage, but in these environments, there’s a balanced and essential give and take, which builds trust and stronger relationships.  
  • Learn that “no” isn’t necessarily rejection. Not everyone will have the capacity, skill, or time to accommodate your request, so do your best not to take it personally. Be curious about this response, and use it to inform how and from whom you’ll ask for help in the future. 

“Asking for help doesn’t devalue you in any way,” Leinward says. “It can enable you to advance, connect you meaningfully with others, bolster your productivity and ability to do things with greater ease, and better prepare you for your next challenge.”

Learn How to Be Your Best Self at Ivory Plains

There are many layers to addiction rehabilitation and recovery. At our addiction rehabilitation program in Adair, Iowa, the structure of our residential and partial hospitalization programs introduces you to many aspects of self-awareness and self-care. These building blocks become a foundation for your ability to navigate life more effectively. We encourage you to make a vital step in asking for help by contacting a member of our admissions team today.  

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