Why it's hard to ask for help — and what to do about it

by Kayli Larkin, CHt

True confession: I have a file on my computer called “Examples of asking for help” where I write down inspiring examples of how people ask for help on Facebook. Why would I do such a thing?  Because it’s difficult to ask for help, and here’s why.  

Indiana Jones, the epitome of individualism

Indiana Jones, the epitome of individualism

First, we’re afraid to reach out because people might judge us. Maybe they think we don’t have our lives together, or we’re not smart, strong, rich, or popular enough to do it ourselves.

This fear is not unfounded. We live in a society that tells us it’s cool to be independent. It seems to be a cultural phenomenon in the U.S. that it’s better to be self sufficient than to need others. America’s obsession with individualism shows up in many ways:  the popularity of characters such as Superman, Indiana Jones, and Han Solo (the name says it all), or appreciation for great innovators such as Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. Not all cultures value individualism in this way. Japan values a more collective mindset; better to consult the elders than to forge ahead and place one’s own interests above the needs of family and community.

The result of this do-it-yourself mindset? Discrimination against the poor, who don’t always have the resources to buy necessities, let alone more luxurious services, such as healthcare. Men often repress emotions lest they appear needy, and are less likely than women to seek mental health services. The disabled in particular bear the brunt of this collective ideal since they sometimes can’t do the activities that others take for granted.

But there’s another reason for our inherent aversion to requesting aid that often goes unmentioned, and it’s something we have control over. Attachment style. Our attachment style — how we bond with others — is a driving factor in how easy it is

to connect and how comfortable it is to express needs and help others get their needs met. People with secure attachment style have a naturally easier time with this, but all is not lost if you didn’t win the parental jackpot and get the security you needed when your attachment system began to develop. There’s a way to get secure attachment, and it’s not just “earned secure attachment” from dating somebody secure or looking at pictures of puppy dog eyes (though that helps).

Secure attachment one cat photo at a time

Secure attachment one cat photo at a time

Attachment can be changed through therapeutic work such as somatic attachment therapy, where we practice sensing into body sensations, developing resources, and accessing positive memories that give us a sort of warm protective bubble against all the sharp edges in the world. When we have trouble asking for help with that project, with moving, with our goals, with our emotional dysregulation and anxiety, we can remember that we didn’t have good models, through society, through our family systems, and we can work on resourcing through attachment work so we can have better, more fulfilling relationships. So it’s okay to ask for help. And now, I'm going to go ask a friend for help brainstorming a project. As one of my clients declared, "You might have to do it yourself, but you don't have to do it alone."