How do you ask for help when you feel vulnerable?
How do you ask for help? I’ve been wondering this for years, decades. I think everyone finds it difficult, but some people seem to have the knack for it. Some people can say “I really need help with tackling my garden this month.” or “I need a lift to the hospital tomorrow” and they have half a dozen people dash round to their houses with required practical support. When I utter such things, erm, tumbleweed. I am pretty sure this is not because my friends and family are awful. I have awesome friends and family. There’s a small bunch of them that will come and rescue me whatever. But I cannot for the life of me muster what my grandmother used to call a “working party”. When I ask for help I honestly don’t really think I’m going to get it. Whether it’s practical assistance or emotional support, I’m always thinking “I shouldn’t be doing this, I ought to be able to cope on my own”. I think maybe my words get garbled with the embarrassment and shame. I think maybe people think I can cope on my own and don’t really need their help. But I do need their help.
One of the problems in asking for help is the difficulty in accepting we are dependent on others. And that feeling that vulnerability is somehow a failing. But it’s not a personal failing. If we feel vulnerable, it’s that we don’t have the strength right now to deal with the situation, the circumstance, the systems, and the b******s who take advantage of our current lack of strength. Being vulnerable is a human thing, allowing yourself to feel vulnerable is brave and courageous, not weak. And it’s the time when we need to know how to say “help”.
Be a good listener
But it’s not just about how it’s asked for is it? It’s how we listen. Listening to someone saying “I need your help”, and believing them, is important. Properly listening, not just to the words, but to the struggle and the pain, and the vulnerability. And also to the strength and the courage in that request for help.
Earlier today a friend was struggling to get the medical action she needed from the hospital. I could have dismissed it as “drama queen” behaviour. I could have uttered quiet but useless “ah, it’ll be alright”s, but one thing that living with chronic illness has taught me is that when people reach out for help, generally it’s because they need help. The help I gave her was, she says, in assisting her in finding her backbone. I refuse to take the credit for her kicking ass with the hospital today, but if I helped her feel a little less alone and little stronger, then that is my work done for today. If you can do something to make someone feel a little stronger and little more able to cope, how amazing is that? And how amazing is it to have someone just add a little oomf to your backbone? That oomf can be doing the washing up, or it can be taking someone to an appointment, or it can be supporting them when they’re down, making them feel less alone and more understood.
The tumbleweed of rejection
The thing about asking for help that’s so hard (for me at least) is the fear of rejection. The fear of the tumbleweed. The fear of people not taking it seriously. So I feel it incumbent on me, when others ask for my help, to listen, to take seriously, to offer what help I realistically can. But I also need to find my voice, to allow people to see my vulnerability, and to ask them to without pity, offer help.
Do you find it hard to ask for help? Do you have any tips?