There are structures and powers at work around us that we are not always aware of. Asking for help is not a simple individual decision, even if it’s often made out to be. Although we’re used by now to see ads and mental health banners supporting the idea of asking for help and talking about things, there is much, much more support in our society for not reaching out.
We live in an individualistic, economy driven society. We are expected to use our resources, skills, intelligence and hard work to reach goals, dream big, and be a success. If things aren’t going according to plan, we are expected to change strategies, change our attitude and soldier on. We are expected to use affirmations to see things in a positive light, we are expected to exercise to stay energized and in shape. We are expected to suck it up and just do it. We, as individuals, are expected to have both the power and the responsibility to solve our own problems. Where, in this scheme, is the space and the support for reaching out and saying “I’m struggling a bit – can you help me?”
The way our society is constructed, asking for help is our last resource. When all else fails, when we are completely stuck, we crumble. Humbled at the sense of complete defeat, we reach out and croak “help”. We feel like we’ve failed. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be like that.
Breaking out of the idea of being solely responsible for our own successes and failures takes a bit of adjustment. It actually involves stepping slowly away from a polarized idea of success and failure. Research has repeatedly shown that while many today feel successful, they don’t feel fulfilled. There appear to be gaping holes at the very core of people, that need to be filled. Humans, as a species, are communal, social. We live in groups and herds, villages and tribes. We don’t function well in isolation. In modern terms this means feeling like we’re part of a community at our workplace, or that we are a valued family member regardless of our performance. It means having people around us that we can lean on. Casually. When we need to, when we want to, not just when we absolutely have to. Asking for help is not shameful at all within a framework that sees community as an essential part of human functioning. In a different society, asking for help could be the norm.
The rule of not asking for help is something that still gets me sometimes. Even after years of study and work in the helping field, society still sometimes tricks me to forget that asking for help is the way to go. It makes me forget that I have always done better with a bit of help. It sneaks in like a bad habit, like it did in the example at the beginning of this post. But more often than not nowadays, when the idea of needing to do everything on my own shows up, I can tell it gently but firmly that it is not needed anymore. Sure I can do things on my own, but it is just as valuable to do things with a little bit of help. Sometimes even more so. Lean on me.