For much of my life I have displayed contradicting behaviours. I love helping others and I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of connection and collaboration. Whether it’s at work, in my social life or someone I don’t know, helping others makes my heart happy. My superpower – helping people to realise the potential within themselves that they haven’t previously recognised.
However on the flipside, I have a difficult time asking for help. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this deep sense that I had to be strong, be independent and do it on my own, to the point where the thought of asking someone for help made me feel uncomfortable, as if I was doing something wrong or asking for too much. My thought process, “They’ve got enough going on, I don’t want to bother or burden them with my ‘stuff’”. I know, sounds weird right?!
From childhood I’ve held onto a belief that asking for help made me “weak or vulnerable”. And for someone who has built up such a strong and seemingly impenetrable façade over the years, the thought of being seen as weak or vulnerable was very bloody scary! You see, this wall that I had built actually made me feel comfortable – albeit uncomfortably comfortable. However, what I’ve come to realise is that this strength I was displaying, was not keeping me comfortable or safe at all, it was actually detrimental to my health and happiness.
A while ago in my personal life two set of hands had become one, and I was juggling work, family and financial responsibilities. I began placing so many unrealistic expectations upon myself, saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone while trying to be seen as a strong, coping ‘super mum’. However, the more I committed to, the more stressed and overwhelmed I became.
I got myself into a cycle of waking up exhausted and falling into bed exhausted. I constantly felt anxious thinking of all the things I needed to get done, as I beat myself up about what I didn’t do and what I could’ve done better. I measured my worth by my productivity and achievements and ‘ate’ my feelings as I began to comfort eat (Sara Lee Honeycomb and Butterscotch to be exact) … hey, I’m only human! And, self care?! What was that?! Such a foreign concept given I’d built my whole life around helping others! And, at my lowest point, I began to experience the symptoms of adrenal fatigue – a condition brought on by prolonged periods of stress. All of these behaviours were on behalf of needing to be seen as strong, independent and “I can do it on my own”.
In social psychology, it is shown that social connections are one of the greatest predictors of happiness and reduced stress. Several studies have found that those who cope best in stressful times are those who increase their social interactions in the middle of stress (which is usually the opposite of what we tend to do). Also, in a Ted Talk renowned Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger explained that it’s not fame or money that makes us happy and healthy as we go through life, it’s our ability to foster strong social relationships. Another realisation for me: because I found it so difficult to ask for help, I was actually denying myself an opportunity to cultivate personal relationships and connections.
“Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.”
– Anne Wilson Schaef
The above quote resonates with me, however I believe strength is just as important as honesty and intelligence. I don’t mean the impenetrable façade I had built up for myself over the years, I mean true inner strength. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help takes a lot of courage but it doesn’t mean you’re weak, it actually means you’re being honest with yourself and you know who you are as a person. You realise you are not invincible. You are not superhuman. You are human. And being vulnerable opens up an opportunity for true connection because when you’re showing up as you are, it allows others to be the same.
So, if you are one of those people who find it difficult to ask for help, I encourage you to question your inner voice. Is your stress and fear of rejection hindering your health and happiness? If so, what is it on behalf of? What is your underlying belief? Your past is not a life sentence, it’s a beautiful lesson and life is so much richer and way more fun when you realise you don’t have to do it on your own.
So, you don’t need to be a martyr one more day! It’s okay to ask for help and I encourage you to give yourself permission to do so.