Seven common barriers to asking for help

If we don’t know something or can’t quite manage something on our own, often the quickest and easiest way to get past the obstacle is to ask for help. We don’t generally think twice about asking a store person to fetch something from the top shelf, or asking for a hand to carry a heavy box. We know that getting help will save time and is often safer than trying to go it alone.

Yet when it comes to more crucial, often personal issues, suddenly we become reluctant to reach out. We keep our worries and concerns, and what we often perceive as our failings, hidden, close to our chest. Through doing so, we can get well and truly stuck.

There are many challenges that sometimes feel impossible to voice, let alone reach out to someone for help. Financial worries, bullying, abuse, difficulty reading, depression, ill health, sometimes even a simple lack of knowledge or understanding. Yet these are precicely the apparently huge and immovable obstacles between us and where we want to be that we need help with.  So why do we sometimes find it impossible to reach out and ask?

Invariably there is a swirling collection of fears behind our reluctance. Some fears are the product of our past experiences, or cultural stigma. Often, our fears are totally unfounded. So lets name seven of the more common fears and get them out in the daylight.

A big fear is that we will appear stupid by admitting that we don’t know or understand something. This can be particularly hard where the respect of peers is important; however, respect goes both ways. We all sometimes have the misfortune to come across insecure and abusive people who need to put other people down to make themselves feel better. Such behaviour reflects the person undertaking it, not their victim. Any reasonable person is going to view a request for help as a positive thing. No one knows everything. And no one knows anything until they have learnt it. Asking for help finding or making sense of information, or to aquire a new skill, demonstrates that we are interested and willing to learn. Most people that are knowledgeable about a topic are more than happy to talk about it and explain it to anyone they can.

Sometimes there is a feeling that asking for help will make us appear weak or incapable. We may well be incapable of overcoming a particular challenge by ourselves – and that is perfectly okay. Admitting that, both to ourselves and to others, is a sign of self awareness and strength. Reaching out for help is simple common sense, as it provides us with options to overcome the challenge that we would not have otherwise. For example, asking for help with an unfeasible workload should not be viewed any differently to asking for help with a heavy box. Both help to ensure that the task at hand gets done.

Related to this is the worry that asking for help will expose real or perceived flaws in us and make us vulnerable. This may or may not be true. But what we each have to question with any given challenge is whether it really matters. If we are competing for something, or dealing with emotional abuse, vulnerability can sometimes be detrimental. However, for the most part, showing up in life as imperfect, vulnerable, as human, can bring people closer together. And it can bring us the help we need to succeed.

Frequently we are reluctant to ask for help because we feel that we should be able to deal with the problem ourselves. Perhaps we have already been taught the skills necessary, or we have done something similar previously. More often we are simply setting ridiculously high standards for ourselves that we would never expect others to acheive without help. We need to set realistic expectations for ourselves. All lessons take time to bed in and the precise variables of any given situation are unique.  And sometimes we need to accept that what worked last time just isn’t this time round. Fresh input from someone else on a problem could be the best way to find a solution rather than frustration.

Another common reason for not reaching out is that we want to be independant. We worry that asking for help will make us dependent on whoever provides that help. Here we need to strive for a common-sense balance. Being independant is a good thing, but most people have areas of their lives where they know that getting help is the sensible thing to do. How many of us would struggle with a DIY project or car repairs ourselves with no knowledge or skills when we can get a professional to do it right first time, or a friend to show us how? Yet how many people flounder in debt or depression without reaching out to the friends or professionals who could help them resolve their problems? Asking for help is not being dependent. It is assessing the situation and recognising that getting help would be a better route to where we wish we were in life, whether that is having a new kitchen or being debt free.

There can also be a fear that if we ask for help or advice it will open the door to interference, that we will be bulldozed into something that isn’t quite right for us. Here it is about setting boundaries. Being clear about the type and extent of help required before we ask. And recognising that just because we asked for advice does not mean that we have to take it. Sometimes all we need is a few more options to compare to demonstrate that the first idea that we came up with is actually the right one.

‘I don’t want to be a burden’ is a fear that always makes me sad. People who have often spent a large proportion of their lives helping others have a tendency to keep silent when the time comes that they need help themselves. Sometimes there can be an element of not wanting to accept that age or infirmity are winning. But mostly it comes from genuinely not wanting to complicate the busy lives of loved ones that not long ago they were supporting. You are not a burden, your challenges are not a burden. You are loved. You have done your part – it is your turn to receive help and support. Reach out. Loved ones will be happy that you trust and respect them enough to ask, and if they cannot help they will tell you and you can explore other options together.

Whatever your current challenge is in life, I hope that I have helped shrink any fears you may have had around reaching out for help even a little bit. Not only will doing so get you that bit closer to unstuck, it will also show someone that you trust and respect them enough to ask. Often we have the solutions to seemingly intractable problems inside us already and all the help we need is someone to listen while we work it out aloud. No special skills required, just a little patience and some degree of empathy for the human condition. The world is full of lovely people like that, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Friends, family, neighbours, call centre staff, doctors, counsellors, strangers in coffee shops. Be brave. Reach out.


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