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Asking for Help: Getting Past Obstacles

When we're struggling with something, it's natural to turn to others for help. Helping each other is all part of the giving and receiving that makes up good relationships.

Getting help sounds simple. But it's not always easy to do. Sometimes we stand in our own way without realizing it.

Certain beliefs or ways of thinking can make it hard to see opportunities for help. Here are some examples of the kinds of attitudes that can stand in the way — and ideas on how to get past them.

Obstacle 1: Believing That Needing Help Is a Sign of Weakness

Asking for help shows maturity and confidence. It's a sign of strength, not weakness. You know what you need and you're not afraid to reach out for it.

For example, instead of thinking:
I don't want my coach to find out I can't nail that move in case he thinks I shouldn't be on the team.

Change it to:
I'll show my coach how committed I am to the team — and how hard I practice — by asking him to share tips on how I can improve.

Obstacle 2: Thinking You Don't Deserve Help or Support

Everyone needs help now and then. No one can — or should — handle everything alone. Accepting help can strengthen friendships and relationships. Everyone feels good when they can support a friend!

For example, instead of thinking:
I'd really like to find out how Katy is coping with her parents' divorce, but she's so popular and busy I'm sure she doesn't have time for me.

Change it to:
I'll ask Katy if she has time to talk and let her know how much her perspective means to me. Maybe some of the stuff that happened to me can help her too.

Be choosy about who you ask to help, though. Share your feelings or a problem with someone who listens and cares — not someone who judges, criticizes, or blames you. Most of the time we can guess which way people might react. But on rare occasions, they catch us off guard. If you do get rejected, it's not because of anything you did. It's what's going on with the other person.

Tell yourself:
If Katy says no, she might not be ready to talk about her own experiences. If she's rude, then I'll know from the start that she's not friend material.

Obstacle 3: Not Speaking Up to Ask for Help

Sometimes you're lucky enough to have people in your life who see what you need and offer to help before you ask. Usually it's a parent or a close friend. But sometimes when we need help, we have to ask. The best approach is to be clear and direct, like saying, "I'm having trouble with this. Can you help me?"

For example, instead of thinking:
I'm afraid my friends won't want to hear that my boyfriend pushed me — they already think I'm ignoring their advice about him being too controlling. And I don't want to worry my mom. So I'll just keep this to myself for now.

Change it to:
I'll tell my friends they were right and I'm starting to worry about my boyfriend's behavior. I'll ask them to help me figure out how to tell my mom and what to do.

Obstacle 4: Waiting for Someone Else to Make the First Move

It's not always easy for other people to see when we need help. Maybe we're putting on a cheerful face to mask the problem or giving off a vibe that we don't want to talk. Don't wait for someone to read your mind or notice what you need. Ask.

For example, instead of thinking:
I really wish Shanya would ask about the scars on my leg so I can talk to someone about my cutting. I know she suspects, but maybe she doesn't really care.

Change it to:
I'll tell Shanya what's going on and say I could really use some help.

Obstacle 5: Giving Up Too Easily

If help doesn't get us what we expect right away, it's tempting to give up. But getting help takes ongoing effort. It might take multiple attempts.

For example, instead of thinking:
You'd think the college prep advisor would know right away what's best for me! He's supposed to have all this experience, but now that I've met him I wonder if it's all just a big waste of time.

Change it to:
My first meeting with the college prep advisor was a little disappointing. But it will probably take him some time to get to know my personality and which college is the best fit. I'll give it two more meetings before I make a decision. I'll also try harder to share what I want and not expect him to read my mind.

Why Asking for Help Is Important

None of us can go it alone. The people who believe in us remind us that we have what it takes, that we matter, and that we're loved. But sometimes we just have to reach out and ask for that help. Our friends and family love us, but they can't always read what we want, especially if we are putting a brave face on things.

Because it can be hard to reach out for help, don't hesitate to reach out and offer support to another person if you think he or she needs it. Giving and receiving help are great life skills to learn. They help us learn character qualities like empathy and generosity, as well as understand other people better.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: February 2011

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T    Going to a Therapist
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T    What It Means to Be a Friend
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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