Why In The World??

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DSC02421Over the past few weeks I’ve heard and participated in various conversations about the dilemma of asking for help. If we’re sick and need to take time off from work and are our only means of financial support what do we do? If we’re living from paycheck to paycheck and have been working for someone for years and still aren’t getting paid vacations, why can’t we broach the subject with our employer? If we live alone and can no longer climb a ladder to change a lightbulb, do we live in the dark?

Being needy is a very embarrassing place to be. It brings out our shame. We should be able to take care of ourselves, right?

When I was a child I learned not to ask for help. My father trusted no one and wouldn’t even loan a hammer out to a neighbor. I was supposed to figure out how to solve my own difficulties. If I couldn’t find my own way, I felt like a loser in my parent’s eyes. One of the biggest elephants in my room is asking for help as well as accepting it when it arrives.

I know I’m not alone. I watch friends struggle with the same problem, hoping they’ll show me a magical way to get help without feeling like a failure. But they are no better at it than I am. We all sit together and ask, why can’t we do this one simple thing?  Especially when the help is there to be given with such generosity.

I’ve often blamed it on being a woman because most of us have been caregivers to our kids, husbands, needy relatives, or aging parents. I thought men never struggled with that kind of thing. In the old traditional way of thinking, before feminism came along, men were the superheroes who could do everything. They went to work to put food on the table, pay for the kid’s new shoes and the root canal his spouse needed.

But have you ever wondered why men don’t ask for directions if they are lost? Why don’t most of them cry openly? Women do not own shame. It belongs to everyone. Men, Women, the  young,the old and even the dog who just peed on that fine oriental carpet in the living room.

But why? Why aren’t we enough? Why do some of us jump in to rescue others who need a hand, but refuse to admit that we could use a helping hand ourselves? Are we all in competition of some sort that says we have to be the very best at everything? Do we expect too much from ourselves? There are various explanations for this phenomena.  I’m interested in hearing:

What you’re thoughts are about asking for help and the shame that often ensues?

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  1. Wonderful and important topic, Joan. I’m so glad you raised it. It’s the perennial joke too — Why did Moses wander in the desert for 40 years? He couldn’t ask for directions.

    My husband suffers from the same disorder. And it’s a conversation we have often had. I look at asking for help as a way of connecting, of building a team, of making the other person feel useful (if that’s important, AND you can do it without losing yourself). But then, I’m a delegator. My challenge is choosing when to ask for help when I know I can do it faster (more efficiently) myself. That can be a form of isolation. I worked a Co-Dependency Anonymous program for over 20 years and began to see CoDependency as a society-wide addiction, perpetuated by the infamous Golden Rule, which teaches us (really, think about it) NOT to be direct in asking for what we need but instead, to “do” to others what we really want them to do to us. It’s fine as a metaphor, but has been carried too far in the literal sense. But I digress. Really, a provocative and important post. I look forward to the ensuing conversation.

    • Joan Rough says:


      Wow. Thanks, Janet. There is so much involved in this issue. We all resort to “manipulation” from time to time, not asking for what we really want or need, but I had no idea of it is so prevalent. That is even more fodder for me to ask directly for what I want.

      I’ve heard others say, that asking for help is hard because when they’ve asked in the past they have been put down. The question then is how are we asking? Are we manipulating, or acting as if the person or persons owes us?

      I am aware that sometimes when I’m anxious and need something, I whine about it, hoping someone will come to my rescue. Not a great strategy.

  2. So many of us are brought up to believe that asking for help is “wrong”. Children can’t separate the behavior from who they are, and so they feel they are “bad” if they ask for help and “good” if they don’t.
    In fact, there really is no good or bad here. We all need help! Yet it takes courage to ask for it.
    Here is my perspective: http://findyourmiddleground.com/2015/09/29/asking-for-help/

  3. Joan — Great post, THANK YOU bringing up the topic of asking for help.

    Usually (not always) when we need help, something needs to change. When I turned 50, I went away on a hermitage. That’s when “whatever you are not changing, you are choosing” came to me. From that moment forward, I’ve been able to ask for help. If something needs to change and I simply can’t do it by myself, then by golly I’m going to ask for help so I can make the change.

    I (finally!) learned to “voice my choice” — even if/when it means asking for help.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Laurie, I’m with you. We must first address our needs. But when there are no solutions we can find, we need to ask for help. I think it’s the “fail or shame factor,” that stops people. There are many causes for our fears and some have a hard time getting through them.

  4. I wasn’t far into this fine post and reading the comments when Brene Brown’s TedX talk came to mind in which she explores the power of vulnerability and listening to shame, which she names as an unspoken epidemic, “the secret behind many forms of broken behavior.” If you haven’t heard this 20-minute talk it’s well worth your time: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en

    I see hope for the future though, hearing some parents of my son and daughter’s generation ask their own children: “Do you need help?” In fact, I’ve heard it many times. A new day dawning? Here’s hoping!

    • Joan Rough says:


      Thanks, I LOVE Brene Brown and everything she says and writes. She’s been a great help to me in understanding why I am the way I am and how to change what doesn’t serve me.

      Asking others, “Do you need help?” is such an important thing to do, and even helps us with our own asking.

  5. Joan, this is a very relevant topic and I’m glad you brought up. I learned the long, hard way that there is no shame in asking for help after years of fighting to become independent. It took a cancer diagnosis to wake me up to my need to ask for help. I was the nurse, the caretaker,i.e., the codependent. I’m a much better person when I take care of my own needs first. I agree with Marian that it boils down to embracing our vulnerabilities and turning them into strengths. Brene Brown’s TEDX talk is a must see. Thanks for another great post!

  6. Kathy, I think it takes something bordering on catastrophic for us to see that we need help and that others are willing to help. And taking responsibility for the asking is a big part of self-care. We need to put aside our vulnerability and shame, and raise our hands when we have needs we alone cannot address.

  7. Joan, I’m having this problem for myself. It was easy for me to ask for help when my husband was ill, but I could take care of most of his needs and he was bedridden for less than a week before death. I can ask my sons now, but they live far away. I have Meniere’s Disease which involves hearing loss, tinnitus, and sometimes incapacitating vertigo. It’s well managed now, but I first had the symptom of being unable to walk due to dizziness, I had to ask friends for help. They were so willing. They were generous and kind. I’ve always been the caregiver, even when I was a child because my dad was very ill, but I’m slowly becoming a care-needer. Only the closest family knew my dad was sick for 12 years. It’s the opposite of a village culture or a church community, this sense that we must stand alone at all costs. I have community. We help each other. As we age, we need each other more. Thanks for giving me a chance to convince myself again that asking for help is not shameful.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Elaine, Thanks so much for stopping by and you finding yourself convinced to ask for help. Though I’m enjoying my 70’s I too need more help than I used to and sometimes it’s a blow to think, “Well I can’t do that anymore,” when it comes to climbing a ladder or even lifting a heavy object. I’m currently working with a group of people who are friends with someone who has just been diagnosed with a nasty cancer, and seeing us all pull together to get her to and from appointments, and getting a GoFundMe Campaign up has been mind-blowing. So many people care and I feel better that when and if my time comes to need help, it will be there.

  8. There is much to think about in your post and in the comments, too. I think sometimes it is not difficult to ask for help with little things, but for big things, we think we’re being a burden, or it makes us feel too vulnerable. And I think that goes for men and women.

  9. Joan Rough says:

    Merril, Yes, it’s a juicy topic and there is much to mull over. You’re right that asking for little things is easier than asking for help with the big things. And it seems that few of us escape feeling shame and burdensome. I think about it so much more now that I am in my seventies.