Why asking for help is a very grown-up thing to do

It’s true isn’t it, but at what point do we stop asking for help? Throughout our early years, we do it without thinking; born out of innocence and curiosity and wanting to know the ins and outs of everything. Crucially, it’s also how we develop our moral code by learning right from wrong and yet, if we wind the clock forward a few years, that all begins to change.

Culturally we’re not encouraged to ask for help or admit that we don’t know and the world of work is a great example of this. How many organisations do you know that truly tolerate us not knowing our stuff? After all we’re paid to do things and demonstrate expertise, so to appear lacking in knowledge or being unskilled in some way is a big no-no.

And that’s before we consider asking for help on a more human level, heaven forbid, because then we’re into the territory of getting personal where feelings of I’m not confident enough, experienced enough, good enough, set in and so the very thought of exposure makes us put up, shut up and cover up. Or worse, our self-worth is defined by what others think about us. Double whammy.

Social defences

On one level, asking for help comes easy; we don’t know something, so we either crack on and work out the answer for ourselves, or we ask someone that can help. Job done. However - and this is where the whole thing gets a bit more complicated - there are degrees to which we are prepared to ask for help (or even be aware that we may need it) and then deciding what, if anything, we’re prepared to do about it. It is this personal world of thoughts, feelings and beliefs which determine where our boundaries lie and which often trigger our feelings of embarrassment or shame. That coupled with our unconscious defences, which come in many guises, including humour, aggression, sarcasm, flippancy, or avoidance to name a few – can all become part of the cover up.     

The waiting game

Speaking from experience – and I count myself in here having suffered with hair loss and weight issues for years, until I got help - many adults will literally wait decades before they seek help or advice because they believe going it alone is the only option. That, or we grow to rely on the essential characteristics of resilience and our capacity to cope.  However, when these are in overdrive, we can turn a blind eye and live in the false hope that something will turn up, or we tell ourselves that we can manage very well on our own thank you, to the extent that we normalise even the most unacceptable of circumstances which we have, by doing nothing, played a part in creating. This leaves us feeling even more helpless. Day to day we simply save face to keep going. In my case, I resisted my defence of ‘I know best’ and joined slimming world and sought help from a hair loss specialist and my life has transformed as a result.    

So, what can we do?   

The focus here is not what happens to us, but how we respond. Always. So here are some creative ways of re-defining help (a word which will often invoke a sense of feeling helpless) and as a re-formed serial offender here, I find this particularly useful because help is everywhere when we know where to look and is likely to be a combination of more than one thing.

Help as a partner - you can rely on your nearest and dearest to perform this role - someone who will tell you your worst traits warts and all. Deep down they are trying to help. 

Help as a coach - a specialist in behavioural change who works without judgement, in partnership with you to achieve whatever your issue or goal(s) might be.

Help as a colleague or friend - a sacred relationship that has stood the test of time where no conversation is off limits.

Help as a group - I must swallow my words here because I’ve discovered that support groups can be an incredible source of fun, learning and reflection in relation to whatever it is you need to work on or overcome. This contrasts with the sometimes, combative nature of groups in business (teams) where power, status and authority have a habit of derailing even those with the best intentions.      

How will I know if I’m ready to ask for help?   

I think there are three questions that will help you answer this, I call these our tipping points:

  • Is it something that is on your mind every day?
  • Is it something that will still be true in a year from now?
  • Is it something that if you overcame could transform your life?

I wonder, are you thinking that asking for help is a very grown up thing to do?

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Written by Karen Hayns

Karen has an MSc in coaching and behavioural change from Henley Business School and works with a mix of business and private clients.

‘Whether we are working 1-2-1 or in a group, ultimately what we're doing is creating opportunities to learn about ourselves. The change we seek always comes afterwards. So we work from the inside out' she says.… Read more

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