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Why You Can’t Ask For Help

Learn why you don't reach out and ways to start.

Key points

  • If you haven't been taught how to ask for help, you don't do it.
  • Asking for help is a skill you have to practice.
  • You receive more help than you realize from the people around you. Take note of who has helped you now or in the past.
Daniel Adeyelu/Pexels
Source: Daniel Adeyelu/Pexels

Why do you avoid asking people for help when you have a problem?

You can say it’s because you don’t want to be a burden, the problem isn’t that bad, or the people in your life have other things to worry about, but I don’t think those are the only reasons.

A large part of what’s stopping you is that you don’t know how to ask for help. You don’t know how to say the words or even start the conversation. It’s not your fault, though. You’re just doing what you’ve been socialized to do.

Society says the older you are, the more independent you’re supposed to be. It assumes that if you run into a problem, you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right?

But that can’t work for every problem. If you’re tired of dealing with problems by yourself and want to try something new, here are three strategies to help you get the help you need.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The first and most important reason you don’t ask for help is that you aren’t practicing. Asking for help is a skill. It takes practice and discipline to learn how to ask for it and then even more practice on accepting the feedback you get. Asking for help is hard because it means humbling yourself, admitting a mistake, or admitting ignorance.

Practice helps those three things hurt less and less over time. But how do you know when you’re getting better at this skill? In this case, you can measure how good you are at asking for help by how the person responds when you ask and if you received the help you wanted.

Stop Outsourcing the Problem

Another reason you aren’t asking for help is that you are skilled at avoiding it. You pay people for help instead of leaning on friends or family. It’s so much easier to pay someone to help you. It feels like an even exchange. They get money, and you get your problem solved.

You’re using money to do the asking, so instead of saying, “Can you help me with _____? I don’t understand ________.” All you have to say is, “Do you do _____? Okay, I’ll pay you __ dollars for that.”

Of course, there are times to call in an expert, like if you don’t know anyone who can fix a toilet or give you a proper massage. But there are also plenty of opportunities to ask people around you for help with cooking food, doing chores, or learning a new skill.

You can start even smaller by asking for a restaurant or book recommendation and gradually work your way up to whatever you need help with right now. Practice asking for favors where the other person doesn’t get money or anything else immediately in return.

Re-Frame What It Means to Receive Help

The final reason you aren’t getting better at this skill is that you don’t call it asking for help when you ask for help. If you think you've figured out most of your problems alone, you’re only partially right. It’s true that no one solved those problems for you, but it’s also true that everything you know how to do you learned from someone–by watching them, talking with them, or by combining information from several people that you watched or talked to before.

It’s easy to draw the line and say that everything you’ve done without someone’s direct help you did by yourself, but isn’t that just delayed help? If I ask you to solve 42+24? You’re technically answering it “by yourself,” but you only know the answer because you had a teacher show you how to solve problems like that one in the past.

And isn’t it ironic that books, where other people give you advice, are called “self-help”? Somehow help from the past or help from someone far away isn’t perceived as help. Expand your frame for understanding what constitutes help, and you’ll see that you’re better at this skill than you realized.

It’s extremely difficult for you to ask for help because it’s scary. It’s scary because you don’t know how to do it and don’t do it enough. The more you practice, the easier it will become.

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