Seriously—I’ll spend an hour researching the Internet before calling customer service. I’ll throw out my back before asking a store clerk to lift a dog food bag into my cart.
But something happened recently that left me with no choice. I had to ask for help. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Why We Have Trouble Asking for Help
Assuming I couldn’t be the only one who struggles, I consulted the interwebs and found at least a bagillion others who struggle as well. The most interesting info I found comes from a research professor who has spent a significant portion of her career studying human emotion. And what I learned is that our inability to ask for help has everything to do with not wanting to be vulnerable—something she asserts can cause depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis. Yikes.
“For women, shame is a web of unattainable expectations that say, ‘Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you struggle.’ For men, the primary shame mandate is, ‘Do not be perceived as weak,’” says Brown.
Just might explain why I have such a hard time asking for help. I certainly don’t want anyone to see me suffer.
Yet Brown said struggle is part of the human condition: we’re imperfect, and struggle is in our DNA. Andshe asserts that despite our struggles, we’re worthy of love. And while it’s a concept that’s apparently hard for me to swallow (who knew!?), I can take a step back and see truth in Brown’s statement: “Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”
I got doused in love when I was most vulnerable. And I believe everyone else is worthy of love. Somaybe I am, too.
How to Cope with Shame
So if shame is what stops us from asking for help, how do we combat it? According to Brown, shame can’t survive when we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding.
She says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Vulnerability and Pain
Brown says, “To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
It remains to be seen whether the vulnerability I experienced will lead to positive change. But at the very least, I’m realizing:
- Through my own vulnerability—forced as it may have been—I was reminded of how very deeply I am loved. And though I’d do anything to reverse the circumstance that led to my need to be vulnerable, I am forever changed by being shown just how loved I am.
- You shouldn’t be like me. Don’t wait to be vulnerable. The people in your life want to be needed, and they want the chance to demonstrate their love. Stop hiding behind the self-image you’ve carefully cultivated—it’s BS. It’s not real.
- If you’re vulnerable, the people who love you will come running. They’ll clean the blob of goo from your freezer. They’ll cry with you, be honest with you, take control, take risks—heck, they’ll even force-feed you cheese pizza if it’s what you need.
- It’s important to ask for help. Small things, big things, it doesn’t matter. Just ask.
Like Brene Brown says, “The world is not divided up into people that need help and people that give help. We are all people that need help and we are people that have the capacity to give help. No one gets there by themselves. And those who do are not very happy. So the sooner we can let go of the idea that we shouldn’t need help, and support, that is the mind shift that needs to happen.”