Why is it just so hard to ask for help?

For the past few months, I’ve known this next blog would be about the importance of asking for help. Also for about the same length of time, I’ve had the lyrics from Paul Simon’s gospel-inspired Bridge Over Troubled Water stuck in my head.

“I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.”

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If you’re like me, you’re way more comfortable being at the ready to help a friend or family member than you are to ask for help yourself. This goes for both physical stuff — like moving something heavy or fixing an electric socket, and your health — like asking if a mole looks suspicious or mentioning that perhaps maybe you might be having a heart attack. (Nod if this sounds familiar.)

I checked the internet, and those talking about this same subject say we have trouble asking for help because we:

  • Are overly independent-minded and don’t want to “hand over the keys” to someone else.
  • See that others have their own stuff to deal with, and we don’t want to be a burden.
  • Feel we’ll be judged, our mistakes exposed, even seen as a failure, or worse — rejected.

We’ve all been there

Looking back, here are a few times in my life that I should have asked for help sooner … or at all.

First, in high school and college, I was in my “don’t trust adults” mode and didn’t rely on my guidance counselors enough for college and career advice. I was too independent back then, thinking I needed to blaze these trails all on my own and that I knew enough about life to do it right. Ok, yes, all these years later, these two areas seem to have worked out well for me, but my path is not one I would recommend for anyone else.

Carrying that forward, I still wasn’t great at using my internal resources at work to help with my career growth. Granted, I’m in a place now where I think my strengths are being best used to support the company, but I brought a lot of stress and heartache on myself (and perhaps a few of my bosses) trying to steer myself in a different direction. If I had been more willing to listen to constructive criticism and work with a few mentors to identify my strengths sooner, I could have been contributing at my current level that much in advance.

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

Jumping all the way back to high school again, I was dealing with my dad’s alcoholism and my mom’s critical ways. Yes, it was partially the same kind of growing pains that all teens go through, but my family was one that operated under a code of secrecy. We didn’t talk about family matters with others — not even our closest friends.

I remember one time I got chatty with the mom next door about some things my dad had been up to. Word got back to my mom, either as a matter of neighborly gossip or genuine concern, and my mom had words with me for saying too much.

That was enough to shut me down for the next half-dozen years or so, and by the time I graduated high school, I managed to separate myself from nearly all my friends.

I’m mentioning this one because it’s a scenario I think more people can relate to than just moody teens. Anyone at any age, level of education or income, or any lifestyle can find themselves in a predicament where they don’t want to speak up, ask for help, and thereby expose someone else’s issues.

If there’s ever a kind of situation where you need to forget all those silly reasons listed above for why people typically don’t ask for help, this is it. You need to avoid all scenarios where you become isolated from the people who care about you most and want to help you.


Don’t wait for rock-bottom

One reason why I’ve been absent from my blog for the past few months is that I was helping a nearby homeless shelter prepare their annual report. The finished report says:

“For someone who doesn’t have a place to sleep at night, experiencing homelessness is not their biggest problem. Their living situation is likely a byproduct of something else — such as poverty, addiction, unemployment, or a chronic physical or mental health issue — compounded with alienation from anyone who can or will help them.”

Then the report asks you to put yourself in the shoes of someone living through homelessness:

“Try to imagine someone’s bravery to walk into [the shelter] and say, “I need help, and I need a place to stay.”

Photo by Bruno Braghini on

Three weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with two women. One of them is a guest of the shelter, and the other is a former guest who — because she was brave enough to ask for help — is now a staff member of the shelter.

Here is the kind of insight the first woman has gained through her experience and her willingness to ask for help:

“Failure, negativity, rejection, depression, sadness – those words define what I was feeling when I first came here, but they don’t define my life. [The shelter] opened the door to a new beginning for me, with new goals and new opportunities.”

Photo by Pixabay on

The second woman said that for her to make the transformation from guest to staff member, she realized she needed to put her trust in someone, and that ended up being a staff member at the shelter. Like her, he had experienced homelessness before developing into a resource for the shelter.

This leads me back again to the lyrics from Bridge Over Troubled Water:

“When you’re down and out; when you’re on the street; when evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.”

You are not alone

With suicide prevention month having just passed in September, it brings to mind a favorite cousin I lost a few years back. I think about him often, actually. If only he had asked for help.

Not all the things we need to ask for help with are gravely serious — like school or career advice, but clearly the life-and-death situations are the ones that matter most.

If you find you are in need of help, my hope for you is that you find the courage to reach out to someone. I’m willing you the strength to do it. I’ve been in your shoes relative to both the silly asks and the critical, life has to change now ones.

I believe you deserve the chance to change your situation, and you are stronger and more capable of making that move than you think.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…