Imagine you are faced with a problem, things are hectic and you are under a lot of pressure. Do you ask for help? Do you look around you and see kind people you can lean on in your time of need or do you see people you should be careful of, who might start perceiving you as weak and incapable?
Everyone starts life totally and utterly helpless. Excuse the French, but we cannot even wipe our own bum. We just lie there, wiggle out arms and legs and pray that someone will be kind to us and feed us when we are hungry, hold us when we need a cuddle and clean us when we feel uncomfortable for some strange reason.
Later on, we spend our life becoming more and more independent and developing more and more skills, but for the most part, we are told precisely what to do by people who think they know everything (and we think so too). Often, we try to do things on our own, but then those great people tell us off and instruct us in the “right” way of doing them.
So we build a sense of inadequacy into our identity during our first years of life and it is a serious challenge getting rid of it and starting to believe in our own power and abilities. It is tough to feel we are worthy, capable, responsible, “good enough” individuals.
When we face a difficult situation, our stress is often not a result of the level of technical or physical difficulty. It is a result of having a little identity crisis.
“Oh, my God, I have no idea how to do this, but I expect myself to be able to. What is the boss/Mom/my partner going to think of me now? I’m so useless and incompetent”.
This, in turn, causes our brain’s memory and creativity areas to be inhibited to the point of dysfunction, which makes matters even worse. It also causes us to fear the people around us, even those who can help us with our problem.
“Here’s Barry. I’d better look like I’m working or he’ll realize something’s wrong. He’s really good with workload leveling, but there’s no way I’m asking for his help, because that will only make him look good and me look bad. The boss will never ask me to be in charge of projects ever again if I stuff this up. I just wish I could think straight”.
As a matter of fact, Barry sometimes has it tough too. He is not the greatest with people and motivation, so when he is done working out the tasks and the plan, he sometimes struggles to communicate them to the team and create motivation around the project. You have helped him with that in the past.
It is likely that Barry would love to return the favor. It is likely he has been dying for an opportunity to be kind to you like you have been kind to him when he needed help.
Like many other people, one of Barry’s love languages is Acts of Service, so he valued your help very much and wants to build a good relationship with you based on mutual assistance. Helping you out is his way of being a friend.
“Never mind that. I don’t care if Barry wants to be my friend. If I let him help me now, what will I think of myself? I’ll just think I’m not good enough and be miserable. I’d better not. I’ll just pretend I’ve got everything under control until he goes away”.
Or it may be that Barry, being the absolute whiz that he is, has already helped you a few times. Granted, he has always been really nice about it, took the time to understand and explain, worked with you to create something you were truly happy with and left you with an open invitation to ask again for his help anytime.
Yes, your identity may be that of someone who is undeserving. Maybe your parents told you all your life what a burden you were, even when you got a job as a teenager, and kicked you out of the house as soon as you left high school. Maybe you feel you need to “work hard to earn the good things in life”, including being treated nicely by others. Maybe when you get help from someone, you feel you are in their debt, so every time they help you, you deserve their help even less.
So let’s look at things from the opposite direction.
Supposing you were Barry.
You walk past a good colleague who is clearly upset and under pressure from something. This something is likely to do with work. From past experience, it is likely you can help. If not with your skills, maybe by listening, supporting and encouraging.
Ask yourself how would you feel about helping out. More than likely, it will make you feel great for the same reasons listed about – you will prove yourself capable, you will feel like a good person and you will do something meaningful for another human being. You may even think of your assistance as another brick in the wall of a good relationship with the other person.
Will you look down at your colleague/friend/partner? Will you think of them as any less than if they could do everything on their own? Will you be as happy around them if they never needed you?
Bottom line, everybody needs help sometimes. We all have “those days” – we are too tired or preoccupied or overwhelmed or confused or unprepared to get the job done by ourselves. If only someone gave us a couple of quick tips, a good hug or some soup, we will be fine. Until then, we are stuck.
If you can relate to any of the identity issues I have mentioned, asking yourself the following questions may help.
- Is the situation making you feel incompetent? If so, what makes you expect yourself to be able to handle it on your own? If anyone told you to get up and climb Mount Everest, would you not ask for a Sherpa? If you were asked to get a new car, would not go out and buy one someone else has produced? Maybe the task/feeling is too much for you, but it is still OK
- Is the situation making you feel worthless? If so, is your worth measured by the problems you solve, the feelings you control and the results you get? There are many ways in which you are unique in the world and people that hold you dear no matter what happens. Will that change if you ask for help?
- Do you feel undeserving of help? If so, just how hard do you have to work to deserve help? Does anyone else have a vested interest in solving this problem (even if the problem is just how you feel)? Consider your partner, your kids, your boss, your parents, your friends and your colleagues, because these people often benefit from your success. If they do, maybe they will be doing it for themselves and not for you anyway
Being a parent means that whenever you sort out your own identity challenges and learn to live with power, you also become a better parent. That is because your sense of identity determines your emotional position in life and affect everything you do with (and to) your children.
If you can feel capable, you will raise kids who feel capable who will see life as a series of things they can accomplish, with or without help.
If you can appreciate and value yourself, you will raise kids with high self-esteem who will succeed in life as if by magic.
If you can feel deserving, you will raise kids who have enough “emotional bandwidth” to enjoy their life and the people around them.
You are capable, valuable and deserving. You had better believe it!
And if you get stuck, just ask for help. It’s OK.
Have a wonderful day,