Help! is the instinctive cry of those who feel their life is in danger. Let’s say you’ve fallen through thin ice, been held up at gunpoint, been kidnapped, or any other high-impact movie scenario. Screaming for help will be your natural response.
Babies of all species, but especially humans, need help just to survive and they accept it. One might argue, they don’t know any better and that’s entirely true. But by age two or so most of us have developed the DIY urge and often resist the help we still need on many levels.
Among the many challenges of parenting is teaching children to be appropriately independent and also willing to accept a helping hand when needed. As are most life skills, this is best learned by experiencing it in a loving, functional family, where we learn to be independent adults who really can take care of ourselves.
Hopefully, we also learn to relate to and reach out to others—first family members, then an ever-growing circle of outside influences, friends and resources. If all goes well, along the way we learn to seek out help when we need it.
Some may learn to read, do math, ride a bike, play sports, practice good hygiene etc. etc. on their own, but most of us need a little help with the process. Once we have the basics down, we are faced with the adult challenges of careers, marriage, parenting, buying a house, planning for retirement. It never ends.
So why is it that so many otherwise sensible adults resist asking for help? It goes beyond the standing joke—or is it a fact—that men will never ask for directions. The advent of the GPS has changed that to a degree. Somehow asking an electronic device for directions or other information is okay, when asking another human makes us appear vulnerable, less than adequate.
Some of the most wounded folks I meet in the course of my work as a therapist are those who didn’t get the help they needed growing up. Perhaps their parents were ill, addicted or simply negligent and they were left to raise themselves, if not take care of their parents literally or figuratively. They learn early that they can’t depend on anyone but themselves, much less trust anyone who might try to be of assistance. Asking for help with pressing life issues feels dangerous and so, often, they manage on their own for decades before some adverse life event takes them to the point of desperation. Then begins the arduous process of learning to trust someone outside themselves, be it God and/or other people, and ultimately to trust themselves again.
These days there is a tendency for parents to be too helpful. Enter the infamous helicopter parent who does everything for their teens just as they did for their babies. Not only do their children not learn the fundamentals of managing life, they learn that they don’t have to.
This pushes some youth to reject parental involvement completely, to their own detriment, as they pass up legitimate help and wisdom from parents or professionals.
Others internalize the message that they are inadequate, even helpless, to take care of themselves and get stuck in a state of endless dependence. Their expectation is that they will be allowed to do whatever they want while their parents meet their every need. Thus develops a toxic stew of unhealthy bonds between parents and adult children that boils over into the child’s adult relationships and negatively effects the next generation of children.
If you see yourself in one of these scenarios—or if life has thrown you a curve ball you don’t know how to field—the most courageous thing you can do is ask for help. The last thing I want to do on most days is go to the ER but if I break my leg, I call 911. If I learn I have diabetes or another chronic illness I keep doctor appointments, modify my lifestyle and take medication if necessary. Not because I want to, but because I need to so that I not only survive, but thrive.
The same goes for mental, emotional and spiritual health. Some problems are chronic and need long term attention. Some are acute and resolve in a matter of weeks or months. Either way asking for help is the logical as well as brave thing to do.
Remember help is not a four-letter word, but something we all need from time to time. There is no shame in asking for what you need.
I am a North Carolina Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with 20 years experience in the field and many more years of life experience. I entered the counseling profession in mid-life after putting in time as a stay-at-home mom, a freelance writer, a journalist, and a United States-based missionary. I love walking alongside those who are seeking to find themselves, heal a relationship, or recover from trauma. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, and hanging out with my grandsons.