There is a humility in asking for help – it brings us home to a sense of our common humanity. The words humility and humanity have the same root as the Latin word ‘humus’, which means soil or ground. When we are grounded, we feel comfortable being part of the natural cycle of giving and receiving. But while being generous and assisting others is usually seen as wonderful, the reverse side, that of receiving help, is sometimes tainted with a sense of stigma. This might take an extreme form, like the workhouses for the poor in Victorian England which were designed to oppress and humiliate those who needed assistance. Modern government services for the unemployed can also be designed to make life unpleasant for those seeking work.
Yet even when the stigma is more subtle, it can hold us back from reaching out for support when we might need it. There is a vulnerability in asking for help, and even if writers like Brene Brown talk about the power of vulnerability, many of us still feel far more comfortable being seen as the ‘helper’ rather than ‘the helped’.
Counsellors who train as psychotherapists are generally required to have their own therapy sessions as part of the training. This is an acknowledgment that we are all on a journey, and that there is no intrinsic difference between a therapist and a client. Everyone has their wounds, their vulnerabilities, their problematic behaviour patterns which no longer serve them. Even so, asking for help can be difficult. Who wants to be known as someone who is ‘needy’, and not completely on top of all the demands life throws in our direction?
And yes, there is value in being resilient in the face of challenges, being able to take care of ourselves to a certain extent. Even young children take pride in being able to solve some of their own problems at times, and not always having to rely on grownups. Yet when we do reach out for support, what is often surprising is finding out just how many others around us have struggled with similar issues.
Giving and receiving is often a much more fluid process than a clear delineation between ‘the giver’ and ‘the receiver’. For example, my husband and I spent half a day recently dismantling a small metal garden shed we no longer needed and re-assembling it in the backyard of a neighbour where it fitted perfectly. What we gave was an old shed and some of our time, but what we gained was a stronger sense of neighbourliness, getting to know our neighbour better and having a few laughs as we problem-solved fitting the shed back together with no instructions, the knowledge that the shed is being used instead of ending up in a scrap metal yard, and the promise of ongoing pleasant exchanges between the neighbour and ourselves. Both giving and receiving bring us closer to each other, and the act of receiving can be a gift just as much as the act of giving can be.
Set aside twenty minutes to write freely, starting with the sentence ‘when I ask for help, I feel…’ What themes do you find coming up as you write on this topic? Are there times when it might serve you to ask for help, but you find yourself holding back?