NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help - Part 1

Do you have problems asking for help?  Feeling comfortable asking for help doesn't come naturally for many people.  If you have problems asking for help, you're not alone.

Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help

Whether it's asking for help at home or at work, asking for help from family, friends or colleagues is often daunting for many people for a variety of reasons.  Shame is often a big factor.

Since this is a big topic for a blog, I'm going to deal with this issue in a few blog articles.  In this article, I'll discuss some common reasons why people often have problems asking for help.  In future blog articles about this topic, I will explore the consequences of being too fearful to ask for help and how to overcome this problem.

Common Reasons Why People Have Problems Asking For Help:

Fear of Appearing "Weak"
It's interesting that many people, who wouldn't hesitate for a second to help others, often feel that if they have to ask for help themselves that it's a sign of "weakness."

They don't feel this way about other people who ask them for help. But when something happens and they need help, they feel too ashamed to ask. They fear that others will judge them as being "weak" and "needy" if they need help.  

Fear of Loss of Control and Independence
Many people fear that if they have to rely on others to help them, they'll lose control over whatever the situation might be because the person who is helping them will take over.  Often, this has its roots in their childhood history where adults really did take over at that time without allowing the children to have any sense of control or independence.

As a society in the US, we idealize the qualities of independence and self reliance.  People who are able to overcome difficulties on their own by "pulling themselves up by their boot straps" are given high praise.  We glorify people who perform heroic acts, whether this occurs in the news, a movie, or a story in a book.  Because of this, many people feel they should be independent and self reliant all of the time.  They feel they should be able to cope with whatever life throws in their way, no matter what it is.

Fear of Looking Foolish or Stupid
No one wants to look bad.  People who are afraid of asking for help assume that others will see them as foolish or stupid for not being able to handle whatever situation they're dealing with on their own.

People who fear looking foolish or stupid don't want to lose face in front of friends, family or colleagues.  Once again, shame is a big part of the problem.  This can be made even more difficult in a work situation where colleagues are very competitive.

Fear of Being Disappointed Again
For people where there's a childhood history of neglect or abuse, they've learned at an early age that if they ask for help, they will be disappointed.  They've learned that people aren't reliable and it's better not to ask for help.

This could be exacerbated when these same people, as adults, unconsciously choose friends or romantic partners who are irresponsible or unreliable.   Without realizing it, they're often repeating a pattern from childhood by continuing to choose people who will disappointment them.  Then, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy again and again, confirming their belief that they shouldn't ask others for help.

Fear of Being a Burden to Others
Many psychotherapy clients have mentioned this fear, even when they have a large support network among family and friends who are more than willing to help them.  They automatically assume that people will feel burdened by a request for help.  So, rather than feeling like they're burdening others, they keep their need for help to themselves.

One of the underlying issues in this case is that, at the core, these people often don't feel "good enough" or lovable and, because of this, they don't feel entitled to ask for help.

Fear of Being Vulnerable or Being Duped In Some Way
People who have trust issues (often due to their early history) might fear that they will be duped in some way by people who say they will help them, but who have alternative motives.  They fear they will be taken advantage of by the person who is supposed to be helping them.  How much any one person feels this is a matter of degree ranging from a mild concern to bordering on paranoia.  This is similar to fear of being disappointed.

Fear of Being Assertive
Shyness or a feeling of awkwardness can stop someone from asking for help.  For these people,  it takes a lot of courage to admit that they need help, no matter what type of help it might be.  In many cases, these people also just don't know how to ask for help.  They've never learned how to do it.

Fear of What Will Be Asked In Return
For other people, asking for help automatically means that they'll be indebted to others and it will shift the power dynamic in their relationships.  They automatically assume that asking for help will come with an emotional "price tag" that they might not be able to pay.

Assumptions That Others Should Know That You Need Help Without Being Asked
Many people, who are either too ashamed to ask or feel they aren't deserving of help, rationalize not asking for help by saying that they feel others should already know that they need help without being asked directly.  They feel it should be obvious.

The problem is that, even when it seems obvious to you, other people, for a variety of reasons, often don't recognize it.  They might be completely willing to help if they're asked, but they either don't know or they're afraid to intrude on your situation or there could be so many other reasons why they don't volunteer their help, even though they'd be willing if asked.

When you shift the responsibility onto others because you think they should already know without your having to ask, you're not taking responsibility for what you need.  Once again, there is often a lot of shame underlying this mindset, but the blame gets shifted in a defensive manner onto others.

Getting Help in Therapy
I recognize that one of the most difficult challenges for many people is calling a therapist to ask for help.  People have many misconceptions about what it means to come to therapy, including that a person has to be "crazy" to go to therapy.  Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth.  Furthermore, therapists who go into private practice do so because they want to help people.

If you're considering attending therapy, it's often easier to ask for a consultation first.

When I receive calls from potential clients, I consider the first session to be a consultation where both the client and I see whether we are a good client-therapist match.

I will continue this discussion in future blog posts.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of asking for help.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.