Whether it’s carrying groceries or talking about a serious subject, many of us avoid asking for help, and there are numerous reasons why. Yet science reinforces that we feel better in the long run not only because someone helps us, but also because we recognize the value of this support and how much better everyone—giver and receiver—feels as a result.
Why Is It Hard to Ask for Help?
Researchers are endlessly curious about this subject, as it sheds insight into how we develop better connections with other people.
For example, Xuan Zhao is a scientist at Stanford University’s SPARQ behavioral science center. She’s studied the topic from numerous angles and thinks asking for help is hard because:
- We perceive it as a form of weakness or incompetence. Zhao says current research indicates that “children as young as seven can hold this belief.”
- We fear rejection, “which can be embarrassing and painful.”
- We often have “a concern about burdening or inconveniencing others.”
Zhao adds that “these concerns may feel more relevant in some contexts than others, but they are all very relatable and very human.”
Author and leadership coach Nora Bouchard shares another point: “People are hardwired to want to do things on their own and be independent-minded. Asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control to someone else. There are some people who really have a hard time with that piece of it,” she tells CNBC.
But Science Says the Reverse Is True
We talk a lot about how expressing gratitude and actively volunteering make us feel better while managing conditions such as mental health issues or addiction recovery. Why? Because these actions foster better, more positive connections with others and make us feel more secure about our place in a community.
Zhao says many studies support why, when asked for help, most people are glad to participate—and they feel happier as a result of providing acts of kindness. So, while it’s important to establish healthy boundaries and not let certain people take advantage, helping each other is also an essential give and take. But it only happens when we open up.
“People want to help, but they can’t if they don’t know someone is suffering or struggling, or what the other person needs and how to help effectively, or whether it is their place to help— perhaps they want to respect others’ privacy or agency. A direct request can remove those uncertainties,” Zhao says.
Getting Better at Asking for Help
Requesting assistance isn’t a transactional event, Bouchard says, but rather an acknowledgement of the other person’s abilities and a chance to have a conversation. For example, since her expertise is in the workplace, she provides this scenario:
““It’s not just saying, ‘You help me.’ It’s ‘I’ve got a problem or challenge and I could really use your help. Let’s talk it through and see what we can come up with together.’ Not only does that feel more respectful to the recipient, but it also allows you to develop a deeper connection with the person who you’re asking for help.”
There’s that word again: connection. Sure, if you’re the person in need of assistance and another person can provide it, it might seem like a one-sided situation at first. But authenticity assures both of you can reinforce why any load is easier to carry with more hands.
Zhao suggests there are various ways to ask for help, including simply showing up with an ask when someone is “clearly available to help.” Other times, it’s good to follow the SMART criteria, according to author Wayne Baker, a management professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business:
- Specific—your request
- Meaningful—why you need help
- Action-oriented—what needs to be done
- Realistic—something possible
- Time-bound—when you need help
“Without the help and assistance of others, we don’t receive the resources that we need to get our work done, to solve problems, and to fulfill our missions in the world,” Baker tells Forbes.
However, Zhao says there might be other times when the request can’t be as easily defined, but it shouldn’t stop you from asking. For example, “when we face mental health challenges, we may have difficulty articulating what kind of help we need. It is okay to reach out to mental health resources and take the time to figure things out together. They are there to help, and they are happy to help,” she says.
Craft a Better Life With Help from Cottonwood Tucson
Acknowledging that you need professional help to achieve better health goals demonstrates courage, a strong sense of being, and the desire to commit. Cottonwood Tucson is an inpatient holistic health center in Arizona licensed to treat mental health and substance use disorder. If you’re ready to experience understanding, healing, and hope, please reach out.