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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Do You Ask for Help?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 11th 2007

It is commonly known that some people will not ask for help, information or directions regardless of the situation. What is not understood by many people is why so many people refuse to ask either for traveling directions or any other type of information, even if they become pressed by the urgency of the situation?

Job Loss:

Refusing or feeling unable to ask for help can have serious consequences both at home or at work. At work the failure to ask for guidance, problem-solving, clarification about a project or necessary information that may be missing leads to deadlines passing without project being completed. Needless to say, this can and does lead to job loss. In addition, as deadlines near for the completion of projects at work, anxiety and worry increase, the amount of work builds and the employee's worry and stress increase until it becomes unbearable.

Bankruptcy:

At home it is all too familiar that Americans get themselves deeply into debt through the misuse of credit cards, medical bill in excess of what medical insurance covers, mortgage loans that are greater than people can afford to pay on a monthly basis, and automobile and other luxury item purchases that destroy the budget. Despite the fact that there are extremely helpful credit counseling agencies, approved by the Better Business Bureau, many people refuse submit their financial situation to these agencies until it is too late and they fall into default and possible bankruptcy.

Why Is It Hard to Ask for Help?

Studies show that there are a variety of reasons why many individual find it difficult to ask for help.

Shame:

Primary among these difficulties in asking for help has to do with feelings of shame. For example, there are people who incorrectly believe that, as adults, they should be able to handle all situations. To this end, asking for help represents a type of weakness or failure. This "go it alone," individualistic attitude is not helpful in work situations and in the context of family life where the emphasis is supposed to be on teamwork and mutual cooperation.

Indebtedness:

There are those individuals who tell me they will not ask for help for fear of being indebted to another person. As these people explain to me owing anything to another person represents a type of dependence and loss of autonomy that they cannot tolerate. They would rather suffer alone with their problems than ask a neighbor for help. If the frontiersmen who settled America had taken this attitude how many barns would have been built and how many fires would have been put out?

Fear:

Some people simply do not know how to ask a favor or anything else of another person. They avoid doing so because they do not know what words to use. The worst part of this is that they fear that they will be refused and feel foolish and humiliated. Of course there is a lot to be said about knowing who you are asking and not making the mistake of asking the least reliable person around.

Men versus Women:

For all of these reasons men seem to have greater difficulty in asking for help than do women. Everyone is familiar with the old story of the husband who is driving with his wife, gets lost, and refuses to stop and ask directions. Wives will beg and plead with their husbands that they stop and ask but the men will doggedly continue to search and become increasingly lost.

Again, it is the fear of appearing weak, dependent or uninformed that motivates this refusal to stop and ask.

Psychotherapy:

I cannot speak for other mental health practitioners but it has been my experience that far more women are willing to come for psychotherapy than men. Of course, there are male patients in my practice but they are outnumbered by the women who seek help, at least in my experience. Even if a marriage is in deep trouble, it is the wife who is most likely to call me and, if the husband is willing to come with her it is only because she drags him there, "kicking and screaming" so to speak.

Education and Learning:

Despite the fact that it intuitively seems as though people are open to learning about new things and are driven to learn by their curiosity it is actual painful for many people to remain open to learning after their school years have ended. Here again, admitting that there are things to learn represents failure on the part many. That is why, during a discussion, if you listen carefully, many people will respond to new information with statements such as: "well, I knew that," or "big deal, they had to do a study to learn what I knew already," or "I tried that and it does not work."

I have even heard school teachers state, in response to the idea that they go back to college to take some classes, that the "those in the "ivory towers, (college professors) know nothing and cannot help them to become better school teachers."

Perhaps that is why some patients, despite the types of psychotherapy that are available, will not take psychological treatment seriously. Besides not wanting to admit that they need help they really do not want to admit that there are more things to learn.

In point of fact there is nothing wrong with admitting that there are things we do not know and need to learn.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Introducing my new book to you on asking for help - Peggy Collins - Jul 13th 2007

Great article, Dr. Schwartz!

I want to let you know you have hit on a near epidemic - people who will not ask for help! I call it the Self-Sufficiency Syndrome and the person a Self-Sufficient. Many won't ask for help, do everything all by themselves, can't delegate cause no one can do it as well as they can, help others all the time-just ca't ask to have the favor returned and are headed for burnout.

One of the major reasons I discuss in my book Help Is Not a Four-Letter Word: Why Doing It All Is Doing You In, published by McGraw Hill, is that our cuture says it's a weakness to ask for help. Role models who were highly self-sufficient and often based their worth on it have had a huge influence.

There are major trust issues as well. If we grew up in chaotic situaions, we ran to independence, saying we would never depend on anyone again.

I know that you know the 3rd stage of development is interdependence and we can't get there and reach our full potentail without the blending of the skills and strengths learned in dependency and independence.

My book covers where it came from, how it affects us and what we do about it. I would be happy to send along a copy if I could have your address and ask that you let me know what you think. My website is www.helpisnotafourletterword.com.

Thanks again for a very informative article on a subject near and dear to me.

Peggy Collins

Author of Help Is Not a Four-Letter Word: Why Doing It All Is Doing You In

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