I’ve never liked to ask for help. Even as a toddler, I would improvise tools to reach light switches or fold up my blanket in order to avoid having to rely upon somebody else.
Fast forward to adulthood, and my, “I got this” attitude only increased. At work, I would volunteer to take on all of a project in order to avoid the inevitable frustration of waiting for others and the seemingly inevitable disappointment with their final product. When sick, I would downplay my symptoms in an attempt to limit the burden on others and would soldier on despite the pain. And in relationships (yes, including my first marriage), I would stoically insist that everything was under control even as I panicked inside.
As it turns out, that stubborn insistence to handle everything alone isn’t healthy and it also isn’t sustainable. Yet for those of us that are often perceived as “the strong ones,” it can be a challenge to even recognize when it is time to ask for help, whether it be an extra hand, medical assistance or emotional support.
Here are six signs that it’s time to admit your limitations and call in some support:
1 – You’ve Been Trying to Make a Change With No Lasting Success
You recognized that something needs to change and you make both a promise and a plan for yourself. At first, it looks promising. You’re making headway and beginning to feel better.
But then something happens to knock you off track. Maybe it’s some external pressure or your internal narrative. Regardless, you soon find yourself back at square one. Only this time you’re feeling a little less hopeful and a little more defeated.
Often we don’t ask for help because it feels like we’re admitting defeat when we accept that we cannot do it alone. But failure doesn’t come from setting yourself up for success; failure comes when you don’t allow yourself to receive the tools you need to reach your goals. When you’ve exhausted your own knowledge or skillset and have yet to make lasting progress, perhaps it is time to ask for help.
2 – The Issue is Beginning to Impact Other Areas of Your Life
Sometimes an issue becomes too big to ignore. For me, one of the key signs that it’s time to ask for help is when something has ballooned to the point where it is beginning to impact my ability to sleep and/or eat for more than a couple weeks. Experience has taught me that once that point has been reached, I will end up in a catch-22 downward spiral without some sort of assistance.
When your sad mood begins to impact your work or your nagging health issue starts to limit your ability to exercise, it’s a pretty clear sign that it is time to ask for help. Sometimes we just need a little encouragement and understanding to help reset and other times we may need more tangible assistance. Either way, it’s easier to tackle big things with help by your side.
3 – You’re Consistently Overly Emotional or Defensive
We are terrible observers and reporters of our own reality. We often get so caught up in the stories that we tell ourselves that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to see the truth. And then to make matters worse, we often cling furiously to the stories we tell ourselves, becoming emotional or defensive when anyone threatens to unravel our yarn.
Have you ever attempted to remove a difficult splinter on your own? It’s challenging, isn’t it? You anticipate the pain and so you flinch before the tweezers even touch the flesh. And then once you summon the courage to search for the foreign substance, you find it difficult to dig deep enough as your pain receptors scream at you for your assault. Often, we claim defeat, not because the task is impossible, but because we allow ourselves to believe that it is too difficult.
The same thing happens in other areas of our lives (even in response to something as seemingly innocuous as household chores). When we’re too close to something, we feel it rather than see it. So when your emotions are consistently running high or you find that you’re responding defensively to something rather benign, it’s a sign that it may be time to ask for help.
4 – You Have No Idea Where to Begin
You know you need something to change. What you have clearly isn’t working. Yet when you think about the situation, you become overwhelmed at its enormity and subsequently shut down. You’ve tried prioritizing. You have written down steps. But still you doubt yourself and your judgment.
Uncertainty about the first steps is a clear sign that it’s time to call in a certain type of help – the guidance of someone who has walked this path before. This mentor can provide you with the wisdom that only comes from experience. They can gift you with the knowledge learned from their mistakes and embolden you with the hope of their success.
5 – Multiple People Have Expressed Concern For You
Many of us have a tendency to stubbornly insist that we’re fine (even to ourselves) despite hard evidence to the contrary. We brush off the pain as just the aftershocks of an old injury or downplay the pervasive thoughts that tap out dissonant chords upon our synapses. “It’s not that bad,” we tell ourselves through gritted teeth while we attempt to wipe away our tears.
So it can come as a shock when you learn that your mask of “okay” hasn’t done its job and others begin to inquire about your well-being. It’s easy to get irritated at this concern, reading it as intrusive or as a sign that we’re weak or incompetent. Yet in reality, this attention is often a warning sign that you’re ignoring something that really does need attention and that maybe you need to ask for help in order to address it.
6 – You Are Consistently Trying to Escape Your Reality
When we’re not happy with something, we often try to avoid looking at it (ever closed the door to a room to avoid seeing the clutter?). If you’ve noticed that you’re spending increasingly more time invested in escape strategies – substances, social media, unhealthy relationships, shopping, eating, etc. – it may be a signal that you have something you’re trying to escape from.
One of the reasons that we often need to ask for help in these situations is that while it’s easy to identify the escapism behaviors, it is often much more difficult to identify and address the underlying causes of those behaviors. This is where the perspective of an outside observer can be beneficial; they will help you see what you cannot on your own.
There is no shame in asking for help. Admitting your limitations is a sign of strength, not weakness. Displaying your vulnerabilities takes great courage and a willingness to accept a helping hand requires humility. Sometimes asking for help is just as important as giving it.