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Aug 6, 2020

Who Doesn’t Ask for Help?

I moved into my daughter’s apartment while they’re staying in New England and my kitchen is under construction. She texted me her internet info, but I had to call her when I couldn’t locate her network, feeling like a dinosaur in the process. When I sent her the dropdown menu of those available, she quickly remembered that they’d taken their modem with them, hence the lack of connectivity.

My reaction–feeling like a dinosaur–wasn’t based on reality. I’m tech savvy. That fast, internal signal was rooted in a faraway place that, in the moment, drew me back in time to experiencing shame about not knowing.

Thanks to T-Mobile and reaching out for help, i discovered how to use my cell phone as a hotspot for my computer, I learned something new, but caused myself mental suffering along the way.

Which got me thinking about how vulnerable it feels to not know. I started comparing myself – a bad habit – to people who never appear to need help. It won’t come as a surprise, particularly to the therapists among you, that the prime examples of people not asking for help were my parents. They demonstrated many skills and competencies – well-read, politically savvy, generous, etc. – but when it came to vulnerability and seeking assistance, I never saw that modeled. Did you?

It’s not that they knew everything. They simply avoided areas where they’d have to be beginners. Yes, they took up tennis in their mid-life years, but that’s a socially accepted pastime. There are clubs where clinics are held. That would feel safe to me, too, as most classroom situations do.

No, I’m talking about the this-is-new-to-me, I-don’t-understand-your-choice, can-you-help-me-with-this issues that naturally arise in a family system. Their responses were avoidance, denial and rejection of what was unique or different. I learned to play it safe and get better at what I knew how to do, but avoided growing my world.

Until I started making my own discoveries – like breast-feeding for more than a year or having a mid-wife deliver my second child. That was more important to me than their approval. Although it was scary, I proceeded without their approval. But I had internalized their voices.

I may have missed examples of their openness, admission to not knowing, or their curiosity, but I became someone who was fearful of exposure. Until I found new role models starting with other pregnant women, nursing mothers, and onward from there. I began to transfer my trust to these courageous people whose example I preferred.

Still with me?

Here’s my untested theory: that the experts, who balk at being found out, or confess to not knowing, are people who remain steadfastly in their comfort zones. They stick with their proficiencies and avoid entering the unknown. Their successes become shields behind which they can shelter or hide.

Worse, in the case of my parents, they scoff at and even ridicule those who are trying something new and different.

If you grew up in this environment, whether familial, social, scholastic or beyond, you know how difficut it is to overcome those imprinted lessons. The title of Brené Brown‘s book, Daring Greatly, speaks to the shaming she withstood after becoming a public figure. Moving out of that period of depression, she made the decision that the only feedback she would entertain was from those also daring greatly in the arena of public opinion.

This is a day at a time concern for me. I’ve built support systems to help me overcome the internalized voices. I’d love to hear how you feel about asking for help.



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