Why Is It So Hard to Ask for Help?

Elephant holds umbrella over dog with trunkTime and again, people share with me the difficulties they have in asking for help. When I hear this, I’m grateful they found their way to my office, because their first phone call to me was an example of having done so.

We all have moments in our lives when we require the assistance of others. We don’t ever know all there is to know or have the skills to do everything proficiently or successfully. We certainly don’t expect that of others, either. So it makes sense we would have occasion to ask someone for help at some point.

The biggest reason many seem to have for staying stuck rather than reaching out is fear. People fear they will be rejected or told “no,” fear being seen as “less than” or weak, or fear being “found out.”

Being told “no” does not have to be awful. We do not have to weave a story and personalize the rejection (make it about us). It may be that the person we chose to ask didn’t have the appropriate resources to help us at that time. It’s best to accept the “no” as the answer to our request, not a negation of ourselves. A “no” tells us not to waste any more time and energy asking this particular person, and guides us closer to someone who will say “yes.”

Some equate being vulnerable with being weak, but asking for help takes self-awareness and courage. It’s important to know where our strengths lie and where they don’t. Sometimes the most efficient way to proceed is to focus our efforts where they have the most impact, and implore others to fill in the gaps according to their skill sets, leading to teamwork and collaboration. To be vulnerable is to provide the opportunity to connect and pool resources, thereby resulting in further strength.

The fear of being “found out” is akin to the fear of being exposed as a fraud (impostor syndrome). It can coincide with all-or-nothing thinking or perfectionism—believing that if we don’t know it all, we know next to nothing. In most roles in which we function, whether it be parent, employee, or partner, we are not expected to know it all. There are always opportunities for us to learn and grow. It doesn’t serve us to pretend we have every answer. However, it benefits us and others to know where to go for assistance when we need it, and then to avail ourselves of those resources.

What can you gain by asking for help?

  • You gain the ability to move forward. Rather than staying “stuck,” you know how to proceed. Can you remember a time you hesitated in reaching out? Chances are you felt a certain degree of stress associated with this. You weren’t being as productive as you wanted to be. You may have felt foolish in not being sure of your next step. Not believing you could ask for help might have fueled symptoms of anxiety. That is, until you asked for help and felt the relief of finding out what you needed to know.
  • You gain the opportunity to collaborate. If you’ve been tasked with something to do independently, it’s best to try to do it on your own. But if you’re stymied, seeking advice or assistance gives someone the opportunity to share with you. While not everyone is able to say “yes,” people are often honored by the request. It means you admired their expertise or abilities enough to inquire.
  • You gain the opportunity to learn. Pay attention to who is willing to help and what they are willing to do for you. Really listen to strategies being communicated to you, and take notes so you don’t have to ask the same questions twice.

It’s also worthwhile to think about whether you’re willing to help others when asked. If you tend to say “yes” and are maybe even happy to be asked, then perhaps you can better see the value in asking for support from someone else.

Asking for help doesn’t devalue you in any way. It can enable you to advance, connect you meaningfully with others, bolster your productivity and ability to do things with greater ease, and better prepare you for your next challenge.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • julia

    June 16th, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    I worry too much about whether someone is going to think that I am weak because I needed help. It is hard for me to accept that we all need help from time to time because my parents instilled such a sense of independence in me, but I guess I have taken that to the extreme. Not sure that this is all that they intended

  • Trevor

    June 16th, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    Asking for help from someone who is actually an expert in the area can be a wonderful way to pick up something new. How else are you supposed to learn if you are unwilling to ask for either help or an explanation? For the life of me I do not understand those who are the stoics, refusing to ask for help if they clearly need it. What is that all about anyway?

  • stphanie

    June 17th, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    you are weaker when you DON”T ask for help

  • Joey

    June 17th, 2016 at 1:00 PM

    Most of us especially guys have been taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness so I know that;s the prevailing thought in my family so I just refuse to do it.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    June 18th, 2016 at 4:39 AM

    Being independent and asking for help don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The keys are knowing when to ask for help, knowing who the appropriate resources might be, and not falling exclusively on only one side of the equation (always being the asker OR always being the one who is asked).

  • Ashford

    June 20th, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    Laurie- I know logically that you are right, that these things do not have to be mutually exclusive but it can feel like they get all tangled and twisted up with one another and I think that for me this is where the problem comes in. I want my family to know that I am strong, or at least think that I am strong, and when I have to ask them for help with anything, well, it makes me feel weak. I don’t know if this is what they think or not, but I do not like having that feeling.

  • Lisa

    June 21st, 2016 at 5:48 PM

    This is how I was hard wired. My dad was military, so you know, not really in his blood and I guess that these are the values that he tried to instill in us too. My husband really hates that in me, especially when I want to do some new project around the house he knows he better hang around because I am going all in because I am always pretty sure that l can tackle it.

  • carmen

    June 23rd, 2016 at 5:47 PM

    I still have this feeling like I should be old enough to do this without them but then I can’t and that is hard to accept.

  • JADE

    June 25th, 2016 at 11:02 AM

    I have always been the one to put on this face of strength so I don’t want to then be seen as being weak by asking for help.

  • Scot

    June 26th, 2016 at 12:08 PM

    The people who automatically think that someone is weak for asking for help is going to be the last person to ask for help himself because he knows what he thinks of others, so why would he want someone to think this about him?>

  • sonali a

    June 16th, 2019 at 12:35 PM

    I know asking for help is not a bad thing. You should focus on wat u r getting out of asking. But one of my mentor says spend hours in finding solution for your problems because while finding your solution u will be learning a lot things which will help you increase your knowledge in various fields. And Ya while finding the solution trying again and again u will know how to approach for a problem, because may be when u r having the problem, others must be stuck somewhere else or not available. But yeah if u have stopped yourself from asking questions just because u think, the other person might judge you or think very low of you then u should not stop yourself from asking questions. Ask as much as u can don’t concentrate wat others will think if u ask this question. Frankly, I too ask many questions that make feel others how dumb it is, but is this your problem? no. you concentrate on yourself let them think and say, you just wait and watch yourself going forward without looking back.

  • Jim

    August 7th, 2019 at 2:33 AM

    I suspect a large part of my not wanting to ask for help is feeling I would not be able to reciprocate, and being seen as the guy who just takes without giving something in return. This is tied in with social anxiety – I find it very hard to approach people in the first place, but I also find it hard to make myself available to return favours too.

  • Rowan

    December 13th, 2020 at 12:04 PM

    I’ve never really had to ask for help when it comes to a lot in my life, mostly school. I grew up being a natural in an academic environment, and most of the time if I did have a question, it wasn’t something anyone could answer. So, I never asked for help. I also grew up being told how bright I was, and since I was always a perfectionist, I instilled in myself that I had to always be smart. I’m going to a really nice school now, and I find it impossible to ask for help, because asking for help means that I’m not smart, which I need to be. So, now my mom is grilling me to ask my teachers for help in classes, but I physically can’t.

  • Chris

    May 17th, 2022 at 3:03 PM

    Personally, I am afraid of retribution for being weak. I am afraid I will anger those around me, because after multiple failed attempts they don’t want to deal with all this drama again.

  • Heidii

    June 17th, 2023 at 9:38 PM

    Exactly how I think

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