Asking For Help and Why I Struggle With It

2009 August 17
by Grace Boyle

It’s hard for me to ask for help.

I recently had to move out of my house into a new apartment and maybe it’s because I’m stubborn and pride myself on my independence but I told myself I would just do it alone. I was even moving in with a friend and she willingly employed some of our mutual friends to help her/us (she had more stuff than me) but I still kept my mouth shut about help.

I eventually ended up asking my cousin because I needed his truck for my bed, new dresser and couch that we were picking up but 1) he is my cousin/family and 2) I felt comfortable because it was absolutely necessary. If I had a truck I would probably attempt moving all that on my own.

The Giver

I have no problem giving. I’ve helped people move that I’ve just met, because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s part of who I am. I was raised that way to give back but I assume whether it’s a phone call in the middle of the night due to troubling times to or an evening of heavy moving…well, I’m hesitant and don’t want to be a bother. I’ve also noticed there are certain people I’m close to that I am able to ask for help with ease. I think it’s because we have a strong, foundational relationship. It’s established that we will help each other, for life.

Undoubtedly, my friends want to shake me. Verbally my two closest girlfriends from college recently laid the smack down (in the kindest and most necessary way) that there’s no time they would say “no,” to me. They never have in fact. They know I would do the same for them. It’s a two way, healthy friendship. I have their trust.

My friend continued, “I know you’re a giver, not a taker…but you have to take from us from time to time. We know you give back, even when you don’t think you’re doing it.”

Asking for help is a widespread fear

Turns out, I’m not the only one. M. Nora Klaver, author of “MayDay! Asking for Help in Times of Need” believes there are many reasons people globally are scared to ask for help. The primary reasons are: not wanting to seem weak, needy or incompetent.

A New York Times article, “Why is Asking For Help So Difficult,” suggests proper ways to ask for help: ask in advance, be clear in what you need, be concise and do so without making the person you ask feel guilty. [Okay, note to self, good pointers]

I think the most important thing to remember is that most people want to help and actually find gratification from it. Psychologist, Dr. Deb reinforces, “Asking for help creates an atmosphere of empowerment. It communicates to others that, while you may not have the answers, you are willing to find them and make things better.”

Just like saying, “I don’t know,” is okay to admit, asking for help is part of human nature. I’ve said it before: we’re human, not machines. Everyone needs help and I need to remember that where I’ve gotten today has been because of the good-will, kindness and help of others. I too, give back so I should realize it’s a full circle.

These past two weeks have helped me learn my lesson (slowly but surely, I’m still stubborn). Currently, I’m learning to ask more.

Do you or someone you know find it difficult to ask for help? Why do you think it’s hard to ask?

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  • Rebecca

    I'm pretty bad at asking for help too. When I moved, I moved most of little things by car and then paid movers to move the rest. Guys don't seem to have this problem I've noticed though. I think asking for help is really smart… thanks for the reminder!

  • Holly Hoffman

    I also have a really difficult time asking for help & admitting when I don't know how to do something. It used to be a real problem in my life. What I found when I took an honest look is that it was not just fear – but PRIDE and EGO.

    My pride kept me from asking for help because I was saying, “I can't do this on my own.” My ego kept me from admitting when I didn't know something because I was saying, “I can't learn this on my own.”

    Sometimes what is at the root of fear is self-esteem. The real fear is that we let people know that we're vulnerable.

    The best way I know to level my pride and ego and “right-size” my self-esteem is to remember that no one is born knowing everything; we have to ask to be shown how. And just like you said, to remember how much I like being asked for help because it means I have the opportunity to give. So I'm just giving someone else the opportunity to give when I ask for help.

  • Susan Pogorzelski


    I love this post. It's possibly one of my favorite posts of yours to-date for how I can relate to it on an emotional level. I would classify myself as a giver as well — it's a pleasure to be there for people, to make them laugh and smile, to be there when they need a hand or a shoulder or a favor. It comes naturally…What doesn't come so naturally? Being on the receiving end. Or, rather, needing to be on the receiving end.

    It's difficult for me to vocalize my need for help, support, because, just as you quoted, I worry about seeming weak or needy or incompetent. As a professional, I rarely have a problem with this. But personally? That's another story.

    I think one of the primary reasons it's so difficult to vocalize these needs is because it means being honest with oneself and recognizing limitations — it means admitting those weaknesses, admitting what may erroneously seem like failure or defeat. That's not always the easiest thing to do. I'm learning, however, that asking for help when you need it is so important for the support you'll receive — and that maybe it isn't failure to need, but rather a strength to recognize when and how to ask for help. I wonder if giving can only be extended so far — someone needs to be on the other end in order to receive, which means someone will be there when the reverse rings true.

    This post is so timely on a personal level, Grace. Thanks so much for writing it — wonderful insights that make things a little clearer.

  • FroynLaven

    RT @FroynLaven –> blog by @gracekboyle — I think being self reliant is great, but can go too far; people don't dump on each other when they are dependent upon each other, and that makes for healthier communities. Helping and being helped makes great neighbors!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Rebecca I didn't examine “asking for help” in terms of women and men, but I see from experience that it's harder for women to ask for help. I agree with you, asking for help is smart and when I muster the strength to do so, I feel good!

    @Holly You're correct in saying that pride and ego get in the way. Why did I think I could carry my 50lb boxes all night, alone. Because I told myself I didn't need anyone to help me and I was strong enough. Well, I may be strong enough but what about asking for a favor, making the move shorter, etc. Thanks for sharing, really great thoughts!

    @Susan I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. Great minds think alike then. I think it does take strength to ask for help and surprisingly, when I do ask for help (professionally or personally) I actually feel good. It means that I'm going to do it the right way and I will inevitably learn something new. I know it's a work in progress, but I hope you too keep finding strength in asking for help.

    @FroynLaven Asking for help and helping each other out DOES make great neighbors! It's a healthy relationship when there's an influx of give AND take. Thanks for stopping by and the RT.

  • jaygaddis

    Thanks Grace. This reminds me to write about this on my blog! Asking for help, gives others the opportunity to give and serve.

  • akhila

    Great post. I think I do this a lot too, but for me it's as if I've always been helped in my life due to protective parents & a somewhat sheltered existence. It's true that I've been sheltered from most of the problems in life. For once, I want to do things on my own and really learn to live. Even if it's not as easy.

    And so I started out by going to live on my own in Europe, and granted, this is FAR from a difficult lifestyle…still, I had to learn to be very independent. Next step: the developing world, where I can challenge myself more. For me, challenging myself has been important.

    Yet, I see how sometimes by not asking for help, doing everything on our own, it can actually hurt us. Sometimes the best thing to do is just ask, because it creates friendships, cultivates relationships, as well as helping you.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jay Giving and serving provides new and positive opportunities…Send me the link to your post about asking for help, I look forward to reading it. Thanks!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Akhila You bring up a really good point. What if you felt you have been helped or had a hand lend to you throughout your life…what about making mistakes and doing things on your own? I think there's a strong distinction by those who ask for help incessantly and can't DO thing son their own. Sometimes when I don't ask for help, I am so satisfied when I find the solution on my own. Maybe the difference is knowing when to ask for help and when to take the task at hand, on your own…

  • sameve

    Grace: Yet another way that we are alike. I'm a giver, and I absolutely suck at asking for help. For me, asking for emotional support is the hardest. I like taking care of others and being there for them, but when there comes a time that I need people to be there for me, it takes a lot for me to ask. It's not pride or fear really, I just feel bad. I don't want to be a “Debbie Downer.” It's something that I know I have to work on, and this post was a great reminder!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Sam I know and feeling bad, because we feel bad is bad! At least we understand and know the importance of asking for help. Right? I am finding there are more and more (women especially) people around me who struggle in asking for help, but emotional help is the hardest for me too.

  • 7ClownCircus

    Great post, and great suggestions for asking for help. I'm also very reluctant to ask for help if there is any possible way I can just do it myself. I do know rationally that people in general do like to help, but it's still hard. I was forced to ask for help from friends when i was hospitalized for 10 weeks (with my twins), and it was veryy difficult…….I was amazed though, how willing everyone was to help.

    Hope you are all settled in!

  • Grace Boyle

    @7ClownCircus As @Akhila said before, there seems to be a distinction between asking for help (too much) and knowing when you're able to tackle the problem or issue on your own. In your case, in the hospital, asking for help and support is completely necessary. Once we get over that barrier, it feels good to have help of friends and like we've seen before, people enjoying helping. That makes me feel better when I ask for a favor. Thanks for stopping by, Angie!

  • Lorrie Zwer

    My moving manta is don't ask me to help you move and I won't ask you to help me. Yes, it's selfish and anti-social, but really, once you're older than 25 you need to learn to stand on your own two feet. Even if that means hiring movers from time to time.

  • Elisa Doucette

    I think I am in the same boat as you and would carry everything on my own back if possible. I'm horrible asking for help. For me its a control thing. I'm…how do you say…so mind-blowingly control freaked out that having someone pick up my dinner kills me! When I delegate I'm constantly wondering if it will be done the way I like it or to my same ethic. Much like most of my other baggage, I'm “working” on it. I give on of my co-workers more and more projects and try to step back and let her spread her little wings and fly. So far it hasn't been pretty (and enforcing my fact) but I'm willing to keep trying.

    If nothign else for the final point that you made. Similar to accepting gratitude/compliments I think that you need to respect and admire people enough to let them know you would depend on them if need be. Not much of a bigger compliment than that!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Lorrie Without a doubt, as I acquire a household full of furniture it would require movers. At this point, I try to acquire minimal possessions and I moved out to Colorado with everything I owned in my car…so it's doable and helpful with friends, especially as I have helped many of my friends move here. Thanks for sharing, Lorrie!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Elisa You're right, it is a compliment to be leaned on. I didn't really think of it like that and I think some people think of it as a burden. It's funny because almost every comment here says they have trouble asking for help…think about all the people who have trouble asking for help, they probably are so willing to help on their own. Maybe next time I ask for help, I will remember all my friends who struggle with it, then I might feel a little more at ease :)

  • lenoraboyle

    Maybe there's a fear of rejection, so we don't ask for help. Sometimes we just want to be liked so we give too much. I think it's our great challenge to balance all of it–the give and take and the risking rejection.

  • jackieadkins3

    I remember reading this and planning to comment on it and…apparently I was distracted by a shiny object or something. Carrying on…

    I also am very hesitant to ask for help from others, but for a different reason than most people who've commented (I was kind of surprised that nobody else said it). For me I'm always worried that asking for help will inconvenience the people i'm asking for help from and that they'll just be annoyed by my request. I guess I feel like I don't want to waste their time. If they asked me, I'd be more than willing to help them, but am always very hesitant to ask for help.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Lenora/Mom Thanks for your comment. It's true, there's often a deep fear of refection and balancing the two is so important.

    @Jackie That is my reason, where I say in my post, “I don't want to be a bother…” As you probably have seen or come to realize is that true/close friends should never really mind and it's not really an inconvenience to help. Think about how willingly you help…then reverse that to someone else. It's a hard mindset to change, but the important part is that we're at least aware of it.

  • millymalloy

    Grace: My first reaction was “What? Russ has a truck. He could have moved her bed.” Yes I am very good about offering my husband to help others, thankfully he does not mind!!!
    I have a very hard time asking for help, I always think it will be an inconvenience but have no problem helping others or making Russ do it… He has not problem helping or asking for help. Thanks for writing this post, it is definitely food for thoughts.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Milly I know and you two are so sweet! You know my first reaction was, “Russ works so hard and hardly has time at home with you guys,” so I didn't want to call him out at night when he may have already been working…when in actuality, I should just ASK. It's interesting that women definitely find it to be more challenging to ask for help. Thanks for your comment, I love hearing from you : )

  • jenniferpatsy

    Your cousin rules! :-) Nice post, Grace. You can ask me for help anytime. I'll let you know if I don't feel like it. xoxo

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jennifer Thanks. I also appreciate honesty. It makes asking the question easier because I know you won't do it out of pity for me or if you really don't want to :)

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jennifer Thanks. I also appreciate honesty. It makes asking the question easier because I know you won't do it out of pity for me or if you really don't want to :)

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  • Kelly Rudolph

    Excellent post! I used to be fearful of asking for help because the friends I had before I had the “right” friends were not there for me when I asked the few times I did. I was crushed that they weren't true friends and it wore on my self-esteem. Recently, I've learned to ask and as a giver myself, realize it makes other people feel good to help and like you said, they want to.

    Some people ask for help because they refuse to help themselves. I think we all want to avoid coming across as “one of those” to our friends.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Kelly Thank you! I really like your last point that some people ask for help because they refuse to help themselves. Thanks for sharing and stopping by.

  • louboutinman

    Tomasz It totally varies for everyone. When I thought about it, I was happy that I didn't have any regrets and I didn't “have” to do anything. It's a good exercise to think about…because really, we have no idea when our last day is (not to sound morbid or anything 😉Christian Louboutin shoes look fantastic with tight-legged jeans tucked into them, or with short skirts paired with opaque tights or bare legs.

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  • Divine

    ..miss grace..may i please re-post this on my facebook account?..i am in a phase right now that this is an issue..i've been burned once (on my first ever attempt) asking help from a friend, and it's making me hesitant to ask any of my friends again..but at this point, i know, i need to do it..i saw your post and it just makes me uplifted in a way and motivated to follow through with my plans, despite such issues..

  • Grace Boyle

    You may post it to your Facebook account and thanks for asking.

    I'm so happy this uplifted you. We are all burned at one point in our life, often more than once. The point to remember is to not give up and remember that you help others, so asking for help is part of the cycle. Hope this helps and best of luck xo :)

  • Divine

    ..i know that now..somehow, i took it for granted, knowing that I, myself, am willing to help anyone as much as i can…just putting myself in other's shoes, if i'd be the one needing help and was no big deal..but now, it just made me wonder, not everyone would be thinking the same thing and then it becomes an issue, a big issue..but you know, i believe in paying it forward, like you said, it is a cycle, i promise myself to help, too, anyone as much as i can..thank you ms. grace..(“,)

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  • TheThompsonFamily2006

    I asked for help on Craigslist because we recently bought electric appliances and now we have to move and the place we have to move to is all gas, so least to say we now don’t have the money for new appliances. So I asked for help to get a gas dryer and gas stove on Craigslist, somebody responded by telling me to keep my legs closed and stop having children, and called me a fat a$$, and saying that I needed to get off of my a$$ (my husband and I both work to support our 5 children). So now I feel like such a burden. My husband and I work so hard to support our children, and we don’t go out and spend money on anything we don’t need. We don’t go on vacation, we don’t spend any money on ourselves except for the bare necessities. I just don’t get it, I help everybody I can when my children out grow their toys and clothes and they are still in good shape. I try to help anybody we can. I never ask for a red cent. Am I wrong?

  • Cristal Muffley

    I don’t like to ask for help at all. As she mentioned, 1) I hate to be a bother and 2) I hate feeling weak or like I don’t know anything. When I do ask for help, i feel sheepish, and stupid. Whether it be moving a very heavy object or just even for asking for help holding open a bag is hard. I don’t know how many times I’ve hated myself for struggling for no stupid reason when all I had to do was ask for help, but yet I can’t seem to do that. It’s frustrating but I can’t seem to get out of my own way.

    Thanks for the great post, and I welcome any suggestions or words of wisdom. 


  • Angela

    I’m one of them, & it sucks. Maybe it’s because I fear rejection..I don’t know..

  • Smsteckel

    For me asking for help I don’t want to bother them due they have their own struggles and don’t want to add another one. In addition, my parents taught me to get things on my own. However, being laid off not just once but twice is hard. I’m living in an apartment alone with no income coming in but somehow I’m making it. I know it is because God is doing the works. I still worried and I’m asking for help from some other agencies. My unemployment is exhausted. So, I am getting help with some friends too so it all goes well. but asking for help I’m still learning and it is being humble.

  • Budjeep

    i don’t like asking for help it just seems like asking for mercy or asking  for an apology accepted.

  • eric ekofo

    I can’t even begin to tell you how accurate this article is!! I was told by my therapist that it’s the need to be in control that drove me into refusing any help from anyone. As you said, i praise my independence too much and i fear to appear incompetent. I really love this article. 

  • Grace Boyle

     Wow. Thank you Eric!

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  • sheila ross

    Hope your new home is nourishing and a great new start for you Grace. Loved the post–important information.

  • Deborah Ellis

    was lying in bed thinking about topics for my woman’s group at church. came up with this topic and found your article…I used to be like you, but now I enjoy having others share what I do. your article and the comments have gotten me hyped for my meeting. one thing I would like to add for my women is that “it does not take a divine revelation from heaven, or God himself does not have to come down” just ask!