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Why is it so hard to ask for help?

It's no secret that we find it much easier to offer help than to ask for help. While it can be a rewarding, validating and empowering feeling to help others, when we ask for help, we often feel the exact opposite: inadequate, incompetent and disempowered. But why is that? Why is it so much harder to ask for help? What keeps us from asking for help?

I would like to answer this question by breaking it down to 3 major key elements that keep us from asking for help: (1) Social Conditioning (2) Personal Conditioning (3) Cultural Conditioning.

(1) Social conditioning: "Be strong!"

In general, being strong, being independent, being in control, and not being needy are human characteristics that have positive connotations in our society. If we are perceived as independent, confident, and strong, we are also perceived as successful, trustworthy, and reliable, and who wouldn't want to be perceived that way? The problem with this, however, is that these qualities are often not associated with a person who asks for help. A person who is perceived as strong is seen as someone who doesn't have problems, and if they do, others don't know about it because they would "deal" with it themselves. That's a shame though, because dealing with a struggle or problem independently often means that it simply gets pushed down, avoided or ignored when actually it needs to be talked about for it to be digested. Especially the male participants in our society suffer from this heavy social condition of being strong and have sadly mastered the art of keeping things in without asking for help.

Wherever there are rigid societal concepts and beliefs, there is little to no room for personal choice, personal change, authenticity, or true needs. And I believe that the societal condition of "being strong" is a rigid concept and thus a human characteristic that does not allow a person to be human in the sense of needing support, help and assistance. Consequently, the "strong people" in our society do not do well to ask for help - and there are many of them - maybe including you?

Already Aristotle made it clear that human beings are by nature social animals. So, in order for us to feel able to ask for help, we must acknowledge that as social beings we depend on others; we need others. In order to meet our needs, we must ask for help, and there is nothing "weak" or "disempowering" about that. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. By admitting your needs, your limits, desires, and weaknesses, we can feel more confident and powerful.

(2) Personal conditioning: "I am not good enough!"

Personal conditions (or as we call them in person-centered practice: Conditions of Worth) are conditions we believe we must meet in order to receive acceptance, love, or positive regard from others. Conditions of worth can help us avoid rejection, judgment, or exclusion. Often we develop conditions of worth (e.g. being extraordinarily nice, pleasing others, feeling fear, self-blame etc.) as a copying strategy to create a greater sense of safety for ourselves in an a perceived unsafe world. Yet, while conditions of worth can serve us in certain situations - often when we are younger - over time, they can turn into pathologies in adult life that no longer serve us but often can hold us back from being and acting more authentically.

I think it's fair to say that we've all been victims of judgment at one point or another. It's not a great feeling, is it? Maybe you've been bullied in the past, maybe you've been called names, told you're not smart, weak, or a push over. Maybe you have experienced rejection, social alienation and isolation. Then, over time, you have learn that you can't rely on others and that you're better off doing it yourself to avoid cruel judgments, eye rolling, or rejection. Worse, over time you may also learn that the judgments of others are true and that you are in fact incompetent, helpless, needy, not good enough, and maybe even a little stupid. Consequently, even if you need help, you will not ask for it out of shame and fear of judgment.

To understand personal conditions and thought patterns that say something like "I'm so needy," "I'm stupid," or "I'm not good enough" that keep you from asking for help, personal therapy can be a good starting point for exploring yourself. It can help you develop a self-concept that is no longer based on external judgments and past experiences, but on internal, real values. From this place of self-responsibility and authenticity, you will feel open and ready to ask for help without feeling inadequate, but empowered.

The challenge here is to actually get people who suffer from strong personal conditions into a therapy room, because a relevant pre-condition for therapy is the acknowledgment of 'I need help' and 'I deserve help'.

(3) Cultural conditioning: "Do it yourself!"

In addition to social and personal conditioning, our culture is also a factor that can influence our hesitance to ask for help. Cross-cultural psychologists often divide cultures into two main types: individualistic and collectivistic culture. In the individualist culture, people are viewed as autonomous and independent and social behavior is usually determined by the attitudes and preferences of the individual.

Cultures in Western Europe and North America are more individualistic. Do it yourself," "Independence means happiness," "It takes nothing to join the crowd, it takes everything to stand alone" - the Internet is full of motivational quotes that promote individualism. Not surprisingly, individualism and independence are celebrated as identity markers these days. Looking around the world today and observing the cultural evolution in our society, I see social separation where historically there was greater social togetherness in tribal communities. Look at LinkedIn or Facebook, for example. When I visit these platforms, I have a hard time seeing the plural "us", but a mass of singular "I's". This is not a judgment, but an observation.

The drive for individual success, individual independence and individual responsibility is greater than ever. I feel it myself. In recent years, individual striving and independence have been strong values on my own path, and I have rarely thought critically about them. Yet, I think I'm missing something important here. Have I fallen into the trap of today's popular culture without realizing it? Do I actually think I have to do it myself to be "successful"? Is part of me proud that I live independently of others?

Indeed, an individualistic culture promotes personal self-esteem, self-determination, self-responsibility, and self-sufficiency, and research has shown that people from individualistic cultures tend to exhibit great well-being. However, research also shows that people in an individualistic culture tend to experience more stress and have a smaller support network. Not only are they less willing to help others, but they are also less likely to ask for help when they need it. Therefore, I believe that a culture that promotes individualism as much as collectivism is a hybrid concept that appeals to me - A culture where unity, connectedness and relationships are as important as autonomy and personal identity.


What do you think are your reasons why you might find it hard to ask for help? Are social, personal or cultural conditions holding you back from doing so?


VeryWellMind, Individualistic Culture, Website: My Oct

Counselling Tutor, Conditions of Worth, Website:

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