• Phil McAuliffe

Why is asking for help so hard?

Let's explore why I can feel like a failure if I ask for help.


I'm Phil. I need help sometimes but I struggle to ask for it.

I recently asked a few friends in my life for help.

In the past, I really struggled with the whole asking for help thing. It takes significant amounts of courage for me to admit that I need help with something. I’ve done a lot of work within myself over the past few years and thought that I had this whole reluctance-to-ask-for-help-thing sorted.

I got curious about why I felt so weird asking some friends for their help. They’re friends, for God’s sake. After thinking the thoughts and feeling the feelings some more, it became clear that I’ve got a little work to do.

What I noticed when I asked for help

The first clue that something was amiss was when I drafted my message asking for help and found that the words really didn’t flow from my brain, through my fingertips to the screen at all. That is weird for me: Words and I are usually friends and they almost always flow easily.

I continued writing, and as I did, I noticed that my mind was racing. I had so many thoughts, but I couldn’t catch any of them. I also noticed my breath became evermore shallow. I felt cold. I also began to sweat: the taps in my pits went from 0-100 in seconds.

I was experiencing what is a human’s standard response to a threat: fight, flight or freeze. I was experiencing each in waves and in different measure. I noticed that I was preparing to defend myself from judgement and rejection (fight). I noticed that I was sitting at the edge of my chair and looking for distractions (flight). I noticed that I froze (remember the words abandoning me?).

I was in a shame storm.

My vociferous inner critic was making it known that I should not be asking for help and that in doing so, I was opening myself – and my very scared inner critic – to ridicule, judgement and rejection.

All this after I simply asked friends (note friends; not strangers) for help.

Did I mention that I thought that this was behind me?

What’s it all about?

As we gay men know, denying inconvenient thoughts and feelings is tempting but is never a durable coping strategy. It becomes impossible to ignore them sooner or later. Courage is needed to accept what is within ourselves and put our authentic selves into the world anyway.

I reflected on my response to asking for help.

I know that the reluctance we men can have to ask for help is common. I know this from the work I do with my friend, coach and mentor Mike Campbell on some of his programs designed to help and support men.

Most men – including gay men – cite the reason that they’re reluctant to ask for help is that they feel conditioned by society to believe that men should be fully independent entities and that asking for help is weak. This shows up in lots of different ways in our lives. The belief that we should be fully self-sufficient and have everything sorted stops us from asking for directions when lost. It stops us going to the doctor until it’s clear that ignoring the problem has not made it go away and reaching out for help or advice when we really need it.

Sidebar: Am I alone in my reluctance to go to a doctor? Do you feel weird asking a stranger for directions?

And yes, society does a great job at sending these messages to us, both overtly and covertly.

I’m normally very wary of ‘society’ being solely to blame for my – and other individual’s – ills. Exclusively blaming society removes individual responsibility. The fact is that I tuned into the messages I’ve picked up from the world around me and then I internalised them. Within me, I’ve turned those messages into stories and then into truths and beliefs over years. You've done this too.

It’s insidious how we do that, isn’t it? [We’ll get on to the power of the stories we tell ourselves in another article, I promise.]

We’re allowed to question these truths. Indeed, we must question these truths if we are to connect authentically with ourselves, those in our lives and our communities. As gay men, I feel that we all have questioned beliefs about what is ‘normal’ in society and can continue to question what we’ve passively accepted about ourselves in our pasts. It is hard work.


And what's the alternative to asking for help? For me, do I expect others will simply pick up on things and volunteer their help? How are they going to know when I need help when I know that I can wear a mask of being endlessly competent? Even if they do volunteer their help, will I accept it? A man is meant to be able to handle all their shit themselves, right?


Logically, I know that asking is the easiest way to get the help and support that I need. Even still, it's so hard.

My inner critic is a bastard

In asking my friends for help, my inner critic was telling me that I was acting contrary to societal expectations of how I should act.

My inner critic wanted me to have another go at sorting my problem out for myself. By making me feel like a failure, my inner critic – bless him – wanted to keep me small and avoid judgement and spare me the pain of rejection. He often does this. It’s his job, after all.

*here* (this word will make sense in a moment. Keep reading).


My inner critic made me feel guilty – no, he made me feel ashamed – of not being able to handle everything. I felt bad for interrupting my friends’ lives with my request. I felt like I was a burden on them. My request for help was an intrusion in their lives; that I was an inconvenience. I wanted to ask for help in the right way, so they’d feel good about themselves if they wanted to say no and that I’d be totally fine if they couldn't help.

That’s a lot for me to unpack right there: I was telling myself that I was unworthy of help.


Please re-read from the word *here*. Let it sink in.

Because of this, it’s an act of great courage and vulnerability to simply ask for help. The belief that only those who are weak ask for help is bullshit. This belief places so many limits on us, not least of which stopping us from getting the help and support every human needs to live their life and denying us a powerful way of connecting with those in our lives.

With great effort, I asked for help. Happily, some of my friends have begun to help me where they can. Some friends have more capacity to help me than others. I’ve received some lovely messages of support and encouragement. I feel seen.

For the lonely gay man

While asking for help can require huge amounts of courage and we risk adverse judgement, it’s clear to me that asking for help facilitates connection. Not asking for help leads us to feeling further isolated and alone.

It may feel like we're alone, but there's always someone.

We all have people in our lives who would love to help us if we asked them, just like we would step up to help them if we were asked. I mean, what kind of friend doesn’t help a friend in need?

If we’re feeling lonely or otherwise in need of social interaction, all we need to do is say something. We need to ask for help. We need to be specific when asking for help and support. Sending a text that is vague when asking for help doesn’t give the recipient much to go on. Being specific and saying something like ‘Hey, I need your help. Can we have a chat?’ allows our friend or family member to prepare for a real chat.

Your great act of bravery and courage in asking for help may strengthen your friendships and familial relationships and promote more authentic connection with those in your life.

And at the risk of sounding like everyone’s Mum, if those who you do ask for help judge and ridicule you, they’re simply not worthy of you. You deserve the best people in your corner, as do I.

Finally

I have three questions for you to ponder.

Spend a moment thinking on your answer.

  1. What help do you need and aren’t asking for?

  2. What’s stopping you asking for the help and support you need?

  3. Do you really feel - with absolute certainty - that you're worthy of help and support?

Remember, you don’t need to process these questions alone. I have created a private space on Facebook where we can go deeper in a safe space online in a chat with me and others. It’s a space where you can give and get support as you work to connect authentically with yourself, those in your life and your communities. This space is available for premium subscribers only. You can become a premium subscriber by hitting the 'subscribe and stay connected' link below. A basic subscription is free and is also available through the link below.

Also, I have a list of organisations here with whom you can talk to trained mental health professionals if you feel you need that.


Where to now?

Connection is the antidote to loneliness. Subscribe to my website through either a basic subscription (free) or premium subscription (monthly charge) and let’s stay connected as we work to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men.


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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.

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