Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness

In the American culture today, self reliance and self determination are praised as positive qualities. Those that ask for help are looked at by many as weak and ineffective.  We build these traits into our children, praising them when they do for themselves and putting them down when they cannot accomplish a task without our help. They grow into their teenage years, believing that they are immortal, and can handle anything. If something comes along that is outside their scope of experience, they often get themselves in over their head before they come and ask, or usually are backed into a wall, and are forced to seek out help. We as parents are mystified and wonder why they didn’t come to us before the situation got to this point. The fact is, they have been trained to think this way and know no other way to act. To not deal with the situation themselves to their perception is shameful.

Sadly, for other children, they have learned no adult can be relied on and self reliance is the only way they can survive.

Self reliance is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is necessary to effect the growing up process and into our years as an adult. However, as with the child who is taught that it is shameful to ask for help, this attitude can be an individuals undoing. Those with an overly enhanced attitude of self reliance may struggle with things that are outside of their scope of experience or that their coping skills are unable to handle. They do not ask for help, as how they have been programmed. Often when they fail to solve the issue over and over again, they will simply give up. This can have catastrophic consequences for that individual.  They often find themselves mired in drug and alcohol abuse, self destructive tendencies, and inappropriate behavior towards others. Repeated failures result in the thinking that I am never going to handle my issue so it is pointless to even try. There is no hope. Much like the child, they are in over their head. Much like the child, they do not even realize how fast they are sinking and are in denial about where they are at. The defeated attitude creeps up on them and a new programming emerges. They perceive themselves as failures, unable to effect any change in their lives. Their programming, that to ask for help somehow indicates weakness, prevents them from reaching out. Like the child, when they finally do reach out, often having been backed into a wall in order to do so, we as a society wonder why they have never taken this step prior to this point. Shame is the barrier the individual must overcome and much work needs to be done to break through the perception that they somehow are less valuable, less capable, and are not weak individuals because they asked for help in order to get to the root of the issue. Failure to overcome this programming in the persons mind will result in their issue not being addressed much less solved. Make no mistake, this programming is powerful, deeply rooted and to overcome it is not a simple matter. Hence you witness relapse rates among drug addicts and alcoholics, recidivism of prisoners and repeated domestic abuse.

To ask for help is a sign of strength not weakness. It indicates a knowledge of self, healthy relationship skills and their belief that they are not alone in overcoming their issue. Those with an overly enhanced attitude of self reliance usually do not possess such skills. In a interesting paradox, those trying to be completely self reliant and demonstrate they have the ability to handle the issue are essentially rendered powerless over it as failure after failure mount. But it is at this point where help can become possible as the reality of the situation becomes clear.

Let us train our children to be comfortable to come to us when they need help. We will not resolve it for them, but we will show them how – together. Let them know that it was not a bad or shameful thing to come to us, that asking for help is something to be praised for. If we feel that they can in fact handle their issue themselves don’t make them feel bad for having come to us in the first place but instead help them think through the issue they have encountered and what they might do to address it.

No person is an island, and those that think they are, will be battered by the storms life brings.


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  1. #1 by Jennifer on November 9, 2008 - 4:14 pm

    What powerful writing here and you do speak some truths.  We are taught to be self-reliant and self-sufficient so that we can become independent adults with great self-esteem.  There is so much pressure on children, more than when we were children, to succeed in academics, compete in sports, even as young as 4 or 5 and then wonder why they\’ve never really known how to be comfortable to ask for help.  Pushing the children to succeed is a good thing, within reason.  Those that teach and parents alike, put too much pressure on the youth and at the same time give them the power to not have to turn to their parents.  This is a vicious cycle stripping the innocence and laughter from our children and they are expected to act and be able to handle circumstances like an adult.
    This is a time of change in our country that is on its way with the change of our presidency.  It should also be the time of change and re-evaluation on how we raise and support our children, emotionally too.
    Your last line says it all.

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