Learning to Lean on Others

I have the honour of sitting alongside humans in some of their darkest moments. I see how they grow, feel their emotions in efforts to heal, make healthy changes in their lives, and learn who they are and how they want to show up in the world. It is an incredibly beautiful thing to witness. There are moments in this growth that come naturally and easily and others that take so much work my heart can break alongside them as they work their way through it. When you think of the most difficult topics explored in therapy the thought of asking for help may not readily come to mind and yet, I can attest to how often this arises for people. 

This column often references the things we were not taught in our lives growing up and how to embrace learning them as an adult. It seems mind boggling to think that many of us were not taught to accept, or even ask for help, in times of need. Yet we were often highly encouraged to offer it to others freely. Where is the disconnect and how do we get past the belief that we are not worthy of help or that our worth is directly related to what we can do for others? I often hear things like, “I do not want to be a bother,” or “I have been let down before, it is okay I can just do it on my own.” There is a fierce independence behind these statements. A learned behaviour that arose from asking for help and not receiving it, and a significant amount of hurt having likely experienced the pain of people not showing up for you in the way you needed. If this is a repeated experience, we may cease to seek help because it feels safer to rely only on ourselves, that way we cannot be let down. 

There is often a great personal cost to holding a belief that we are not worth the kindness of others. Loneliness, frustration, and sadness can occur. Resentment is also a possibility as we expect that the more we help others we imagine the help will be returned to us automatically without expressing our desire for it. Unfortunately support and kindness are not transactional, and others are not able to read our minds to know what we need in difficult times. As age and the primary people in our lives change, we need to learn to express our needs with the people we trust in our lives. We need to begin to say yes when help is offered to us. It can be scary and overwhelming, but the outcome is often rewarding.  

I often joke and say, “And the world didn’t end?” when someone in therapy finds the courage to ask for help or say no to someone when they do not have the capacity to help. We laugh and usually the person shares an outcome of getting their needs met, feeling seen, and appreciating the support. We also talk about how to comfort yourself when you ask for help and the person is not able to provide what is needed. This is important, asking for help does not guarantee that you will receive it. Please know this is not a denial of you, but rather the other person taking care of their own needs as well, and that is okay too. Life will always throw challenges at us.  We do not have to face them alone - we are worth the support and kindness of others.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.