This has been a year for me to think a lot about giving and receiving help. About how asking for help can be a gift that deepens bonds and brings needed support (Brown, 2012). About how expressing care by giving help can strengthen the help-giver’s sense of meaning and purpose.
An early summer backyard potluck party. A glorious sunny day, hot but not humid. A beautiful yard, complete with swimming pool, comfortable chairs grouped to allow easy conversation, and shady spots in which to congregate. I went into the house for a minute. As I came out, there was a five-year old hanging by her arms from a portable basketball hoop. Her feet dangled perhaps a foot from the cement patio.
“Look!” she called out.
“Wow,” I said, quite impressed. “How did you get up there?”
“I climbed!” she declared.
“You’re strong,” I told her admiringly, doubting that I could hold on as she was doing. As I passed her, I heard her grunt with the effort she was making. I looked back, now seeing an expression of strain on her face.
“Are you stuck?” I asked.
“Yes,” she readily answered.
“Do you want help?”
“Yes!” said in a tone of relief.
I stood under her, placing my hands firmly at her waist. I hoped she didn’t turn out to be heavier than she appeared! “Ok, I said, I’ve got you.”
Trusting that I’d catch her, she let go. I lowered her gently to the ground. “Thank you,” she called as she scampered off.
Sometimes our first and greatest daring can be asking for support.
~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Asking for help can be hard in our DIY culture that values independence and self-sufficiency. It can feel like a defeat. It can feel like a scary encounter with need and vulnerability. Here are some things that that can make it easier to ask for help.
1. Think of how you feel when someone you care about asks for help. Usually, it feels good to be given a way to show our love and caring.
2. Make a specific request. That way, the other person can be sure they’re giving the help that’s most needed. “I’m having a hard time and would just like someone to listen to me talk things through. I’d love it if you could do that for me.” Or – “This is a tough time for me, but I still want to laugh every day. Could you send me a favorite comic or funny video?”
3. Let people know what is not helpful. “It’s amazing that I’ve been given so many meals my freezer is full! I don’t need meals right now, but it would be a huge help if you could give me a ride to my doctor’s appointment next week.”
4. Make a genuine request, one that the other person is fully free to say yes or no to. “Would you be able to pick up my sister when she arrives at the airport? If it’s inconvenient, just let me know. We’ll find another solution.”
When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.
~ Maya Angelou
Offering help can feel like a risk. Sometimes I worry than my offer of help may be intrusive, unwanted, or unwelcome. Here are some of the things that I find can help reduce the barriers to offering help.
1. Think of the offers of help that have been done in a way that makes you feel strengthened , loved and encouraged. Use those experiences to guide you in offering help.
2. Listen for what the other person would find truly helpful. Ask for specifics so that your help is truly useful to them. “I’ll stop by with lunch next Friday! Do you have any dietary restrictions or any preferences I should know about?
3. Be persistent. Check in periodically and make a specific offer. “Would you like some company when you go to your appointments? I’d be glad to help with that.”
4. It’s okay if you don’t quite know what to say. Speaking from the heart, saying “I love you,” “I’m here for you,” or “I’m so, so sorry,” are just fine.
In the Gifts of Imperfection, I write, “Until we can receive help with an open heart, we are never really giving help with an open heart”…We all need help.
~Brené Brown, 2012
References and Credits
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books Photo credit: Cristiane Newman, unsplash.com