‘It may sound funny,’ a student who I coached mentioned, ‘but somehow I felt asking for help meant that I failed.’ The coaching sessions were complete and together we reflected on how things had gone. He mentioned that he was probably most grateful for the fact that he had dared to ask for help. I recognized what he said. He is not the only student who mentions this. I also notice this in students and teachers at work at the Haagse Hogeschool, and I am also not immune to it myself. What makes asking for help so difficult? And what is the effect of this difficulty on us?
We compare ourselves with the successes of others
Sometimes we seem to be the only ones that struggle. The idea that we are the only ones that keep failing to do something right, while others seem to have no problem at all, results in a negative self-image and a feeling of falling behind. In a time of social media we have a great say in what others get to see and what not. We tend to share only our ‘happy’ moments. According to the social comparison theory we tend to compare ourselves to others. The pitfall of social media is comparing ourselves to the polished version of others. The truth is that we do not need to compare ourselves to others in order to create a healthy self-image. It is a good thing to be aware of the effect of both the upward comparison (when we think someone is better at something) as well as the downward comparison (when we think we are better at something) on our self-image and behavior.
The result: vicious cycle
What can be the result of thinking that we are not allowed to need help? We synchronize our successes and failures with the way we think about ourselves. This can limit our freedom of movement. Because when our self-image is depending on extern factors, it is depending on the situation that we are in. Rationally, we can then still tell ourselves that it is not true, but often there is this inconsequential feeling that proves otherwise, and is often modifying. If we believe that we need to be able to do everything on our own, we make our expectations go through the roof and unreachable. Consequently, we prepare ourselves unknowingly for failure, from the beginning. This feeling of failure then results in a negative self-image, because we hardly ever reach the goal. In this way, we are sucked into a vicious cycle. Often we listen to our inner critic if it concerns our representation to the outside world (Guertz, 2009). Enervating this negative belief is impossible and strengthens the inner critic in this way. We look for the way in which you can truly be ‘you’, your true self, by looking at your values, for example.
What can we do?
1.Know that the thought ‘I am all alone in this’ is not true
We all struggle with certain things sometimes, that is part of life. Still, it can feel pretty lonely because it is often unusual to share those parts of us with the outside world. The realization that you are not alone can help with the acceptation of your struggle, and provide you with the space to deal with it constructively.
2. No matter how cliché it sounds: talking helps
Some things we can easily fix on our own, but often it can be a relief to exchange thoughts about these matters with each other, which may also lead to new insights. Many of us, moreover, connect a feeling of shame with the things that we struggle with. That emotion is not helpful, in fact: it increases the intensity of the struggle. Shame flourishes in secrecy, but slowly dissolves when it is openly discussed (Brown, 2016).
3. Vulnerability connects
When we ask for help, we feel vulnerable. That can bring about a feeling of insecurity or shame, resulting in feeling more secure when you keep it to yourself. This vulnerability is, however, also very powerful and may give the other person space to be vulnerable as well. This creates a certain connection. Because even though everyone has another story, there are definitely certain themes that can be recognized that match. Every human being has their own theme in life.
4. Self is not alone
Doing something yourself, does not mean that you are on your own. You do not need to do it alone, but you do need to do it yourself. Others cannot live your life for you, but we cannot live without others.
Hayes, S. C., & Smith, S. (2006). Uit je hoofd, in het leven (vertaling van 'Get out of your mind and into your life') Amsterdam: Nieuwezijde
Brown, B. (2013). De kracht van kwetsbaarheid. Uitgever: A.W. Bruna Uitgevers
Guertz, J. (2009). Verslaafd aan liefde. Uitgeverij: Ambo