I am the classic guy who struggles with asking for help. Thank goodness for GPS maps! Seriously though, as I age I have gotten better. These days I readily admit I need help from time to time.
What Causes the Stigma
Even though we joke about men refusing to ask for directions, a stigma really is attached to asking for help. I can think of a few reasons why it exists:
- Shame. In the work I do with lower income families, it is very common for a person to ask if we can do work on their property without the neighbors knowing. Their question is laden with shame.
- Failure. As a foster care and adoptive parent, I have seen many foster families struggle to the point of burn out. Why? They don’t have an adequate support system around them. Maybe they think that if they ask for help it communicates failure to fulfill their commitment to foster.
- Self-sufficiency. I’m not sure if this is cultural or not, but we Americans are taught that “if it’s going to get done, it’s up to me”. Really, I don’t think it was quite like that a few generations ago. Think about the whole idea of a barn raising. Communities used to work together to get things done.
- Sense of uniqueness. One of the subtle lies we believe. If we have a need, struggle, or challenge, we think we are the only ones dealing with it.
- Pride. Closely related to self-sufficiency, but even a deeper issue. Pride tends to not only not ask for help, but it also works to cover up any thing that resembles a need.
No regard for race, creed, or income
I find the negative stigma attached to asking for help affects any person or family regardless of their economic status, age, race, etc. How often do we hear the reply, “No I am good.” when a person is asked if they need some help?
The stigma associated to asking for help whispers the lie that if we ask for help people will look down on us. They will think we are a drag on society; a disappointment; a failure. We couldn’t do “it” on our own, so we had to ask for help.
The “it” can include our parenting, our marriage, our ability to have enough to make ends meet, and so on.
Life is hard!
The fact is…life is hard. Life doesn’t discriminate. Doing family is hard. Earning a living is hard. Dealing with disappointment is hard. Struggling with failing health is hard.
Yet we act as if no one will understand our struggle.
Can We Remove the Stigma?
The things listed above paralyze us when we need help. Often, even if we want help, the stigma attached to it makes nearly impossible to do the asking.
Then when we see signs that a person or family is struggling, we often take the approach of, “I don’t want to intrude” or “I don’t want to get involved in someone’s else’s problem”.
We see a young mom obviously overwhelmed not paying adequate attention to her children, maybe even leaving them alone for a moment to get something done.
Or, a neighbor’s yard goes unkept for several weeks possibly not because of laziness, but a family issue.
The young woman and neighbor might not even think to ask for help because of the engrained stigma.
Sadly what do we often do?
We call the child protective services to check into the observed neglect by the young mother.
We call the home owner’s association or city to report the neighbor with the knee-high grass who is driving down my property value.
What if instead we simply offered help?
“I can watch your kids for a few minutes while you run into the store”. “I noticed your grass getting tall. I don’t mind mowing your yard when I mow mine if that will help”.
I know, that means risking someone telling us to stay out of their business or getting right into the messiness of it.
But, if we are ever going to remove the stigma of asking for help, we need to get better at offering help.
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