I’ve recently been dealing with another bout of chronic back trouble. Each episode lays me flat in bed for several days. I hunker down with a good book and a few crossword puzzles, and patiently wait until things simmer down.
A dear friend of mine recently upbraided me for my approach. “You need to call us when you’re not feeling well,” she earnestly chastised. “We’re here to help you whenever you need us.”
I was touched by this woman’s concern. I know I could have called upon her or a number of wonderful folks to bring me food or fold a load of laundry. They would have been at my side in a moment’s notice.
But involving others in my problems is not my nature. I tend to be too stoical for that. I treasure my sense of internal fortitude. I don’t like to feel that I’m a burden.
At the same time, I’m eager to assist whenever someone I care about is down. I always ask what they need. I want them to know they have my unwavering support.
I even treasure when I’m included in another’s inner circle. When a friend was battling cancer several years ago, she kept a group of us posted on every step of her medical condition. Never once did I feel that her illness was a burden. I was honored that she trusted me with her personal journey.
A second friend recently called me to say that she had been in a bad motorcycle accident a few weeks before. “I just wanted to keep you in the loop,” she told me. I was honored by her simple action. Our relationship was strengthened by her call.
The problem is certainly not my friends. They do their best to foster a close relationship. The difficulty stems from my behavior. I’m the one keeping them at arm’s distance. My reluctance to reach out to them creates a barrier to intimacy. They can’t get into my personal domain unless I open the door to them.
Both sides of the equation suffer from my back-off policy.
I miss out on opportunities to be nurtured. I lose a chance to have someone stop by for a 20-minute visit. I don’t get a warm loaf of bread prepared by a concerned neighbor.
Loved ones, on the other hand, are made more vulnerable. Every time they help me, they know I’ll reciprocate when it’s their turn to ask for help. Each act of support weaves one more strand in their psychic safety nets. Not only do they enjoy lending a hand. They rest a little easier whenever they do. I’m openly depriving them of this satisfaction.
This is not to say I haven’t put out an occasional All Points Bulletin and said, “Help! I’m drowning!” In those instances, care and support has poured in from all directions. No one has ever said, “Oh, you again, you old whiner.
Don’t expect anything from me.”
Different folks assist during different crises. During the financial collapse of ’08, a particularly stressful time in our household, a longtime acquaintance stopped by nearly every day after work to check and see how we were.
When I had knee surgery four years ago, different girlfriends brought me lunch so I had company in the middle of the day.
Even those friends and family who don’t live nearby can offer their support. Telephone calls, emails and cards all say, “I love you. I’m thinking about you,” adding more warm fuzzies to the mix.
But first, we need to reach out and tell them. We must somehow communicate that we’re low. We don’t have to wait until we’re on our deathbeds. Nor should we fret about what others will think. If they’re truly our friends and loved ones, they’re always ready to help us. We just have to let them know.
Tips for keeping friends in the loop
Having trouble asking for help from others? Try these simple steps:
Discuss your reluctance with a close friend. Chances are he or she feels the same way. Promise each other you’ll call if you need any favors. That way you can hold each other accountable.
Reach out. Call someone to ask for assistance. Or, when asked how you’re doing, tell the truth. Others will appreciate your honesty and know they won’t have to keep digging for the real answer.
Spread the load. No one friend or family member can be available every time. The larger the support system, the more resources you have to draw from.
Recognize that others aren’t forced to help. They’re helping on their own volition. They’re enjoying lending you a hand. Stop worrying about their feelings. Helping you feels good to them.
Be gracious. Rather than pushing aside potential assistance, simply smile and say, “That would be great.” Grant them the joy of being helpful. Then savor their love and attention.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com