I recently spoke with a woman who was going through a tough time. Her relationship was crumbling. One of her children was struggling in school. She needed a medical procedure that she couldn’t afford.
Friends and family readily offered to help, but each time she refused. “I’m OK,” she’d tell those closest to her. Still, her weak smile fooled no one. And she continued to struggle alone.
This woman isn’t unique. We all experience crises that overload our emotional circuits. Yet many of us shy away from the very assistance that could offer much-needed relief.
Our reasons are varied. We may feel weak if we accept the help of others. We worry that we’ll be perceived as failures for not managing our own lives, no matter how devastating the circumstances.
We may be fiercely independent and pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t need help from anyone. Or we feel guilty that we’re imposing on others’ time and resources.
The truth is we are social creatures. We are too weak to exist in isolation. Communal living is essential to the survival of our species.
Over the course of history, folks have helped each other build barns and can peaches. They’ve assisted women in childbirth. They’ve sat together as loved ones were dying, then gathered again to perform the burial.
Offering assistance is as valuable to the helper as to the recipient of the care. The act of helping increases oxytocin, which improves the giver’s mood and strengthens social bonds. It enables people to feel a sense of control, even in the face of horrific events.
Most importantly, giving makes helpers feel secure. They know that the next crisis might be theirs. They have assurance that, when their time comes, they’ll be surrounded by caring friends, family and neighbors who will assist in any way they can.
Of course, we’ve all known professional leeches who took without ever giving back. But most of us are the polar opposite. We’ll never be accused of being lazy or uncaring.
So the next time you need a little assistance, graciously accept each hand extended your way. You’ll benefit from their acts of kindness. You’ll be performing a service, too.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to accept help from others
- Assign a spokesperson. If your needs are extensive, designate someone to field calls, relay information and organize care so you’re free to tend to other issues.
- Be specific about the tasks you need done. Write out a list including items such as “take out the trash,” “walk the dog” or “pick up Josh from preschool.” Then assign chores to those most able to complete them.
- Accept all offers. When people say, “I’d like to help,” say “Thanks. If you’re serious I can gladly put you to work.”
- Don’t second-guess yourself. Accept the fact that you need help. Find the right person to assist you.
- Avoid micromanaging. Let friends and family take care of things as they see fit. You have plenty on your plate right now.