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"I Hate Asking for Help"


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Cynthia Hanson
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
It's the four-letter word no woman likes to utter. How to ask for what you need.


It wasn’t until Kathleen Hornstein realized that she couldn’t move her legs that she finally broke down and asked for help. A 34-year-old Pilates instructor and mom of two, Hornstein was pregnant with twins, and despite being overextended and overtired, she had barely slowed down and prided herself on being able to handle anything that came her way. Then, during her second trimester, as she sat on the basement steps one day talking to her husband and her brother while they hung drywall, she suddenly discovered that she couldn’t stand up. “It felt like my hip and thigh had dislocated,” recalls the West Chicago, IL, mom, now 39. “I was shocked — and scared! — and glad people I could count on were there.” Minutes later, Hornstein was able to support herself again, but the brief experience of dependence was a wake-up call for her: “My body — and my life — were undergoing rapid changes. I realized I’d need to reconsider my attitude about asking for help if I wanted things to run smoothly — especially after we became a family of six.”

Hornstein’s reluctance to reach out is all too common in our culture, where self-reliance is a revered, ingrained habit, says life coach M. Nora Klaver, author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need. “Being on the receiving end of a helping hand seems harder for women because we’re raised to be caregivers,” she says. “Asking for care ourselves feels like a personal failure.” In a recent survey of 100 former clients, Klaver found that seven out of 10 had wanted help at least once during the previous week but hadn’t been able to bring themselves to make the request.

Like Klaver’s clients, most of us deal with our daily burdens and serious crises on our own, often winding up isolated and overwhelmed. The alternative would be to admit to ourselves — and others — that we’re not perfect. But we’d rather keep up the appearance of being in control, says psychologist Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., author of Outsmart Your Brain. “Our resistance is about maintaining our own self-concept,” she explains. “It may often take a life-changing event like pregnancy or a medical emergency to teach us that even the most competent women can use a little help sometimes.”

But why wait for a crisis? We’ve culled the top five excuses women make to justify their reluctance to ask for aid — and the experts’ analysis of what’s really going on behind these bogus rationales. Read on, then grasp a helping hand.

Excuse #1 “I Don’t Want to Look Weak”

On his first day of kindergarten, Joy Stewart’s son brought home a raft of paperwork, but only one document gave her pause: the emergency-contact form, on which she had to name someone who could pick Joshua up at school if she or her husband couldn’t be reached. “My family and friends aren’t available during school hours, so I didn’t have many options,” says Stewart, 41, a real estate agent and mom of two in North Wales, PA. “I wanted to ask my neighbor Nancy but we weren’t close — we just smiled and waved across the cul-de-sac. I figured she’d see me as pathetic and think, Why is Joy asking me? Doesn’t she have any friends?”

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