From Imposition to Isolation

Thinking about asking, giving, and receiving

For some, asking for help is an easy and uncomplicated task. It hasn’t been that way for me. It still isn’t at times, but I’ve gotten better. If I look back to discover why, I find cultural forces and personal thinking patterns conspiring to make even the admonition of needing help difficult, let alone asking for it. There is a lot we could unpack and sift through here, but one idea makes for a particularly destructive cycle. It is the idea that asking for help is an imposition.

Here is the thinking behind it as I’ve experienced it. First, I realize that I need help. Then a list of trusted people come to mind. These folks have all specifically invited the request for help. They’ve said things like, “If you ever need anything, let me know,” and “Happy to help with whatever you need.” They are people who I would love to have help me. Before I can write the email, or pick up the phone, my thinking turns. Most of my trusted people are busy. They are “important,” and I would be bothering them. Further, I would be bothering them with something that I’ve judged as not that important. It’s at least less important than whatever my trusted friend would be in the middle of doing. I could just as well try to figure it out myself. It might take me longer. I might forego the task entirely on account of my lack of help. Either of those outcomes are better to me than feeling like I’m imposing on a trusted friend.

NOTE: I never thought to turn the thinking around and realize that anyone who asks me for help is also “bothering me with something less important than what I’m in the middle of.”

The feeling of imposition and the mental gymnastics that accompany it lead to limiting self-initiated communication. The limited communication allows internal narratives to develop. I begin to think that I am alone in my challenges. That nobody really cares. If they did, they would check up on me, wouldn’t they? The comedy of errors in this is that the act of limiting communication can read as being self-sustaining at best, self-absorbed at worst, simply too busy for others, or too good for others. None of which are fundamentally true in most cases.

What is true is that the acts of asking, giving, and receiving are all gifts. They are opportunities to become a particular kind of person. Someone who is honest, gracious, generous, kind, open handed, and more.

The ask is an opportunity. For the person asking, they can practice being honest and clear about their own limits, needs, and desires. They can practice asking without manipulative language or pressuring whomever they are asking. For the person being asked, they, too can practice being clear about their own limits. They can practice clearly articulating what they can give, giving generously from what they have, and finding ways of empowering the receiver. They can practice graciously saying no without fear of retribution or condemnation – the outcomes being what they may. The receiver has the opportunity to be gracious in receiving. They can practice being thankful for what they are receiving, for the timing of the gift, and for the giver themselves. The receiver can practice feeling empowered to do now what they couldn’t have done without the help they’ve received. Upon witnessing the act of receiving, the giver can bear witness and celebrate that empowerment.

Of course, there can be much entanglement with giving and receiving. Manipulative language, internal thought patterns of low self-worth or self-aggrandizement, and even unexpected indebtedness can play a part. Once over the aspect of imposition as described above these other challenges may rear their ugly faces. To avoid these entanglements, I have sometimes boomeranged right back to simply not asking for help as a rule. More recently, I have begun to think of asking for help as self-initiated way find opportunities to give and receive well. To make giving and receiving into a practice, allowing me to become more and more of the kind of person I would like to become. Better to practice, and get better, than to slowly retreat into isolation on account of fear or wrong thinking.