“Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.”
(from poem “Sometimes” by U.S. Senator Cory Booker, then Mayor of Newark)
Family caregivers are some of the most capable, hardworking and dedicated people I’ve ever met. They come through for their loved ones, “come hell or high water,” and sacrifice their own self-care without hesitation when there’s something that needs to be done for someone else.
One of the hardest things for caregivers to do, however, is admit that they might need or want help. All too often caregivers see asking for help is a sign of weakness or, even worse, failure. So they may not love every minute of being constantly ”on call,” but nevertheless they show up and keep on giving. That’s the only kind of self-reliance they know.
The problem is that when you never ask for help or delegate responsibilities that others could take on, everyone gets used to you doing everything! Even if they meant to pitch in when your parents started needing more care, they have actually stopped having thoughts about what they could do to help, because you have trained them not to focus on it any more! And you end up exhausted and depleted.
At the early stages of providing care, there may even be a number of people offering to help, but you don’t take them up on those offers because it doesn’t feel necessary at that point. Then as the caregiving becomes chronic and more complex, people are no longer offering assistance because they’re used to being told, “No it’s okay, I’ll handle it.” And they’ve never heard you say anything different, so they don’t know you’re struggling.
So now it’s up to you TO ASK…and we breathe…!
I know you feel discomfort at actually having to reach out and ask (been there, done that). It will help to identify just why and when that discomfort kicks in.
Do you believe it’s really true that asking for help is a sign of failure or weakness? If so, let’s test that assumption. Think about how much people actually do like to be helpful in so many other situations – giving directions, picking up something you’ve dropped, holding a door for you…. After all, helping someone feels good. A helper feels virtuous, important, and special – all good feelings.
When people don’t help, realize that they don’t always know what you need. Hence having to be asked. And remember this truth: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no!”
If you’re a woman, also be aware of some historic precedents, such as women, when they were the ONLY caregivers back in the days of strict gender roles, never being taught that they can ask for help – because who would they have asked? “I should just know what my dad needs, and find a way to provide it.” Many women tell me that asking is far too uncomfortable, “…because it would feel like I’m inconveniencing someone or bothering them.” If someone offers, then it’s somewhat easier to handle.
A belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure is one you can change, and deciding it’s time to do that one thing offers you the possibility of literally changing your quality of life.
These 6 Steps Toward Radical Self-Relience reflect Mayor Booker’s astute observation that “Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.”
- Be open to the possibility that not everything has to be done by you. This may be a new concept for you! So take your time allowing this new possibility to settle into your system. I understand that learning to ask for help when you’ve spent your life being taught to be independent and self-reliant is a huge challenge.
- Acknowledge with honesty and without judgment that you have just way too much on your plate, and that you really do wish someone would be kind and helpful and just step in and help.
- And we breathe…. This breath will keep you from automatically dismissing a new idea in favor of old beliefs and habits. It gives you a moment to pause…and breathe through your discomfort about something new. Yes, you will feel discomfort. But remind yourself that you are already feeling discomfort by doing everything yourself! So what’ll it be – the familiar discomfort of doing it all? Or a new discomfort of seeking help and support? And we breathe….
- What is Your Desired Outcome? Is your desire for greater ease in your life stronger than your fear of asking for help? How will you feel if you allow help into your life? How will you feel if you get a break? How will you feel if you actually give people a chance to say yes? Can you even imagine how you’d feel if you let go of chores, errands or activities that then won’t have to be done by you?
- Start small. You don’t have to be an expert at doing this on day one! Since asking for help at all is already a huge challenge, start with small things like asking your friend, neighbor or sibling to pick up a few extra things when they go to the grocery store. They’re going to be there anyway, so it’s quick and convenient – clearly not an imposition! Next ask if your mom’s friendly neighbor could stop by for a brief visit so you can run to the store (and ask her if she needs anything while you’re there!). Then ask your sibling to pick up mom’s prescription from the pharmacy. Or if your siblings live far away, ask if they can make an extra phone call to visit with mom on the phone while you take a break. (And when you’re really good at this asking skill, you won’t even feel the need to tell them what you’re going to use the break for…go ahead, read a magazine!)
- Practice going over all your have options in your mind. IF you could allow yourself the luxury of asking for help, what would you want help with first? Just allow yourself a few moments to think about what requests you’d like to make IF you allowed it. Write them down. No judgments. And no dismissing of what you want. Many things we do and take on as caregivers can be delegated to others…but only IF we allow it.
Making real change in your life is up to you. And delegating responsibilities and chores, takes Practice, Patience, Perseverance, and Courage. But remember, there is help out there!
To support you in discovering your Desired Outcomes, and guide you in mapping out your options, strategies and next steps, download your Caregivers’ Step By Step Guide. It’s invaluable tool on your journey toward taking as good care of yourself as you do of others in your life.
Take heart, and know that you are worth caring for, and remember that it really is true: asking for help and delegating tasks is a sign of strength, independence, and profound self-reliance!
And we breathe.