“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to stand on my own two feet. I’m proud of that fact. No matter how great the challenge, I’ve always found myself able to overcome it. Whether it be sitting an exam, running a marathon, or finding the solution to a tricky situation at work, I’ve always felt confident enough in my own abilities that I’ll come out on top. I suppose that’s what makes it so scary right now… I don’t feel confident, I don’t feel good about myself… What will other people think about me if I have to ask for help?”
In Western cultures, individualism is seen as a positive quality. From Odysseus to Jason Bourne, the heroic ideal of arts and literature is the strong independent spirit single-handedly battling against overwhelming odds. From an early age we are peddled the myth that being able to do things on our own is somehow more of an achievement than working as part of a team.
Unfortunately, as much as it would be great if we were able to do absolutely everything on our own, it’s just not possible. Humans are social creatures; we thrive in relationships with others and the great achievements of human history - civilisation, science, the arts, technology - would simply not be possible without collaboration, people putting their heads together and working in unison to solve a problem.
Asking for help can be a real challenge for some people. As with the person speaking at the start of this article, we often spend so much time focusing on shaping our own sense of a capable, independent self that asking for help suddenly seems like an admission of defeat and becomes an insurmountable obstacle. We convince ourselves that others will view us as weak and that they will judge us for asking for assistance. In assuming that others will behave this way towards us, we disempower ourselves still further. We tell ourselves that when we ask others for their help, they will judge us and, worse yet, reject our request. Taking a step back from this fearful thought, it is possible to see how this is a fairly unlikely outcome of asking for help. Being a social species, we humans like to help one another. We are naturally altruistic and being able to help another person makes us feel good.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. The ability for someone to look realistically at themselves and come to the conclusion that they are in need of some support should be seen as a strength. As I write, I am reminded of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” who, after losing all of his limbs in combat, boldly (and deludedly) states “Tis but a scratch!” Asking for help does not mean we are weak - it means that we are strong enough to identify our own vulnerabilities and brave enough to share these vulnerabilities with another. Seeking out the help of a counsellor or therapist should not be seen as weakness, it is a sign that the individual is willing to face up to a challenge with courage and honesty.
Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
01851 871094 / 07815 662208