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How to Ask for Help

Asking for help seems simple enough, but if you’ve ever needed a hand, you know how hard it can be. Clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains why it’s so challenging and shows you how it’s done


Scientific American presents Savvy Psychologist by Quick & Dirty Tips. Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.

Asking for help can turn the most self-assured, square-shouldered among us into a nail-biting mess.  We may cast about vague wishes to no one in particular, blame others for our woes, or procrastinate until our problem has become an emergency.  You’d think asking for help would be preferable to all this misery, but taking action is tough for almost everyone.

Here are 5 common reasons why we stay silent, along with strategies for how to get the help you need without swallowing your pride:

Reason #1: Fear of being a burden.  
We worry that asking for help takes something away from our helper.  We assume our helper will view the task as an unwanted load.  Suspect this fear if you say to yourself, “She has better things to do,” or “He has so much on his plate already.”

Remind yourself of this: 
First, people love helping.  Not only does helping strengthen social ties, it makes helpers feel good about themselves.  The most primitive part of the brain—the same reward pathway activated by food and sex—lights up in response to altruistic giving.  Graciously allow your helper to give you a gift of help (a gift you could really use); she or he will likely be delighted for the chance. And, if your helper is truly too busy or overburdened, trust him or her—just as graciously—to tell you so. 

Second, think how you’d feel if the tables were turned.  If a friend were in your shoes and asked you for help, how would you feel? Most likely, you’d feel flattered and happy to pitch in.  Trust that others will probably feel the same way.
 


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