by Roberta Horton, LCSW, ACSW
Analyze personal barriers. Common obstacles to asking for the help you need were outlined earlier. You may find yourself getting stuck because of one or more of these barriers. Consider which ones apply to you, and then spend some time assessing what overcoming them might cost you and how much you’re willing to risk in return for the hoped-for gains.
Some barriers may be simple to overcome, with a low cost to you; others may be more complicated. Sharing the fact that you have arthritis with your immediate supervisor at work, for example, in order to ask for the kinds of reasonable accommodations that are legally protected, may make you concerned about whether you could be jeopardizing your career advancement in subtle ways. Asking your spouse or teenage children to help out more may threaten your “super-mom” status. It’s not always easy, but until you’ve decided how much you’re willing to risk in situations like these, you won’t know where to concentrate your efforts when it comes to asking for help.
Use “asking” skills. Sometimes it’s just hard to find the right words to ask others for help in any circumstance, even when you’re determined to move forward. You might wait for so long to ask that, out of frustration, your words come across more as an angry demand than as a request. These tips will help you ask for help in an effective way:
For example, you might say to your doctor, “It would help me consider taking the medicine you’re suggesting if I understood more about its side effects, which scare me. Can you give me more detail on this?” Or you could say to your spouse, “I’d have more energy to go to the movies later if I could get some extra help preparing dinner. Would you be able to take care of setting the table and baking the fish? I can handle the rest.” Or, “I really could use some help leaning on your shoulder tonight. I know that you can’t take the pain away, but it sure would help to have you listen.”
Line up your allies. Consider confiding in someone you trust about your plan to ask for help. In many situations, it can clarify the situation for you to hear yourself describing it out loud. The person you confide in can also provide an additional perspective on your concerns.
If you find that you are still stuck when it comes to asking for the help you need, consider seeking professional assistance through a licensed psychotherapist — usually a social worker, psychologist, or mental health counselor. You may find it particularly stressful for a variety of reasons to assert your needs, and a professional partner in this process can make a difference. Referrals through your physician or through professional associations can help make the right match.
Asking for help can seem daunting for many reasons, both practical and emotional. The fact of the matter is, however, that there are very few of us, with or without arthritis, who have never had to reach out to others. On a daily basis, and in ways often taken for granted, we rely upon each other. Having to ask someone for help is an opportunity for you to acknowledge this fact. Not only does it help you get the help you need, but it can also lead to deeper relationships and a stronger sense of appreciation for others. You may be surprised to learn that asking for help will benefit not just you, but also those who assist you.
Last Reviewed on December 14, 2011
Roberta Horton is Director, Social Work Programs and Staff Development, in the Division of Patient Care & Quality Management at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
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