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  • Writer's pictureBen Slater

Why is asking for help so damn hard?

“Can you help me?”

The actual action of communicating these four words is simple.

We open our mouths and the words come out.

We move our hands and sign the four words.

We move our thumbs and message the four words.

It’s not about the action of saying the words.

It’s about the reception of the words that are said.

Let me give you a chilling example from my childhood.

I say chilling because I still physically shudder when I think about this.

When I was 10 I got a present.

Part long, brightly-patterned sock, part moccasin, they were called “slipper socks”. I loved them and was inseparable from them around the house. They were the perfect combination of footwear in my opinion. A work of genius.

I had an exciting event coming up. My friend’s older brother was becoming a teenager and I was invited to keep my friend company.

A teenager’s party. Surely the pinnacle of my social life so far.

I put on my best clothes. (Black denim on blue denim. I thank you.)

I “did something” with my hair for the first time in my ten year lifespan. (Nobody noticed but me.)

I arrived.

And because I was a well brought up child, I took off my outdoor shoes and put on… that’s right, my slipper socks.

And to make sure everybody could fully appreciate my slipper socks, I tucked my jeans into them.

My friend looked surprised, then a little dubious, like I had worn meat trunks for a swim in a shark tank.

We went into the living room.

What followed was carnage.

A combination of every western where the saloon comes to a silent halt as the stranger enters and every american coming-of-age movie where someone gets socially ripped to shreds for being different.

I pushed myself past the crowd of teenagers who were jeering and trying to stamp on my feet.

I was crying which seemed to make them bay for my blood even louder.

I walked home, my outdoor shoes in my hand, wondering what was so wrong about slipper socks.

And why no one had told me.

Slipper socks aren’t good or bad.

But the reception was extremely negative.

Asking for help is good.

But we worry that the reception will be negative.

Part of that worry is stigma.

Stigma is an undeserved negative perception of something and stigma can seep into our society, our systems, our relationships, our language and even ourselves.

For example, when stigma seeps into ourselves we call it self stigma and the three messages of self stigma are:

I’m bad

I’m weird

It’s all my fault.

This is more than just being down on oneself or being really negative because in the area of mental health it can have two really serious effects.

One is that it can stop us asking for help because we believe that we’re bad, we are weird and it’s all our fault and the second effect is that we can decide that we are undeserving of getting better. We don’t deserve to get better because we’re bad we’re weird and it’s all our fault.

So in effect stigma creates a powerful negative meaning which becomes a barrier to recovery

Imagine if we had the same amount of stigma around a physical illness

Let’s say I broke my leg .

You would think it was ridiculous if I didn’t go for help because I didn’t want people to think that I had something against using the stairs, but that’s the parallel, a strong preventive feeling that stops us getting help.

So how do we help somebody who is feeling stigma?

We can listen with our face as well as with our ears to show that we are not disgusted or terrified by whatever they’ve got to tell us.

A person who says that difficult thing out loud for the first time, and who sees acceptance and validation in the face of the other person knows that they’ve said it in a safe place, and to a safe person.

What if you’re the person doing the asking?

Check out this microguide on asking for help.

Want to get better at this?

Check out training opportunities here.

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