We all need a favor from time to time. Your car breaks down or you need a last minute babysitter. Maybe you need an occasional ride to the airport or someone to bring a casserole when you’re sick.
When my kids were small, I was in need of extra favors. I didn’t have any family nearby to help. So, with two working parents and three kids, we occasionally needed to ask a friend or neighbor for a helping hand. This would have been fine except I hate asking for favors. And I’ve come to realize that I’m not alone in this feeling.
It seems that most of us are terrible at asking for help. We feel there’s something wrong with needing help. As if it’s a poor reflection on us – we’re weak or needy or lazy. We’ve idealized independence and doing it all on our own. Having any type of need leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed.
Our negative feelings about asking for help or favors stems from the way we’re thinking about needing help.
Why we hate asking for favors:
Sometimes our pride gets in the way.
According to Sarah Leitschuh, a Marriage and Family Therapist in Minnesota, “We think that we should be able to handle the task ourselves and do it all. We’ve been taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
We imagine it’s an imposition.
We have a sense that we’re burdening people with our favors. Unless you’re asking the same person for favors every week, this is unlikely. Remember, people can and will say “no” when they can’t help you. I have a friend with children that go to school with my kids. I’ve asked her to pick up my kids from school when I couldn’t, but if it’s not convenient for her, she’ll say “no”. I respect and appreciate that she’s got great boundaries because I know when she says “yes” it’s not an imposition.
It makes us feel vulnerable.
“It can also be hard to ask someone for a favor if you have a history of experiences in childhood where your needs weren’t met, so you learned to be completely self-reliant,” explains Laura Reagan, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma. “For those of us with this history, asking for favors feels extremely vulnerable, or even emotionally unsafe.”
We worry about what people think of us.
We think we’ll be judged as needy or weak. In turn, we feel like a burden and guilty, as if we’ve done something wrong.
We don’t want to be indebted.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to asking a favor is that we’ll owe something in return. It is definitely nice to offer to repay a favor. Friendships work best when there’s a give and take, not when one person is doing all the taking. That being said, favors should be given freely and without the expectation of repayment. A favor should never be held over your head or used to manipulate you.
We don’t have to see asking for a favor in such a negative light. We have the choice to see the positives in asking for help.
How to see things differently:
People like to help.
Most people actually like to help as long as they are appreciated (not used and abused). If you’re doubtful, think about yourself. You probably get a sense of satisfaction from being able to help a friend. “Others often report improved mood when they are able to help someone out,” says Leitschuh. When you ask for a favor, you are giving someone the opportunity to help you. I stress the word opportunity because many people are actually happy to pitch in and are glad to be asked.
Check your assumptions.
So many of our negative feelings are the result of faulty assumptions. “You may be telling yourself that the person will consider your request burdensome. Ask yourself honestly if you’d consider the same request to be burdensome if a friend asked you to do them the same favor, ” suggests Reagan.
Helping and being helped are equally valuable.
In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brene Brown writes: “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” We are social beings, living in connection with each other. We all need and deserve to help and be helped. Brown emphasizes that self-worth is not based on whether you’re helping or being helped. There isn’t weakness in being helped, nor is there superiority in being the helper.
Accepting help allows us to “…share our burden, feel less alone, get more done, have a sense of community, and accomplish our goals,” says Stacey Steinmiller, therapist and owner of Authentic Self Counseling.
Asking a favor can strengthen your relationship.
When you ask a favor it demonstrates trust and a certain level of closeness. But it goes even further than this. According to Reagan, asking for and accepting help can strengthen your relationship. The simple act of asking a favor can actually take a friendship to a deeper level of connection.
I hope you see that it is perfectly OK to ask for help. There are even benefits to both parties when you ask for a favor!
How to ask for a favor:
Respect a “no”.
If someone can’t help you out, accept it and move on. Don’t guilt them, bully them, or otherwise make them feel badly about it.
Set clear expectations.
Offer to return the favor, if you can. Often it’s not necessary to help in return, but it’s a sign of goodwill to offer. And if you can’t return the favor, it’s best to say so up front. Clear communication avoids those troublesome assumptions.
Make doing the favor as easy as possible.
If your cousin is watching your son for you while you go to a doctor appointment, send plenty of snacks and activities for your son to do. In other words, make caring for your son as easy as possible.
Gratitude matters. Say thank you.
Don’t criticize the favor! Perhaps your cousin lets your son watch TV for the entire 3 hours you were gone, which is not how you parent. When you ask for a favor, you are accepting that things may be done differently than you’d like. Unless it’s a safety issue, keep your criticism to yourself. You asked a favor. You didn’t hire a nanny.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have trouble asking for a favor? How do you feel about being asked to do a favor? Let me know in the comments.
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