Asking for Help When Asking Is Hard


Asking for help can be difficult for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re a people pleaser. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll owe someone a debt. Maybe you’ll think admitting you need help means you are failing.

Here are some steps to help you learn how to ask others for help when you need it.

The first step in learning to ask is to introspectively analyze why you have trouble asking for help, and challenge that thought.

Recognize that when someone you love asks you for help, you don’t resent them, or make it transactional. Recognize asking for help doesn’t make you a failure, but instead makes you strong.

Practice asking for help.

Who in your life can you ask for help? Write down everyone you can think of, and start with the person you feel safest with. Maybe it’s a spouse, sibling, parent, or best friend. Once you identify that person, ask them for help today. And I mean, right now.

It doesn’t really matter what you ask them for. It can be simple or big. What is important is that you get started. As soon as you find yourself thinking “I’m stressed” or “I need a break,” use that moment to identify something you need help with – anything – and hand that over to someone else right away. Use those “I’m stressed” moments as opportunities for practicing “your ask.” It may not be comfortable at first, but with repetition, asking for help will eventually grow easier.

Learn to answer honestly when someone asks if you need help.

Don’t reflexively say “no” or “I don’t know.” It is not your job to cater a to-do list specialized to their skillset, strengths, or interests. This takes so much mental energy, and many people don’t realize they’re doing it. Why else would we have a 100 item long to-do list only to answer “Oh, nothing” when someone asks what they can do to help?

Just list the first three things you can think of. Or keep a hard copy of your to-do list in a public place. This way when someone asks what they can do, you can just refer them to the list and tell them to pick anything. Remember, they probably won’t do it the same way you do. But, especially if this is someone you love, giving them the space to make mistakes and learn mastery of that chore/assignment is a gift.

When people ask how they can help, they usually mean it. You giving them something to do will make them feel fulfilled and helpful. If they offer and don’t mean it, then that’s on them. You assigning something then teaches them not to extend empty offers, and that’s also a gift.

Set your own boundaries.

Many people-pleasers have trouble asking for help. Anytime someone else asks them for help, they say yes. No matter what the ask is or how busy they are. That leads to resentment, which can become internalized as fear.

Fear that asking someone else for help will make them resentful too. The best way to push back against this is learning to say no. No explanation is needed. But if politeness is what is stalling you, a simple, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time/energy/space for that right now” will do. This may feel awkward at first, but what’s important is that you try. It will get easier the more you do it.

As with anything in life, practicing asking for help will be the best way to improve at it. It may feel awkward or frustrating at first, but it will get better.

If you still find it daunting to get started, try speaking these affirmations regularly:

  • My loved ones genuinely want to help.
  • I am worthy of help.
  • It feels good to help those I love, and they feel good helping me.
  • I am not meant to carry it all.
  • I don’t need to prove that I need help.
  • I deserve help regardless of the circumstances.
  • Asking for help makes me strong.
  • The best way to get help is to ask.

What is one thing you can ask for help with right now?

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Dani Campbell
Hi, I’m Dani! I’m an engineer turned clinical research scientist. My husband and I met through our mutual love of all things nerdy. We married in 2017 and recently started growing our family. Our first child was born three days into the start of the new decade. Just as we were ready to start bringing her out into the world, the pandemic hit. Finding communities online has been the perfect way for me to feel less alone in new motherhood and the wonderful, emotional, exhausting, and sometimes terrifying experiences that come with it. Columbia Mom =was one of these communities. In April 2021, I joined as a contributor. I will use my background in engineering and science to provide unique activities that I hope you and your children will love. I believe in honestly sharing the “good, bad, funny, frustrating, beautiful, and messy” parts of our new parenthood journey, so in this little corner of the internet, you might relate to something and feel connected and empowered.


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