I love helping people. It makes me feel purposeful and fulfilled. Every time I’ve taken an Enneagram test, I’m a 2. “The Helper.” I want to bring meals to you after you come home from a hospital stay. Volunteer to watch your kids while you’re at an appointment. Do your dishes after you invite me over for dinner. And I’m not offering because I’m some selfless saint of a human being. I’m a doer, and helpfulness is the vessel that’s most familiar to me when it comes to getting things done. It makes me feel useful when I might not be able to do anything otherwise. So, when you take me up on my offer to help, I feel complete.
Of course, I fall short here, too. I feel frequent frustration at missed opportunities when I could have been helpful but didn’t think to offer. Or when my helpfulness kicks into overdrive and attempts to be the universal problem solver instead of a compassionate listening ear. But, overall, my willingness and availability to help others makes me feel like I’m adding a little good to the world, and that makes me happy.
So, if I know how it makes me feel to help others, why is it so hard to accept help from them in return??
Hitting One of Life’s Lows
After my daughter, Lennon, was born, she cried. Not just a little bit. Like, ALL. THE. TIME. She was miserable and nothing we knew to do as second-time parents could calm her down. The doctor told us she had colic, that it would subside over time, to give it 4-6 months. My last clear memory of that time period was turning to my husband while trying to quell the rising panic inside of me, saying to him, “4 to 6 MONTHS?? I can’t survive 4 to 6 more days of this.”
And so ensued a blurred number of weeks when we desperately jumped from pediatric dentist to gastrointestinal specialist to chiropractor and the like, searching for anything to help us soothe our baby and preserve our sanity.
Cue the Helpers
And God bless the helpers. They were plentiful. Friends who brought dinner over, one in particular for a week straight. My mother-in-law, who spent the night at our house just so that she could take the 3am rocking chair shift to allow me a few hours of sleep. The friends who came over for play dates to occupy my older son. Who swayed with the baby in their arms long enough for me to shovel down a sandwich. My sister, who put her arms around me and let me cry when I didn’t think I could stand listening to a screaming baby for one more second.
They were there when I didn’t ask them to be. I’m not even sure I’ve thanked them properly for being my legs to stand on when I couldn’t hold myself up on my own. But, as we have constant proof, life moves on. A prescription for Zantac, plus forfeiting dairy from my diet and regular appointments with a pediatric chiropractor seemed to be the magic combination to lessen Lennon’s discomfort enough to get us all back on track. And so, we resumed our new groove. The necessity of being surrounded by helpers, though forever appreciated, began to fade as brighter days came back into focus.
So, Why Can’t I Just Ask for Help?
Despite being helped by so many, I still shy away from asking for help. Not because it makes me feel weak or exposed, but because I am acutely afraid of inconveniencing other people. I like to be the one who helps, not the one who imposes. And if I accept help from someone, it is in my nature to then feel as though I owe them something in return. Why is this? I certainly don’t expect anything back when I am the one extending the help. Nor do I really think my friends feel that way when they offer to help me.
The Power of Community
I think we have found ourselves in an era of self-sufficiency, where there seems to be an undercurrent of embarrassment found in asking for help. Someone told me recently of how, before the age of the washing machine, female laundresses in turn-of-the-twentieth-century European villages would come together in washhouses to wash clothes. They would gather in community, talking and laughing while they worked. I have to imagine this shared way of life encouraged a reliance upon one another. A reminder that we’re here to look out for each other. Offering and accepting help should be a natural and easy two-way street; one where we travel both sides of the road without fear of failure. Or the feeling that we have to go it alone.
I need to remember this during the moments when I want to ask for help but my fear tells me that I shouldn’t. I need to honor the fact that my friends and family are in it for my success. That maybe, helping me when I need it gives them a sense of fulfillment and joy, as well. I rob them of this opportunity when I put on the front that I don’t need help; that I can do it all myself. And I’m also robbing myself of experiencing their love for me in this way.
Accepting the Help, Accepting Ourselves
So, to sum it all up, in the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help ME help YOU.”
If we feel a sense of purpose in helping each other, then we should accept help when it is given without condition or restraint. Suppress the urge to say “I owe you.”
Heck yeah, bring me that latte with extra shots of espresso after I’ve been up all night alternating between Motrin and Tylenol to bring down the toddler’s fever. THANK YOU.
Sure! I would love it if you could pick my child up from school because I am running late for no apparent reason. I LOVE YOU.
And it’s ok to ASK for help, too. Your friends and family will probably jump for joy at the chance to come to your rescue. Because “acts of service” is a love language, and helping each other out is a way of showing we care. Maybe we’re not as far away from that laundry circle as we think we are.
We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.BRENE BROWN