5 Reasons People Don't Ask For Help

Why is it that some people can easily ask for support when others struggle acknowledging the need for others? There may be countless underlying factors that contribute to this trait, and some may be the following:

Shame: It's a primal emotion, and some of us may be shamed into not asking for help. This image can be familiar: the teacher asks a question and all hands are raised except for one. Is there something he/she should know but doesn't? Not knowing answers may lead to feelings of inferiority or increased self consciousness. Admitting that one doesn't know the answer may start an endless cycle of shame, and reinforce not asking for help. 

  • Victim-Blaming can instill great amounts of shame to survivors of rape or interpersonal violence (IPV). Instead of receiving emotional support to heal, our culture may blame victims which can retraumatize a person's already fragile psyche. Avoiding shame or blame can be a reason not to seek help.

Cultural attributions of emotional expression: Some cultures may disapprove of certain intense emotions. In collectivist cultures that have been shaped deeply by Confucianism, maintaining emotional balance with social norms is preferred. Sometimes when generations of stoicism are passed on, there may be accumulated unresolved griefs or unspoken ghosts haunting the current generation of a family system (Bowen, 1988). When major deaths or losses occur, the accumulated containment of emotion may manifest itself as a cutoff from the grief process (i.e. hoarding, throwing out belongings of the deceased, adopting ruminating behaviors, isolating oneself). The culture of the family may simply be to separate oneself from intense emotions because it can disrupt the daily functioning of the system. There can be a purpose for individuals to stay strong; one sacrifices emotionally for the benefit of the family. 

  • For children of immigrant families, finding a balance with appropriate emotional expression can be a struggle, especially if defined roles have been prescribed to maintain harmony within the family system (Sue & Sue, 2008). It may be draining having to adopt multiple identities in order to fulfill one's role in differing social contexts (code switching).  

Gender roles: There has been a slight shift in gender roles in our culture. Some articles and viral images have celebrated androgyny and a more balanced emotional life for men and women. Men are enjoying more freedoms as stay-at-home dads and contributing to the daily maintenance of a household. Many gender roles are blurring, however, there are still strong assumptions that men or boys do not cry. How does this assumption impact one's life? I am not a man, and can only wonder what limits on emotional expression an individual must impose on certain events in life. As a preschool teacher, I observed many boys wanting to play in the pretend area, but hesitated because they thought it was only for girls. 

Our boys are taught early not to cry, and to stay strong (whatever that means). The alternative, expressing emotions, may be deemed less than a man. Boys and men may be called effeminate, forcing many to maintain a more limited definition of emotional expression to be a man. Asking for emotional support probably isn't under a list of things men are allowed to do. It reminds me of the stereotype of men and women drivers asking for directions when they're lost. Women and girls may be socialized to seek more interpersonal support. 

Previous attempts: Not asking for help can also be a learned behavior (Seligman, 1975). Perhaps early in life, an individual did ask for help on countless occasions. Maybe all these attempts to seek help were met with silence. Not receiving help can prime and shape the brain into seeing the world as an unsafe place. Adults who were abused or neglected as children may have a difficult time opening up to others. They have spent years alone suffering, perhaps being hurt by the ones who were supposed to love them the most. Having this trauma shapes a person to view the world in constant fight-flight-or-freeze mode (Perry & Szalavitz, 2006). 

Resources: Some people are not exposed to alternative options. When working with parents in lower SES areas, many respond with, "I didn't know I could get help." This world view is very complicated, and may be shaped by institutional and legislative barriers to access. Information to resources can be unattainable to those who need it most. This can be ameliorated through changes in social policy, however, is a long process. Budgets & funding for educational and prevention programs are limited to agencies' abilities to reach enough participants within fiscal calendar deadlines. 

So, how does one ask for help when it hasn't been done before?

Reflection on one's family system or early experiences may lead to some insight about where the history of asking for help comes from. If there is complicated grief, trauma, or many losses to process, seeking support from a professional healer may benefit this journey. Some individuals may not need professional assistance, and some may need only a few sessions to find clarity and direction. Others may need a longer-term service to establish safety and goals. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Allowing others in can help strengthen interpersonal connections and emotional healing. 

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Additional Resources:

References:

Bowen, M. (1988).Family therapy in clinical practice. New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. (2006). The boy who was raised as a dog. New York: Basic Books. Seligman, M. E. (1975).

Helplessness. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Company.

Sue, D.W. & Sue, D. (2008).Counseling the culturally diverse: theory and practice. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.