All my life, my actions were guided by one principle: ‘all of us are essentially alone’. When really important things are at stake (for example, life), nobody will prioritise my interests over their own. I tend to rely only on myself, and by doing so I feel powerful. Unfortunately, it also makes me feel isolated.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that I should deal with things by myself. When I was eight years old, I broke both my upper and lower left arm in a fall. For some reason, I told the doctor it didn’t hurt all that much, and I was diagnosed with ‘just a bruise’. The doctor sent me off with a sling and instructions not to wear it for more than a few days. Four days later, while getting ready for school, I tried really hard to keep my arm straight as my mum took away the sling. I failed, of course, but managed to hide it and go to school like normal. It never occurred to me to tell my mum I was in pain, or to ask if I could have my sling back. I wasn’t afraid of her reaction; the thought simply never crossed my mind. I vividly remember thinking: I’ll be fine, it’s only pain. Looking back, I realise that that’s a rather unusual thought for an eight-year-old.
Later, when I was being sexually abused, telling my parents never crossed my mind either. By that time, my ‘I will fix this’-schemes were firmly rooted in my brain. Had there been no major life-events that needed fixing, I might have never known about these schemes. But sexual abuse happened, and I was faced with something I could not fix. I tried my entire repertoire, from excessive sports to not-speaking to self-harm to not-eating, until I eventually ended up in the hospital, in urgent need of help.
Asking for help was something I had to learn as an adult. There, in the hospital, I started from scratch. I had to ask people to bring me water, make me a meal plan, and eventually to help me cope with my traumatic past. Asking for help is not an easy skill to master. It takes courage, patience, confidence and perseverance. But if I can do it, so can you! Here, I’ll share some tips and thoughts with you that helped me along the way. I hope you find them helpful!
1. Create your own playground
Confidence is essential, so make sure to give yourself an easy start with guaranteed success. It’s totally OK to create an artificial situation in which you can do simple experiments, practice, and be in control. For example, go to the supermarket with your best friend and ask an employee to help you find the raspberries. It doesn’t matter that you know exactly where to find them; your one and only goal is to ask for help. Don’t forget to celebrate your victory with raspberry cake afterwards!
2. Take one small step at the time
Give yourself time to make progress. Seeing a therapist for the first time is stressful enough in itself; no need to make it more difficult by trying to share everything right away. Your therapist will not expect that, either. Think about it: is it really normal to share your most difficult memories or fears with someone you’ve never seen before? I don’t think so. You’ll first spend some time getting to know each other, perhaps chatting about your favourite books or animals. Little by little, if things go well, you’ll share a bit more. For some people, building trust takes weeks, months or even years; and that’s OK.
3. Remember: strong people ask for help
We would all love to be Wonder Woman or Superman, but hey, we’re not. Nobody can be good at everything. What we can do is surround ourselves with people who complement us, and learn from them. Knowing your limitations and accepting support not only makes you stronger, but also more authentic. If you were to choose between being a superhero (always on the fly, solving problems by merely looking at them) or being a strong and authentic person that’s surrounded by helpful others, which one would you choose?
4. Remember: helping others makes us feel great
It does, doesn’t it? Helping others always cheers me up and makes me feel better about myself. Thus, when you ask someone to help you, you provide him or her with an opportunity to feel great as well. You’re not being a burden; you’re doing someone a favour!
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