Letting go of Superwoman: Asking for Help

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Black women have been socialized to be superwomen. To take on everything ourselves, to fill in gaps and handle responsibilities that other people relinquish. Taking on things by ourselves and pushing through difficult times has allowed Black women to accomplish amazing things and it has also taken a toll. As children, many of us saw the women in our lives taking on the world and rarely asking for help. It may have been implicitly or explicitly communicated to us that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, not asking for help when you need it can lead to feeling overwhelmed and reaching a breaking point. Not asking for help can contribute to depression, anxiety, general stress, and health issues. Not asking for help can limit our ability to take care of ourselves and build resentment in relationships. 

I feel a tiny bit of anxiety whenever I have to ask someone for help. I have thoughts that I’ll be burdening the person I’m asking or that I should be able to figure out how to do whatever I need help with by myself. There’s also the feeling of pride that comes when I can say that I’ve done something on my own. These things along with ideas about being strong and self-sufficient kept me from asking for help as often as I should have growing up. Thankfully, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that the tinge of anxiety is manageable and the pride is not worth the cost. I’ve learned that asking for help before I’m overwhelmed is always the best strategy.

Asking for help can be hard. Asking for help acknowledges that you cannot do it all on your own. Asking for help can make you feel vulnerable because it removes the illusion of being completely in control. However, asking for help does not show weakness, it shows wisdom. It shows the wisdom to understand your capacity and the ability to identify specific places where support from other people can help you to succeed. Asking for help gives the people in your life the opportunity to step up and be there for you the way you’ve been there for them. If you are leading a group or an organization, asking for help builds the capacity of the people that you are leading. Asking for help builds connection and community.

Asking for help can take a number of forms: it could be asking someone to help you think through an issue, asking someone to help you care for a child, or asking for someone to help you with a project that you are working on.

How to: 

Think about what you need help with

  • If you’re used to doing everything yourself it can be difficult to identify areas where people can help you. Take some time to reflect on all that you are doing and identify things that someone else can help you with.

Be honest with yourself about what you can take on

  • Most of us overestimate how much we can do on our own. It can feel good to make big plans about what we will accomplish but if our plans aren’t reasonable and we don’t have the help we need it will be much more difficult to achieve our goals. Think about past experiences to help identify things that you might need help with in the future.

Identify people you trust to ask for help. 

  • Because asking for help can be hard it is important to identify people that you trust as you begin asking for help. These may be people who you confide in frequently, people who you respect, or people who ask you for help. Some of us may be reluctant to ask for help because we are unsure about whether or not other people are capable of doing the things we ask of them. Look for people who are hard workers and have demonstrated the ability to follow through previously.

Start by asking for help with small things. 

  • If you are new to asking for help. Identify small ways that people can support you and start there. This will help you to build trust and increase your comfort with asking for help over time.

Let go of some control

  • Another thing that makes it hard to ask for help is our desire to have everything done exactly the way we would do it. Asking for help means letting go of some control and allowing other people to do things in their way. Even though it may be hard to admit, our way is not the the only way or always the best way.
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