How to ask for help when you're struggling

There might be many of you wondering how to ask for help when you are struggling. Though you might be wanting the answer to this question, perhaps it does not have such a linear answer. Maybe we should begin by asking ourselves what we mean by 'struggling' and what we mean by 'asking'.

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Is asking for help a sign of weakness or strength? Does it feel easy to do or difficult? Do you feel proud or ashamed? Take a moment to ask yourself these questions. What relationship do you have and have you had so far with asking for help? - whether it's for something small or big or straightforward or complicated.

If you feel that you aren't able to ask or lean into those around you for help, then I understand your curiosity about this question. Maybe you are wondering, how do you both make sense of your struggle, find ways to articulate it and then reach out for help not knowing what response you're going to receive?

At times, we may find ourselves unable to fully comprehend our own thoughts and emotions. We might question if there's something amiss, feeling as though we're grappling with inner turmoil. In attempting to make sense of our experiences, we often pose various questions to ourselves. However, in this process, we often rationalise and convince ourselves that our concerns are unfounded. There are myriad reasons for this, one being to sidestep the difficulties associated with confronting our challenges. By avoiding such introspection, we inadvertently hinder our ability to take action and seek help.

This prompts another question for our discussion: What is the general experience of asking for help? Even in situations where one isn't struggling but simply needs let's say practical help, does it still stir feelings of inadequacy? Is there a sense of apprehension or dread regarding the potential outcomes of seeking help? Does the prospect of collaboration feel easy to engage with, or does it carry the weight of potential criticism or repercussions? Furthermore, does seeking help foster a sense of belonging to a larger community, one that extends beyond individual boundaries and encompasses others who, like us, may also find themselves in need of help from time to time, or does it elicit feelings to the contrary?

Esther Perel, leading relationship psychotherapist asks us all an interesting question 'Were you raised for loyalty or autonomy? - Were you raised to believe that relationships are at the heart of our lives and there will always be someone to help? Or were you taught to believe that relationships are secondary and you can only rely on yourself?' - I'll let you ponder over this one which might provide some further insight into this question around asking and struggling.

I believe the central question is not necessarily about how to ask for help when you're struggling, but rather, do you feel empowered to grant yourself permission to do so in a manner that aligns with your needs? While I can provide suggestions, I do not presume to know which approach is best for you. Help, for you, could manifest as reaching out to a family member or friend, or even simply expressing to them that you are facing difficulties. 

For some, the approach may vary; it could be a text, a phone call, or a letter. Others may prefer activities like taking a long walk with a close companion, engaging in heartfelt conversations over dinner, or spending a weekend away together. While some individuals adopt these methods, others may not. What distinguishes those who feel capable of reaching out from those who don't?

You might wonder: 'I have no idea where to start or who to speak to.' You have options. Look around you- who's nearby? If you're asking this question, chances are others are too. If you have a community or close individuals you trust, you can reach out and explain that you're unsure how to share your struggles but feel like you might be struggling. For others, it might be that reaching out to a psychotherapist is a more preferred route. In which case, If you want help but you're not sure how to ask, just drop me an email and we can think about it in more detail together.

If it's not me, then you may wish to reach out to another trained psychotherapist - someone with whom you feel you can explore all that's necessary. Most psychotherapists have a contact section where you can write about your situation briefly - it may be a little note to say that you want to talk - this might be just enough - more than you think. It doesn't have to be a beautifully written masterpiece about your struggle, I certainly invite you to bring it in the way that it exists for you and all that it might be - confusing and chaotic - or illogical or absurd and empty.

I hope I have been able to offer some food for thought around the question 'How do I ask for help if I am struggling'. I may not have provided a long list of actions and steps to take which might seem frustrating, however, I hope to have given you enough insight so that you go on to think about help and ask for it in ways that honour your individuality and autonomy.

I mostly hope that this article offers you some kind of permission to take action and begin exploring. Pediatrician Donald Winnicott reminds us 'It is a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found' - Whilst it might feel safe to remain hidden - not asking for help, I imagine in parallel to this, there is a strong desire and wish to be found - that is, to be helped and maybe you just need to hear that in whichever way you find yourself asking - it is quite alright.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Primrose Hill NW1 & London SE5
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Written by Alda Simoni, BPC, MSc. | Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
Primrose Hill NW1 & London SE5

Ms Alda Simoni is an adult psychodynamic psychotherapist working in private practice in Primrose Hill, North London, England.

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