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"Don't take the help unless you really need it."

This idea holds us back more than we know.

Message 11, January, 2021

Dear Guest,

One of the things I remember hearing when I was kid, especially from my dad, was “Don't take help unless you really need it.” He said it a lot. Another version of it was, “Stand on your own two feet.” And also, “I respect a man who can pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

I think there are two main reasons this came up so often: first, hard times and second, tradition.

We simply didn’t have much money. So my parents were always figuring out ways to be more self-sufficient without having to ask for help. They used a wood-burning stove instead of heating the house with gas and installed a big garden for homegrown food. My mom made a lot of our clothes, and one year, we only had Christmas presents because she used scrap fabric to make pincushions to sell at craft fairs.

And the tradition part of this? Well, my dad heard it when he was growing up, too. His parents were from rural Missouri - they were well-educated but were raised to be fiercely independent. (FYI, they were awesome grandparents, and my dad was a wonderful father.)

So I don’t blame my dad for planting this thought in my head. But all these years later, I am struggling to deal with the limitations caused by my own pride. Because that’s what this belief really is about: pride.

I’ve struggled with my pride - admitting my own faults and when I need help - for most of my life. I can remember struggling with it when I was five years old, in kindergarten (I’m not kidding). And I can see now that this belief has always held me back, and I’ve always made my own circumstances much harder because I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help.

When I went off to college, I loaded myself up on part-time jobs rather than ask for what I thought was “even more” financial help from my parents, who were already stretched thin paying for what my scholarships didn’t cover. And then when we were newlyweds, my husband and I went into extreme “don’t ask for help unless you really need it” mode and, as a result, found ourselves scraping by to budget money each week for food.

Now that I am a family caregiver, I find that I tell myself, “Don’t ask for help unless you really need it” instead of asking for help from the people who care about me and my mom. I hesitate to ask my sister and brothers for anything because I should be able to, “Stand on my own two feet.”

And of course, it’s not just me doing this to myself. Many people have actually, literally, really scolded me for asking for help. Some are family members, some are friends or health care providers. They say, “Shouldn’t you be able to do that without help?” or “Do you really need to ask for help with that?” or even, “You're smart! Surely you can take a few minutes and figure it out.”

My point is that I know I’m struggling with this belief and with my pride. Now that I’ve seen it and have put a name on it, I can work on it. When I tell myself I shouldn’t ask for help, I can catch myself and ask why. When other people try to use this belief - whether it’s to save them some time and trouble or to put their needs ahead of mine - I can gracefully repeat that I need help, and I can refuse to accept guilt about it (see message 9 for more on guilt).

If you can relate to this, I am here to tell you that you’re not alone. I hope you are encouraged to know that you don’t have to let pride or being unwilling to ask for help hold you back, either. I had to figure this out on my own (and of course I'm working through it even as I write this), but I’m truly delighted that the end result for me is that I can share this with you today!

My pride and unwillingness to ask for help has held me back most of my life. It’s only now that I can really see it. Now that I have dreams that are so big I can’t afford to let anything hold me back, I’m finally doing the work to coach myself through this.

I want to be at peace with my pride, and I don’t want it to hold me back. Not as a caregiver, not as an entrepreneur, and not as a mother or wife.

In the next message, I’m going to talk about the beliefs to stop choosing if we, as caregivers, want to live fulfilling lives beyond our caregiving responsibilities.

Please let me know how this is working for you, or if you have any thoughts or  questions, by leaving a comment here.

Kay Coughlin


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