If a loved one asks something of me, I’m immediately there to help them. Yet I feel that if I asked them for a favor or expressed my true needs, I’d be burdening them. I tell myself I’m fine going with the flow, but then I sometimes feel angst for not asking what I want. What can I do to become more comfortable speaking up about my needs—and not feel like a burden when I do?
A Friend in Need
Dear A Friend in Need,
Thank you for writing in. It sounds like you are a very caring and compassionate person who is there for your loved ones. You are also aware that it is easier for you to give than to receive. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it is difficult for you to ask, and therefore you do not have the opportunity to receive. In either case, I think many readers can relate to your angst.
I can tell you it is no burden for me to contemplate your situation. I also want to reflect to you that writing in about this challenge is a successful step toward moving through your fear. I encourage you to take pause and notice how you feel hearing this feedback. You are not a burden for asking me your question. In fact, reflecting on your question is a growth opportunity for me to think about how I give to others and receive in return.
There are a few areas for you to explore. But first note that usually one’s current belief structure has roots in one’s past. Uncovering that is beyond what I can offer you in a brief article. However, if that idea sparks your curiosity, I recommend working with a psychotherapist to delve into it.
Now, the first area to explore is recognizing that your avoidance of asking for support is essentially robbing you of opportunities to receive the support you need and to overcome feeling like a burden.
In naming the avoidance, the next step is to connect to your courageous self so you can set up opportunities to practice asking others for help and support. Essentially what we are doing here is skill-building, and all skill-building takes practice and more practice until it becomes habit.
Identify safe and kind others in your life of whom you feel comfortable asking. Once you have, it’s best to scale your requests and those whom you ask. This means to start with very small and safe requests from the kindest of people in your life. This will set you up for success that will build your confidence. With each success, you want to raise the stakes by moving up your fear hierarchy to a slightly less familiar person. The result is that you will feel comfortable making requests of whomever you would like.
It will be valuable to track your successes along this path and to use them as counter-evidence to your belief that you are a burden to others. Take time to reflect on the fact that others are responding to your requests positively. Come up with related positive self-statements affirming this new reality that others do care about you and are working to support you. This could be as simple as, “Others care about me and support me.” Then rate the believability of this new statement on a scale from 0 to 10. At first your rating may be lower, but over time, with more success, your rating will likely increase.
Of course, as part of this process you must also be OK when someone says no. The key when we are met with a “no” is not to take it personally. Everyone has a right to say no to our requests, just like we have a right to say no to theirs. Being in relationships is a balance of give and take, so we must be willing to compromise and negotiate in situations where there is not a “yes.” This goes back to the word “practice,” which involves repetition in the service of proficiency and mastery of a skill. Even “no” situations are growth opportunities. They present us with a window into how we work with frustration and how we can channel that energy into further psychological development.
By working with and through your fear, you are strengthening the psychological “muscles” of self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. Each of these domains is important and interconnected to build healthy and meaningful relationships. Furthermore, in learning how to ask for what you need from others, you will unburden yourself and them from the resulting frustration and disappointment that comes with being unfulfilled.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. In implementing them, it will be important to practice patience, compassion, and kindness toward yourself and others. If you would like to delve deeper, I would recommend working with a cognitive behavioral therapist who can support you as you navigate this process.
I wish you the best and thank you for writing in!