Why Asking for Help is the Most Courageous Thing You Can Do

Asking for help is a place of vulnerability, an act of courage, and it can be a doorway into freedom from our carefully constructed false selves. And when our false self gives way to our true self, the glory of messy-beautiful living may be just around the corner…

Courage

Photo Credit: Iris Slootheer (Creative Commons)

Having three kids in a dual-earner family feels a lot like juggling.

Except the balls are children, and the balls are unpredictable and crabby and they bite the hand that catches them. My wife and I are supposed to keep these precious balls aloft, but they don’t want to be caught—they want to watch television and eat sweets and show me they are in charge of the act.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m the one being juggled.

And sometimes, there are simply too many balls in the air and I don’t have enough hands.

Last month, my oldest son had a baseball game. When I looked at the family schedule, I knew there was absolutely no way for my wife or me to transport him to the game. I contacted his coach’s wife and told her my son wouldn’t be able to go to the game.

Her response was simple and obvious: “Kelly, we can take Aidan.”

Except it hadn’t been obvious to me.

The thought of asking for help had never crossed my mind.

At the End of Ourselves

It rarely occurs to me to ask for help, in part because I’ve lived most of my life pretty independently—I’ve always just taken care of myself. But of course there is another reason, a deeper reason:

Asking for help is a vulnerable experience.

The request often comes from a place of neediness and insufficiency and dependency. It comes from the place at the end of ourselves—the place where we are no longer up to to the task. And this makes it a risky place—the place where we are most exposed and the most at risk of rejection. To ask for help in this place feels vulnerable, and it therefore requires courage.

There are many kinds of courage. Clearly, courage is the stuff of battlefields—the soldier on the first day of boot camp and the last day of his deployment. But courage isn’t limited to the battlefield.

Courage is all around us.

Courage is the shy little girl all alone at the bus stop. Courage is the boy on the playground who refuses to tease the kid in the tattered clothes. Courage is the ER doctor standing over a shredded body. Courage is a mother the day after she gets the diagnosis.

And the starkest, most breathtaking courage is the courage of vulnerability—revealing one’s true self to another and forsaking the carefully constructed false self we normally present to the world. This is why I’m convinced the waiting room of a therapy office is populated by the most courageous of souls—people who have, in one way or another, come to the end of themselves and are stepping into the vulnerability of a request for help.

At the Beginning of Ourselves

As a parent and a psychologist and a writer, there are too many balls in the air, and I don’t have enough hands.

And the truth is, this is very, very good. We all need to come to the end of ourselves. Because once there, we discover it isn’t really the end of ourselves. It’s the end of our false self—that carefully crafted image of competency and perfection we have erected in order to protect our true self—that part of us that is a complicated amalgam of mess and beauty, shame and glory.

When we are bowed low we come face to face with our true selves, and the truth becomes undeniable: we need help. The only question is: will we have the courage to ask for help, to seek a helper, to knock on the door of grace?

Will You Help Me?

Today, I want to be vulnerable and courageous. I want to ask for help.

And it really is hard to do. (I’ve deleted and re-inserted this section several times; I haven’t felt like this since I hit the publish button on my first post!) I think it feels vulnerable because I believe as a giver I am valuable, but a part of me questions my value if I’m an asker, a receiver. Many of you on the Facebook page expressed the same doubts.

So, deep breath.

For several months I’ve been juggling the many balls associated with self-publishing an eBook. And it’s official: The Marriage Manifesto is available for free to new email subscribers on the blog, and for a low price on Kindle and Nook. I think the book contains an important message and I hope the message will spread. That’s why I will continue to offer the book for free on the blog and why I’ve enabled sharing of the retail version.

But I realize, in this regard, I have now come to the end of myself: I can’t spread the message, only you can. So, from the end of myself, I guess I’m asking, “Will you help me? If you have read The Marriage Manifesto and you want the message to spread, too, will you fan the flame?”

And while I’m asking for help, I’m going to really exercise my courage and offer some specific ways for you to spread the message:

  1. If you are a blog subscriber, please feel free to attach your free PDF copy to an email and send it to friends and family who might enjoy it.
  2. Tell people about the book in the old-fashioned way: sitting in your living room with family or out to coffee with a friend. Direct them to the blog to get their own free copy.
  3. Go to The Marriage Manifesto webpage and share it in your favorite social media, using the social sharing icons at the bottom of the webpage.
  4. Give The Marriage Manifesto a review on AmazonAmazon is such a centralized marketplace that customer reviews of a product there have a powerful authority, even when you aren’t planning to purchase from Amazon. Your honest feedback there matters.

One last thing: please know that you will be just as worthy in my eyes if, for instance, this request yields zero ratings on Amazon versus a thousand. In fact, I’m already deeply grateful for your encouraging feedback about the book and the ways you have already begun to spread the message around your kitchen tables and by email and in your social media circles. 

The truth is, it just feels good to be courageous and to ask for help. Scary and good.

Courage is messy, isn’t it?


QUESTIONS: Asking for help can be daunting. Are there things you need help with that you have kept to yourself? Who could you ask for help? Even more specifically, what are your questions about how to begin the process of psychotherapy? If we have enough responses (i.e., questions), I will post soon with my answers to those questions. You can ask your question in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • ozlem

    i just want to say that you are one of those very rare (and thus very valued) generous people living today… thanks for the book and thanks for sharing your very insightful words…

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Ozlem, I really appreciate you taking the time to say that. And you’re very welcome!

  • Kim

    Thank you for this post, Kelly. When I see people I like and respect and admire ask for help, it shows me that it’s okay to ask for help when *I* need it. So, by asking for help, you helped me 🙂 ! I loved your book, and will be posting a review on Amazon this weekend. I appreciate you so very much!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank YOU, Kim! I appreciate you, too!

  • Jennifer Newell

    Thanks for this post and here are my questions.
    1) When do you know you need to seek out help from a professional instead of your best girl friend to talk about your problems?
    2) Do you think it is okay for a person to come into your office and spend the first session asking you more questions than giving answers to yours? I guess is it okay to interview your counselor to see if they are a right fit?
    3) How do you know what to look for in choosing a counselor?
    4) What is the usual length of time to go to counseling? Does it depend on what you are addressing or is it usually a set period time?
    5) When you start counseling do you feel better right a way or does it take time before you feel better? Do you ever feel worse?
    6) Does it make sense to go to counseling by yourself if your spouse wont go to counseling?
    7) How do you know you need to take your kids to talk to someone for their behavior? What is normal misbehavior verses behavior that needs to be addressed by talking to someone?
    8) Does depression occur in cycles? or life stages?
    9) Who should you seek help from first when you have trouble in your marriage? A friend, a pastor or a counselor?
    10) How do you know if your issues are bigger than what your Pastor can address and should seek out a counselor instead?

    Things I think we all need help with: juggling work and family and our kids activities; finding time to still be a couple in the middle of sick kids and demanding jobs; how to stop the woulda coulda shouldas that go on inside your head. How to feel valued when you are a stay at home mom and you dont get to have a yearly review and a raise? Facing health issues when they might be scary. Sick parents and trying to help but having a hard time facing they wont always be here. Wanting to have close friends but not having enough time to invest the way you want too. Seeing others struggling with any of the above and wanting to help but not knowing how.

    I appreciate the post. I am always eager to help but struggle with letting others help me.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jennifer, great question! I should have known I could count on you! I hope others read these and that it generates some questions of their own. I will definitely be posting on this in the next month or so.

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  • kathy

    How can I relate this to a life without a husband. Mine walked away two years ago after I discovered his affair of 10 years. I am lost. We had been married for 43 years. I try to live each day but find I have lost more than a marriage. I have lost myself. Friends are uncomfortable, some have moved, children are confused, I am barely able to get out of bed. i keep trying to find a connection to the world around me, but each ends in failure. I wonder why live.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Kathy, I am SO sorry to hear about your marriage. I know there are many women like you out there suffering through the same thing. I would encourage you that, after such a tragedy, getting connected with a counselor is a courageous thing to do and the best way to discover connection again.

  • kathy

    I loved your piece on the words that can set you free. I read it often.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Kathy.

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  • Rochelle

    Hi Kelly~

    As a writer, editor, and psych major, I find your words and website utterly refreshing. I was introduced to your site by a fellow editor this morning. I landed on this page, by way of your “Most Important Things to Look for in a Life Partner” post. I always like to thank writers for the work that they do, and for the cost of my morning Starbucks, I am happy to “thank” you by buying your book; I greatly look forward to reading it. Your writing is superb. I appreciate you shining a light on an often scary topic for many individuals. Keep up the good work!

    Cheers,
    Rochelle

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hi Rochelle,
      What a delightful comment for you to leave; thank you! And thanks for buying the book! Right now, any sales from the book go directly toward overhead on this website, so you’re keeping me in business. : ) Would love to hear your feedback on the book when you’ve finished it.
      Best,
      Kelly

      • Rochelle

        Kelly,

        Thank you for the follow-up comment; I will certainly offer feedback when I am finished with the book! I have to say, in spending more time on your site today, I love that you generously offer your book for free and don’t hit people up with an overly repetetive financial ask, even though for the caliber of your writing, you very well could. It’s sites like yours, and Leo Babauta’s at zenhabits.net, where I can’t reach for my wallet fast enough. I hope more readers who appreciate your content will want to support the site by buying your book. Plus, as writers, I know that comments and feedback motivate us to keep going — to keep sharing, to keep coming up with new material.

        I have shared your work on my Facebook page and my friends are discovering your work. Again, thank you for all you do and the wisdom you impart to the masses.

        Warmly,
        Rochelle

        • drkellyflanagan

          I really appreciate everything you’ve said, Rochelle; you’re right on, the comments and feedback through the blog are invaluable. And thank you for sharing my writing!