Sadly there are many people who seem to feel that they can – or at least should – get through life without support. For many people, asking for support is seen as a weakness, as if only inadequate people need – or ask for – support. This sort of stoic or ‘macho’ approach is both ill-founded and potentially dangerous. We need to be very clear that this perspective on support is something we need to move away from.
A major part of the problem is that western societies tend to be characterised by a strong emphasis on individualism, and this involves a conception of each of us as a more or less fully independent, autonomous individual. This is set up as some sort of ideal, resulting in any need for support potentially being seen as less than ideal – as a form of failure, in a sense. Of course, the reality is that this is a distortion of the true picture. We are all unique individuals, of course, but we are unique individuals in a social context – to divorce the individual from that social context is to tell only one part of the story (which then makes it a very misleading story).
Throughout my career I have been involved in various roles that have entailed providing support to a wide range of people. Three things that stand out for me from that experience are:
- So many people left it until the eleventh hour to ask for support. Of course, I did my best to help people when called upon to do so, but there were very many occasions where I could have helped them so much more if they had come to me sooner. This was partly because we could have nipped problems in the bud if I had been aware of them sooner and could have intervened earlier, and partly because, by the time they came to me for help they were often already worn down and at a low ebb. Getting help sooner could also have saved a lot of heartache and suffering for them.
- People commonly apologised for asking for support. This has been a marked feature of people seeking support from me over the years. It has always struck me as strange that this should be the case. People help and support one another all the time, and yet it can so frequently be seen as something we need to apologise for. Support can, of course, be beneficial for both parties, giver and receiver. Giving support can give us a sense of self-worth, a sense of being useful that can bring a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction.
- They were generally glad they did ask for support. Despite how common it has been for people to approach asking for support in a guarded, apologetic or reluctant way, the usual outcome was that they were really glad that they had got past their reluctance. And, of course, I am sure that my experience is not unusual in this regard. This makes it all the sadder that a reluctance to seek support (or to accept it when offered) holds so many people back.
So, if you are one of those people who are reluctant to ask for support, you need to ask yourself why that is, how much it is costing you in personal terms and what you can do to change the situation. Supporting one another is an important part of being human, so this strange idea that seeking or using support is to be seen as a last resort proves to be quite a costly one.