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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Why is Asking for Help so Difficult?

July 31, 2023 | 1 Comment

by Kathy Austin

Staffer at a baseball game wearing a shirt with "May I Help You?" on the back.


Asking for Help is Hard

No one wants to be a burden. You may feel ashamed, embarrassed or have any number of other uncomfortable feelings when asking for help. But, could your feelings be misguided?

Our western society puts a large value on “independence.”  We may feel inadequate or incompetent when help is required. For people with vision loss, we may assume we are the stereotype: the person on the street panhandling, asking for something and giving nothing in return. Thoughts like these may be running through your mind.  What will people think?

Or perhaps it’s because we feel we always are in need of help. Many of the routine tasks people take for granted aren’t something we can accomplish without lots of planning and extra help. Tasks like running out to the store to grab a couple of items you need for tonight’s dinner.


Reframing Your Thoughts

So how can we change or reframe this thought process? A recent research study conducted by Xuan Xhao, a research scientist from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University and published in Psychological Science, found that often when people are asked for help, they are generally willing to give it. On top of that, people who are asked for help feel better and happier about themselves for giving the help.

Think about a time when you have been able to provide help to someone else. Did you feel better about yourself? What positive feelings did you have after providing help? Try to look at the situation from the other perspective. Change your mindset from feeling vulnerable to the good feelings you are creating for the other person.


Rethinking Assumptions

Unfortunately, you can’t get the help you need if you don’t ask. You may assume, for many different reasons, the person you are asking will say no. Of course, this is a possibility. They may be too busy or not know how to help. They may not want to invade your privacy or feel it is not their place to impose their thoughts on your needs. However, another Stanford 2013 study contradicts previous assumptions that humans are instinctively selfish and would not want to offer assistance. Rather, they found humans are prosocial animals and intuitively want to make a difference in someone’s life

No is a valid answer.  You may feel rejected, but not asking definitely results in not getting the help. In this case, you can acknowledge their decision and move on, making sure you communicate that you accept and understand their decision.


Tips for Getting the Assistance You Need

To maximize your success in getting the support you need, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure you have the right person for the task.  Some people are great shoppers and others may just want to walk your dog. Some people are good at describing a scene, outfit or colors. So determine who has the skill for the job.
  • Make it easy for someone to help by being prepared. Have your list ready and be specific about what you need.
  • Always say thanks.  A short note, text or email goes a long way to let the person know how much you appreciated their assistance. Include words in your note that relate to how the assistance made a difference for you.
  • Sometimes you might want to give a monetary gift like gas money or a gift card for your helper’s trouble. If you offer this type of gift at the time help is provided, the help can feel awkward andmay refuse the gift.  If you think this might be the case, try to give it a bit later, when refusing won’t be easy for the helper. Each situation is different, so make sure to consider your gift giving is appropriate for the situation and in a way that truly shows your appreciation.
  • If you are in a situation where you are asking a stranger, it is helpful to clearly and quickly describe why the assistance is needed. Don’t offer excuses or apologies. This may dispel any thoughts the stranger may have about your request.
  • And it goes without saying, always be polite and respectful when asking anyone for help.

In the end, trying to do it all on your own may be a possibility. It will take longer and you may become very frustrated. When you aski for help, it can give you a little breathing room to regroup, relax and get the job done. Remember the Beatles song – With a Little Help from My Friends!

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense

1 comment on “Why is Asking for Help so Difficult?”

  1. Nurse says:

    Hi, Kathy!

    This is such an informative and helpful post. Asking for help can be hard, but the tips in this post make the process easier. I thought your advice to have a list of what you need is very useful. Being prepared can take a lot of the stress away from both parties.

    I also enjoyed reading that people generally enjoy helping others, which is what we should all keep in mind.

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