Every so often around our house you’ll hear someone say a very loud, “Oh darn!” or “Yikes!” or “Oh no!” as though talking to herself. And yet it is said out loud.

  Then right on top of the exclamation you’ll hear, “Everything ok?”   Frequently followed by, “Yeah, I’m good.”

In less than 10 words a powerful transaction has occurred.  Someone cries out in trouble or frustration—it sounds like it may be a cry for help--and THERE IS A RESPONSE.  There is an unstated, “Do you need help?” … “I’m here if you need me.” … “You matter.”

The freedom to ask for help knowing there are people in our lives who are willing to help is powerfully reassuring. 

But this simple one-word exclamation, “Help!”, while very easy to pronounce  can be very hard to say.  We don’t always feel free to ask for help.   A friend described a season of life when she desperately needed help.  But, ashamed and terribly frightened of how depressed she felt after one loss too many, she did not ask for help.  It’s risky asking for help--especially when we really need it.   Needing help is, well, needy; it’s vulnerable.   It feels dependent or weak.  Interesting how all these words—“needy,” “vulnerable,” “dependent,” weak”—have become bad words to us.  We’re too ashamed, too proud, or too overwhelmed to ask for help when we really need it.  Or, in a state labeled “learned helplessness” by a researcher named Seligman, we may have come to believe there is no help—in ourselves or in the universe—so why bother asking?  Weak and ineffectual, we don’t matter; nobody cares.

It gets complicated.  It’s essential to keep making our honest needs for help known.  And yet, if people in your circle of friends and loved ones aren’t trustworthy--if they’re bullying or sadistic or, highly insecure, like to one-up people—they likely will use or abuse or demean your need for help.  To further complicate things, you may not be able to discern safe versus unsafe people; and sometimes it can be truly tricky.  Deceptive people are good at deceiving and taking advantage; it’s what they do.  You may have learned to shut down your cries for help for good reason, based on legitimately harsh or harmful experiences.

If whether to trust and who to trust are confusing questions, you might begin with taking your cry for help to someone like a therapist, spiritual director or life coach… someone with the training and tools to help you get back on track to a healthy community who knows how to give and take help… someone who will also enter an objective contractual commitment with you.  Generally professional helpers are well-meaning and helpful.  But the contract is a safety net.  It specifies in writing what expected and appropriate behavior is so it’s easier to discern if a contracted helper oversteps boundaries or becomes unsafe.

But it is crucial that we have safe people and safe structures that allow us to face and express our needs for help, because all of us get into binds and face limitations where we truly, desperately need help.  It’s an old, time-tested adage: we really do need each other and it really does take a village.

©   Maribeth Ekey, Psy.D.  August, 2015