Sunday, June 27, 2010

No (Wo)Man Is An Island

I am a very petite woman, yet every night I carry my sleeping older son, who's only about 6 inches shorter than I am, to the bathroom before I go to bed. My husband knows that it's part of our nightly ritual and he'll help if I ask him to. So, why don't I ask?

Okay, part of me resents the fact that I'm small and that it's hard for me to do it by myself. It's not like he's a teenager, I should be able to carry my own son. Part of me resents the fact that my husband doesn't offer. He knows how much this takes out of me. Why should I have to ask?

And maybe part of me enjoys the martyrdom and self-rightousness that I'm left with. Maybe that part of me likes being able to say "there, I did it again, poor me." So, every night I struggle through, hoping that he won't throw himself out of my arms, stopping afterward to catch my breath, and feeling proud of my nearly back-breaking accomplishment.

This might seem like a trivial example of not asking for help. But, basically you get the idea. What makes it hard for us, as women, to ask for help? Why do we feel like we have to do it all ourselves? Well, here are some possibilities:
  • Pride
  • Independence
  • Asking for help=failure
  • Can't rely on others
  • Perfectionism
  • Don't want to be a burden
What can I really say about pride? It's a potentially empowering feeling that contributes to a sense of self-efficacy and confidence. But, at times it also leads us to make the most nonsensical decisions and engage in the most useless behaviors ever. Pride often conflicts with logic and leaves us feeling more exhausted and frustrated. Sometimes we just need to leave what we call pride behind, ask for what we need, and view the request itself as an act that we can feel proud of.

As a modern woman, of course I see independence as a great strength. But, I also believe in our essential connectedness and need for each other. So, I see interdependence as the ideal. Existing in a state in which we need the people in our lives and they need us and we take turns giving and taking.

Strength is not being able to do everything on your own; strength is knowing what you need and being able to get it. Asking for help does not equate to failure. There is a difference between being unable do it alone and choosing not to do it alone. And, sometimes, we truly can't do it on our own. But, why does that have to mean being a failure rather than simply being human?

Some of us have, unfortunately, had experiences of being disappointed by others. Friends or family who never have time to help or who drop the ball when they are needed. That makes it understandably hard to trust that others will be there for you. But, if you really look hard at your life, most likely there are 1 or 2 people who are truly dependable and actually want to help if you just let them. Taking that step of trusting and hoping is risky but can be well worth the risk.

Perfectionism is the bane of many an existence. In some settings, it can be highly adaptive and lead to success. But, more often perfectionism can be overwhelming and even crippling. You have to let go of the idea that everything has to be done just right. If your husband puts the dishes away in the wrong place, so be it. Let it go and move on.

I understand the worry about being a burden on others. Again, reciprocity should be expected in relationships and you have just as much right to be the taker at times. At some point we have to trust that the important people in our lives want to help and that they will tell us if we're asking too much. It may also feel good on their end being the givers and being needed.

Asking for help is another form of self-care. It's admitting our human-ness and imperfection and using the support around us. This is another way of putting a muzzle on the Superwomen in our heads and dancing to a new tune. A tune of self-directed kindness and interdependence that says that just as we're willing to do for others, it's okay to let them do for us too.

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