"Asking for help is a universally dreaded endeavor," M. Nora Klaver says in her anti-self-help book, "Mayday! Asking for help in times of need. Seven out of ten people admit they could have used help over the last week but didn't ask for it. Klaver reveals the myriad of reasons why we don't ask for help, how we can benefit from asking, and how to ask the right people at the right time in the right place, increasing our opportunities for meeting our needs.
Some years ago, after years of focusing on her career, Klaver sought council with Sonia Choquette, author of "Your Heart's Desire" and numerous other books. Sonia advised Klaver to become "less relentlessly independent" by asking for help three times a day, every day. Klaver, an executive coach who saw her vocation as a help provider, was stunned but rose to the challenge.
She asked for directions though she knew the way, asked a colleague to buy her a soda, but she didn't really see the value in the assignment until she left town for a weeklong business trip. After an exhausting week and a frustrating delay at the airport due to bad weather, Klaver boarded a plane with a heavy suitcase. When she tried to collapse the handle to store it in the overhead compartment, it jammed. As she fumbled with the luggage, a man offered to help her. "Following my ingrained habits of self-sufficiency, and blatantly ignoring the voice in my head, I remained as stubborn as the suitcase handle. Not even taking time to look this kind man in the eye, I shook my head and replied brusquely that I could take care of it myself. After a few more attempts, I finally slammed the handle home, viciously catching my thumb."
Still, Klaver refused the stranger's repeated offer of help. When she bent down to lift the bag to put it in an overhead bin, her muscles failed to provide the strength. Still, the life coach refused help. "Mercifully, this man then saved me further embarrassment by simply taking the case from me and placing it neatly in the bin."
In our conversation, Klaver added that once, during a speaking engagement, while telling the story she heard someone whisper, "Bitch!"
What would stop an intelligent, successful, professional woman from allowing someone to help her? Why would she rather suffer "self-inflicted humiliation" of annoyed passengers rather than acquiesce to his aid?
This encounter was a life-changing moment for Klaver: "As I offered my thanks, I straightened up and finally looked him in the face. I noticed that he was smiling. In fact, his smile transformed me. At that moment I felt connected to this gentleman—not in a romantic, stranger-on-the-plane way, but simply as one person to another."
"I finally understood the lesson. Asking for help not only gets my needs met but, even more important, offers me a chance to be touched by another soul."
M'aidez is French for help me, and mayday has become the universal signal for help. Klaver wants us to stop thinking of the call as a last resort and to build mayday muscles with regular practice before desperation sets in. "Why not see the mayday as an everyday request for help?... We can view the intimidating act of asking for help as a gesture of hope and optimism and not one of despair and misery."
Klaver offers 5 reasons Why We Don't Ask for Help:
1. We were never taught how and have few role models.
2. We love our independence. Robert Putnam offers startling statistics on participation in group activities. Attendance at club meetings is down 58%, church activities have decreased from 25-50%; having friends over to the house has dropped 45%. Time Magazine, Dec 4, 2006, reports that the number of close friends one has shrank from 3 to 2, and those who confide in no one has more than doubled to 1 in 4.
3. We don't think to ask. Klaver claims we are brainwashed by the lure of independence and individualization. Many of us have created singular lives grounded in self-sufficiency. We are so caught up in the habit of taking care of ourselves we lose sight of when we might even need help.
4. It's easier to do it myself. This category includes the resistance to the law of reciprocity: quid pro quo; give and take; tit-for-tat; you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
5. And, of course, fear, which gets its own chapter in "Why we don't ask—Really."
Klaver explains Three Riptides of Fear which seem no less frightening than the fear of death: Fear of Surrender, Fear of Separation and Fear of Shame. "These fears are like deceptive riptides that pull us away from the help that is waiting on shore. … They seduce us by telling us they only intend to keep us safe, yet following them can leave us alone and floundering. Exploring and understanding these dangerous currents will lessen their power over us and make our mayday calls substantially more effective."
For the First Riptide, Klaver presents us with her own learning experience of surrender when she was once diagnosed with a benign tumor that was growing too near an important nerve and needed to be removed. She was unafraid of the surgery, yet stifled a sob and cried to the doctor, "Who will stay with me? I have no one to help me?"
Klaver's self-perceived-weakness was an assault on her identity as a confident, capable professional woman. "My ego stated flatly that a strong, independent woman wouldn't find herself in this kind of situation. It was as though this tough persona of mine was just begging for a lesson in humility and surrender."
"I am heartily ashamed to say that I was blatantly ungracious as I made the call to my mother. … I warned her, 'I don't want you and dad fussing over me! I am not a child, and I don't expect to be treated like one!'"
In fact, Klaver admits finally, that is exactly what she was, a frightened, ungrateful child. "In my feeble and awkward way, I was still trying to control the situation." After the surgery, when Klaver awoke and found her mother sleeping in the hospital room, uncomfortably curled up in a chair, "I realized I had no choice but to let go. I no longer cared about being successful or independent. I just wanted my mom."
Klaver says, "All the lies we tell ourselves about lack of control keep us from the hidden truth: Surrender is a blessing." Furthermore, she then suggests we (gulp!) embrace surrender. A tough undertaking, but one she will convince you is worthwhile.
The Second Riptide: Fear of Separation, includes banishment, rejection and denunciation. "In our need and worry, we interpret rejection to mean, You are on your own. In our fear, we silently add -- once again."
The Third Riptide: Fear of Shame convinces us we are not worthy. "No matter who we are, we are worthy of the help we seek. This is the hidden truth that the fear of shame keeps from us."
"Worthiness is not based on how difficult life is. Worthiness is not a test used to determine whether or not you should be cared for. Your needs warrant resolution. You deserve to ask for the help you need."
Part Two provides The Mayday! Process in seven steps:
Step 1. Name your need and vow to remain open to other possible resolutions.
Step 2. Apply self-compassion to achieve acceptance that you are worthy.
Step 3. Take a leap of faith. Self-compassion prepares you for asking; the applied virtue of faith supports us as we send our mayday signal.
Step 4. Ask: "The applied virtues of self-compassion and faith are powerful emotions that turn asking for help into a declaration of self-love and self-care.
Step 5. Be grateful: "Break the trance that scarcity holds over us to see the abundance that already exists and gratitude will grow."
Step 6. Listen Differently: Focus on the helpmate. To be heard is as great a gift as one can receive.
Step 7. Say thanks (three times: when our helpmate has agreed to aid us, when the help has been done, and the next time we see our helpmate).
For those too stressed to do 7 steps, Klaver says, take the following 3 steps:
Step 1. Before the request: name the need; give yourself a break.
Step 2. During the request: take a leap; ask.
Step 3. After the request: Be grateful; Listen differently; say thanks.
Calling "Mayday" deepens connections; reduces stress and restores energy; reminds us that we are not alone; gives happiness to others; leads to personal growth; allows the pleasure of surrender; demonstrates that we're worthy of support; lets others shine; clarifies relationships and solves problems. So what's to resist?
Self-care is the new self-help. The book is offered as a primer on how to make requests. Riptide and Applied Virtue matrices, a section on resources and an index make it a quick reference for learning and practicing self-love through asking for help. Klaver suggests writing exercises for exploration of our inhibitors and invites us to record our answers, thoughts, and musings on her website www.Maydaythebook.com .
Klaver emphasizes that to think asking for help isn't the American way is a myth. "All great enterprises—including our nation—were built on support, teamwork, and collaboration."
Caroline Myss, author of "Entering the Castle" and "Anatomy of the Spirit" says, "'Mayday' takes a mature look at the challenge of asking for help, puncturing the philosophy of independence that can so often create feelings of isolation instead of strength. A most thought-provoking contribution to the field of self-help psychology."
M. Klaver Klaver, MA, MCC, is a Chicago-based work-life expert. A master coach with twenty years experience, she advises individuals and corporate leaders in organizations from Allstate Financial to American Movie Classics.
Check out "Bare Naked with Nora Klaver," a web-radio program on VoiceAmerica.com http://www.modavox.com/voiceamerica/vshow.aspx?sid=1416.
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