Things don't always go the way we want them to. Sometimes it feels like Life is a sequence of frustrations punctuated by just enough successes to encourage you to get out of bed in the morning. And sometimes there aren't even enough successes for that. Your youngest child is ill again. You're passed over for promotion — again. The roof has developed another leak. Your boss claims credit for your idea, and blames you when her misguided implementation of it implodes. Your best work goes unnoticed because the features that depend on it got cut. Your bonus this year will be half what you were expecting — and you already spent both halves. And on and on.
When things don't go our way, many of us just tough it out. We don't ask for help. We don't seek a trusted ear to tell our troubles to. We don't seek support.
That's unfortunate, because as one of my teachers taught me, everything is easier with support. When we have support, we have access to different perspectives. When our focus has been our frustrations, support gives us the energy we need to see our successes more clearly. Support gives us the tools we need to deal with our frustrations more effectively. Life is more fun. Joy is possible.
And for many of us, support is easy to find: a spouse, trusted friends, counselors, clerics, mentors, coaches, or therapists. And there are specialists, too: for legal matters, lawyers; for health, there are doctors, dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, personal trainers, or nutrition coaches; for money and debts, there are financial planners and credit counselors. And there are groups and networks for writing, reading, job search, therapy, weight control, and substance abuse.
So why do so many choose not to seek support? Even more puzzling: why do so many not even realize they have choices? It's a knot many of us never figure out how to untie. If you want to learn how to untie this knot, here are some of the conditions that keep the knot tied up tight.
- Lack of information
- Example thinking: "I don't know about support or how to get it;" "I don't see how that will help;" "I don't believe it will help;" "It's hopeless. Nobody can help me with this."
- These messages-to-self can be effective blocks to any action. They can even function to prevent acceptance of wise advice. Someone who's thinking this way is potentially on a trajectory to an even more vulnerable place. If you're thinking this way, ask yourself: "If I don't do something, how does this end?" The answers to that question are pretty grim. Do something.
- Lack of encouragement
- Some people don't get enough encouragement to seek support. We depend on family, friends, and others we trust to encourage us to seek the right kind of help if we don't seek it on our own.
- If you're If you're not connected to many
other people right now, a good
time to fix that would be right nowgoing through life alone, or with few friends, and things are OK right now, that's great. But you've probably hit some speed bumps in the past. Wouldn't it have been nice to have received encouragement to seek support in those times? If you're not connected to many other people right now, a good time to fix that would be right now.
- There are taboos associated with seeking — or even accepting — support. Some kinds of support are stigmatized: psychotherapy and counseling are examples. Some of us have been raised to be tough: "I must always play the cards I've been dealt, and I must figure something out all by myself." And many of us have been raised — and taught in school — that we must "do it on our own." Seeking support is cheating.
- Seeking or accepting support isn't cheating, because Life isn't an academic test. Life presents challenges. It's up to us to respond to those challenges as best we can with whatever resources and support we can marshal, including support from other people. There are taboos prohibiting some kinds of support, but they're only taboos, not laws. Just remember: the time might come for you to provide support to someone else. That's the deal.
- Feelings of inadequacy
- When we violate a taboo that we've fully internalized, we can experience feelings of shame or inadequacy. Example: "I should be able to get through this on my own without anyone's support." Another: "I don't want to seek a therapist because if I make a claim on my insurance it might get back to my employer." Or the ever popular: "What a loser I am."
- These feelings are of our own making, though the template for producing them probably isn't. Because we make these feelings, we can unmake them. Learning to recognize these feelings as consequences of the internalizations of somebody else's templates is a good first step.
- Another block is lack of trust. Getting support from someone, even a professional like a therapist or lawyer, might require disclosure of the details of your situation. You'll have to find someone you trust if you want effective assistance with whatever fix you're in.
- Even after you find someone you think you can trust, the problem you face can be more complicated than you now realize. When your attorney or therapist or counselor or coach pursues the issue wherever it leads, you might experience a sense of trepidation. Trust your adviser/supporter. Chances are good that he or she is on the right track. Courage.
- Lack of services
- Support services of all the types listed above exist in large metropolitan areas. But in smaller cities and towns, some services might be difficult to find. Or the people you do find might not have sufficient relevant experience.
- Still, the telephone is available almost everywhere. I personally have coached people over the telephone in many cities and towns in the United States, and several in Europe. If you can't find the help you need in your town, you can surely find it on the Internet, and then get the advice you need by telephone. Not quite as personal as face-to-face, but it does work.
- Lack of resources
- Some forms of support cost money — money you might not have. But some forms of support are available without charge. If they fit, exhaust the free ones first.
- For those forms of support that do cost, you can still ask for discounts or waivers of fee. Of course, asking for that might violate a taboo, or create feelings of inadequacy, or bump up against any number of the items in this list. Funny how self-sustaining this knot is. It defends itself from being untied!
The defining characteristic of a knot is that pulling on its "free ends" tightens the knot. A personal problem can be a knot, too, in the sense that if the problem is difficult enough that we need support to resolve it, the problem can also make seeking support difficult, and so the problem persists. When stuck, consider the possibility that the problem you're stuck in might be keeping you from seeking support. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
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- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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