I learned something new about myself last week in my personal finance class. It had less to do with finances and more to do with another of those dark spaces I need to clean out that I didn’t realize existed: I struggle to ask for help for myself not just because of pride, but because of fear.
It’s much more of a wall than I realized.
I thought I was actually pretty good at asking for help. I asked for help with moving. I asked for help cleaning and organizing once during the midst of the chaos when my house was completely out of control. I asked for help with my yard when the weeds were taking over and my landlord was getting annoyed. I accepted help when my landlord offered to bring dinner three nights in a row when I was sick. I thought I knew how to accept help. I thought my pride was under control.
But it’s not.
You see, I know how to ask for help, but I only will when I am truly drowning, and I really, really hate doing it. Not just the regular prideful stuff, either. Sometimes I get physically anxious, and I feel like something bad is going to happen. I hate it so much I cry because I don’t want to do it.
A couple of times a month, I go to my bishop and we fill out a form. I take that form to a storehouse and I fill up a cart with groceries–for free. Every time I fill my trunk with these free groceries, I sit in my car for a moment and cry. I wish I cried tears of gratitude, but I don’t. I cry tears of shame. And, I realized recently, tears of fear.
I finally reached out for assistance with my finances. I finally told my family that I need help. It took me two weeks to draft the email and hit send. I know my family is understanding and that they won’t judge me. I know they want to do anything to help but they are also wise enough not to do too much. I know they won’t have a problem with me asking for help. But I can’t shake the feeling that if other people help me, something bad will happen.
I didn’t realize how deeply seated this was until I had the epiphany in my personal finance class. I was sharing how I had received such a blessing that someone was willing to help me out of my debt with a personal loan at a pretty much non-existent interest rate. I was expressing gratitude that I thought I should feel, when I realized that, while I was grateful, I was more afraid. As I contemplated this more, I began to flesh out reasons why. Why do I feel afraid when I receive help from others? Why can’t I feel okay and trust this obvious blessing?
Growing up, I learned to be self-reliant very quickly. I’m the oldest of seven children, and my parents just plain didn’t have time to do extra things for me. They were overwhelmed just trying to survive the chaos of raising six daughters (yes, they’ve earned sainthood) and a son. I was fed, clothed, taught how to be a good person, and loved unconditionally, but if I wanted something more, I did it for myself. I didn’t even consider asking for help most of the time. I’m grateful for the independence I learned, and I don’t blame my upbringing for any of the problems I now face, but I never had much “practice” at asking for help, per se. That contributes a little bit.
Shame is part of it. I’m ashamed I can’t take care of it all myself. I’m still struggling to accept that I can’t do it all. I really want to do it all. I feel like I should be able to do it all. That shoulding on myself. I still do it, even though I know it just leads to a big, stinky mess. When I consciously catch myself, I stop. But the shame still seeps in sometimes. That’s another part of it.
The biggest element, however–the fear part–has to do with my thirteen years of marriage. Each and every time I received help with anything–from working around the house to picking up the kids from school–I ended up paying for it later. I would hear about every small thing and how much I “owed” for this or that. It would get thrown back in my face as “proof” that I was being ridiculous in my feeling physically or emotionally overwhelmed. It got to the point where I distrusted any act of service performed in the house or for myself or for the kids because I felt anxiety about expectations for “repayment.” This behavior continued during the divorce and even up until now. Every single “kindness” that is shown toward us is later thrown back at me and used as ammunition to justify inappropriate behavior. The few times I actually really, truly needed to depend on my partner for something and actually asked and expected the help–ninety-nine percent of the time I was let down. I learned to always have a back-up plan because I usually needed it. So you see, when people do nice things for me, bad things happen and/or I can’t trust them to actually be there.
I didn’t realize I had projected this onto others until that night in my personal finance class. I expressed my confusion and frustration that I couldn’t just feel grateful, that there was this fear there for some reason. As I discussed with my friends in the class, the why of some of it hit me, and it made sense.
Now that I’m aware, I can go about the adjusting. I still feel anxiety about asking for help. I still dig too far down on my own before thinking to ask for a hand up, but now that I understand better part of the reason why I keep digging, I can more readily remember to look up. Now that I understand how I was unconsciously still blaming and giving away control, I can consciously take that control back again. It will take practice. This is a big one for me. But now that I’m aware, I can progress.
I’ve already started practicing. Yesterday, I badly needed to run down to the store and get a piece for my son’s clarinet that broke. We live an hour away from the store that had the piece, and I couldn’t get there in time before it closed. I was stressing about how I could rush down the highway and get there in time when it occurred to me: I have multiple family members and friends that live much closer. I could ask for help! I did. My mom picked up the mouthpiece and brought it up to us. I’m grateful to her and I know nothing bad will happen. Victory #1 of infinity.