- Finding the grace to say “No,” or “Thank you”
When you are at a breaking point, it is sometimes harder to accept help than keep pushing through. Even when the breaking point has passed and you’ve broken, it is still hard to accept help when it is offered.
There are times, for all of us, when we need a little help. Sometimes it’s emotional support, and other times we need a bit of physical assistance. We don’t always recognise when we are ready to snap or crumble under pressure, but something has to give. If we can’t understand that we need help, acknowledge the need for assistance, and ask for what we need, the chances are that we may get help, but it’s unlikely to be the help we need.
Even when we have accepted and acknowledged the need for help, some of us resist it, instead preferring to forge on ahead, tackling every obstacle single-handedly. Accepting the help that is offered can feel like an admission of failure, so we push on through the barriers.
Something’s Gotta Give
Mom (of a toddler) abroad, no extended family support, working full-time, commuting…
Something has to get left behind; in my case, it was my house. It’s clean enough but perpetually untidy. I could clean more often, but then I would be neglecting my child, and working full-time, I get few enough opportunities to spend time with him.
The week before my parents came to visit, I lost my job (through no fault of mine, but I still became one of the unemployed). I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend that week cleaning my house while the rampaging toddler was at nursery.
The day the parents arrived, I fell ill, gut-twisting, doubled up in agony, kind of sickness. I couldn’t finish the cleaning required to keep my parents happy (everything has to smell like it bathed in bleach or it’s not clean). I was supposed to be using the time they were there to spruce up my online writing profile, give some TLC to my neglected blogs, get my résumé out into the realm of recruiters, and expand my “personal brand”.
What I actually ended up doing was a perpetual cycle of cleaning and tidying initiated by one or both of my parents, under the guise of “helping”.
Help is only Help when it is helpful
I make no dispute that my house could use a touch of additional elbow crease in some places.
The “help” in tidying up my house wasn’t helpful. It was persistent and perpetual — a toddler lives here. The help wasn’t a case of “we will do this while you get on with the stuff you need to get a new job.” It was a cattle prod in the ribs saying, “You shall clean, right now, because that is the help WE have decided you need, and what is important to US.” Of course, getting a new job so I can afford to pay bills isn’t high on the priority list at all.
In part, this whole episode is a situation of my own making. I knew that my house wasn’t up to parental standards. I also knew that I could probably do with a cleaner coming in once or twice a week (obviously, losing my job means that I can’t afford it, now). I couldn’t take the “help” offered because I had let it become obvious that I needed it. Moreover, if I had been able to ASK for the ACTUAL help that I needed, I might have been able to achieve everything; clean and tidy house, jobs applied for, the personal brand expanded, more content with my (real) name in circulation, time to play and be with my son, and a date night with my husband. But I couldn’t ask for the help that would actually be helpful.
Accepting unhelpful help is just counter-intuitive.
I’ll get by with a little help from my friends
And when I find some, I’ll put them to work straight away. I’m an introvert and practically a hermit, even more so when working from home (too long as a freelancer and I become agoraphobic and withdrawn). I have few friends and even fewer who live nearby. My favourite has just gone and moved to the UK with her partner (Why???).
I have friends, but most of the time, they are acquaintances rather than being there for each other in times of strife. I have my sister (who lives nearish, in the next city) and my husband. My Honey is at the same breaking point as myself (although he still has a job, he rather hates it). He is also on sleep deprivation because the boy won’t sleep and has had a preference (demand) for Daddy for the past month.
We are stretched thinner than a thin thing that has been stretched really thinly.
Asking for help, Saying no, and Acceptance
Asking for help, for me, is admitting defeat. Being offered help feels like I have failed to keep up appearances. Accepting help feels like being stomped on while I’m down. I need to change my perspective.
A change in perspective means altering how I feel about myself, and that is not an easy task. If I can accept myself and the limits of my abilities, time and priorities, then I can also accept that needing help is not a failure.
Asking for help is a strength in itself because you get to prioritise the things that are most important to you. If you can possibly delegate the superficial aspects of an overwhelmed life, that will bring some balance back to your existence.
Accepting help means also accepting the limitations and boundaries of the people around you. If you ask for help and it is offered, you have to work within the parameters of the person you are asking and make it work with what you need. If the help that is offered doesn’t or cannot work within your needs, you are perfectly okay to say, “No, thanks, it’s okay.”
If we go back to my example above, my parents wanted to help me out. I know the offer came from a place of love. In an ideal world, where I am in control of my emotional responses and feelings of inadequacy, I would have said, “Thanks, that means I can get other things done, which will help me the most.”
The offer of a helping hand is supposed to help lift the load of the person in need. For some of us, those helping hands can feel like an additional load. Accepting help feels like adding to the burden, not lifting a load.
I wasn’t strong enough to recognise my limits, their boundaries to help, and how to make the two cooperate.
Hindsight is a blessing and a curse. I hope that the next time I can go about accepting help graciously and effectively or say no. I make no promises. I never said that self-acceptance was an easy path.