Mindful living: learning to ask for help

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in women's health | 4 comments

How often do you ask for help? Better yet, how easily do you ask for and receive help?

Reading Karen Rosenthal Hilsberg’s “Lessons in Living” and her struggle to make sense of a life unraveled as her husband dies, I can’t help but reflect on a close friend who is ill. Despite a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, he has had trouble acknowledging the seriousness of his condition and even more trouble asking for support. Quite honestly, he doesn’t do too well in that department and neither do I. However, like him, I readily offer assistance to those I love and care about, whenever I can.

So, why the divide between offering and taking?

Hilsberg writes that “what I learned during this intense time of life was profound. I learned to ask for help from others.” Utilizing the mindfulness practice of the Zen Master, Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddhist Master Thich Phuoc Tinh, she says that she discovered that asking for help really wasn’t much different than providing it, that the helper and ‘helpee’ were intertwined, unable to exist without the other.  By allowing assistance, she was able to provide others who cared about her and her family an opportunity to “be of service and to practice generosity” and in doing so, make a shift away trying to do everything on her own. Most importantly, by reflecting on how much she personally enjoyed being of service when loved ones needed her, she was able to accept how appropriate and okay it was to actually ask for help from others — to allow them to “do” as much as she did. The result? Her “wellbeing improved as [she] felt [her] burden shared by many hands.”

As caretakers, many women often do not adapt well to being on the “receiving end.” And yet,  most of us are aware of the importance of social ties, friendships and support to our health and wellbeing, particularly as we age. So why do we find it so difficult to ask for and receive help? How do we acknowledge that be cared for does not equate to losing power or control but actually improves outlook, wellbeing, and ability to deal with any challenges that we might be facing, that allowing others to “do” empowers and does not ‘de-power?’ Is it fear of refusal? Or fear of letting go?

Mastering the art of asking for help is difficult. However, it behooves us to do so, not only for our wellbeing but for the wellbeing of those around us who wish to help.

My friend deserves the kind of care that he has provided to others in his life for most of his life.

Guess what?

So do you.


  1. 2-28-2011

    This is an important post Liz. Women and men can have difficulty asking for help but as was noted: discovered that asking for help really wasn’t much different than providing it, that the helper and ‘helpee’ were intertwined, unable to exist without the other.

    I had a close friend who would get upset with me because she enjoyed helping, it made her feel good, yet I often didn’t ask. Cherry

    • 2-28-2011

      Cherry. It’s taken me years to learn how to ask and more importantly, receive. I think that some of that has to do with self-esteem and some, control. But when I do let go, it is incredibly rewarding. With age comes wisdom, and the power to let go…

  2. 3-17-2011

    Being part of a helping profession, and asking for help, they don’t go hand in hand. I have such a hard time.
    It’s good to think about accepting help, and hopefully I will get better at it. 🙂

    • 3-17-2011

      You’ve already have. 🙂 Hugs.


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