You Don't REALLY Want to Help Me, Do You?

A couple posts ago, I wrote about how and why we shy away from accepting help from the world when we’re struggling. And it's still on my mind. This idea that we should be able to do it all or else we’re failing is incredibly pervasive in our society, and it’s so hard to fully escape it.

Whether you tend to shy away from assistance because of shame, embarrassment, or any of the other reasons I listed in my other post, there is usually an element of caring too much about what other people think. Not only is it none of your business to worry about what other people are thinking (even it’s about you), but it’s a pointless endeavor because you just can’t ever really know the full story behind their opinion. Even if someone tells you what they think -- and they’re actually being completely honest -- you can never fully understand it because you won't ever truly know their point of view and the huge array of thoughts, experiences, emotions and other random baggage behind the opinion being dealt.

What someone thinks of you is actually all about them. Not you.

Sure, you inspired the thought/opinion/judgement, but it’s based on their own perceptions. Two people could witness you doing something and have completely different thoughts on it. One could think you’re the worst because what you did reminds them of something shitty from their childhood. The other could think you’re awesome because they would have done the same thing, and they relate to you. Either way, they judged the situation based on their own experience. Their judgement was about them; you just inspired it.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Let's say on separate occasions, you ask two different friends to babysit your kids while you go get an oil change (because three kids chilling in the Jiffylube waiting room is just not happening). One is offended you’d ask because she’s so busy, and you should be able to handle your own kids out in public. The other friend says she’d love to, and you should also get your nails done while you’re at it.

It would be so easy to fixate on what the friend that didn’t want to help said. Maybe I should just take them with me even though we’d all be miserable. I suck at managing my kids. She’s right; I chose to have these kids, I should be able to take them with me anywhere. I suck.

OR you can accept that your friend just expressed her boundaries (however rudely), and you should not go to her for that kind of help again. She has her reasons and opinions, and that’s ok.

You may choose to tell her that her reaction hurt your feelings (which is expressing your own boundaries about how you expect to be spoken to), but you don’t need to internalize her opinion of you, you don’t need to get defensive, and you don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of trying to understand it either. She didn’t want to help. She expressed that. Next time seek help elsewhere. You could never ever fully explain her motivations for responding to you that way, and unless you plan to ask her directly, you won’t ever understand it by spinning your wheels, inventing stories, and ruminating.

This is not to say you shouldn’t have heart-to-hearts and try to address conflict directly and respectfully; that’s certainly an option, but you shouldn’t put the ‘judgmental friend’s’ opinion of you higher than the ‘accepting friend’s’ opinion of you or -- more importantly -- your own opinion of yourself, which is actually what this blog post is really about.

Your opinion of yourself always trumps anyone else’s opinion of you, whether it’s good or bad. If someone comes at you with an opinion of you that resonates with you, it will affect you. Period. If their opinion doesn’t reflect your own opinion of yourself, it won’t even register.

Silly example:

Someone says they hate your Parks & Rec tattoo. Internally, you’ve been regretting ever getting it. Their opinion devastates you because they’re right; what were you thinking? How much does laser removal cost?

Someone says they hate your Parks & Rec tattoo. Your tattoo is the best tattoo in the history of tattoos. This person is obviously delusional for not agreeing. You don’t give their opinion any merit.

Serious example:

Your kid is having a ridiculously dramatic meltdown at Target over a toy you said he can’t have. You’re feeling inadequate, ashamed, and embarrassed.  A stranger looks you right in the eye and gives you a dirty look. Your shame and embarrassment quadruple, and you want to crawl into a hole.

Your kid is having a ridiculously dramatic meltdown at Target over a toy you said he can’t have. You know your kid is having an off day, and tantrums are just a normal part of childhood. You think you’re handling it pretty damn well.  A stranger looks you right in the eye and gives you a dirty look. You ignore it because they’re just being rude for whatever reason. Maybe they need a hug just as bad as your screaming toddler does.

My point is that the only way to transcend the negative opinions of others is to manage your own opinions of yourself. If someone’s judgement triggers you, get curious. Why does their opinion bother you so much? What internal thoughts are sneakily being validated by their judgement? Is that opinion of yourself fair? Can you change it? What can you do to minimize the effect of that limiting belief about yourself?

When we let the opinions of others affect us we give them all of our power. Our thoughts and actions are driven by the motivation to avoid or change their judgements, and we end up acting in ways that serve them and not us. Which (surprise!) takes us back to the topic of asking for and accepting help.

If we’re beholden to all the random reasons we don’t want to ask for help (see my last blog post), then we are probably putting the expected judgement from others before our need for support. Which is silly, hurtful, pointless, and -- honestly -- just really hard to stop. Our brains are so hardwired to try to belong, be accepted, and be loved that it is extremely hard not to care what other people think. But it’s a worthy goal. Carefully crafting positive opinions of ourselves and being vulnerable around the people we trust is imperative if we expect to live life outside of survival mode. If we can manage to do that, then asking for help wouldn’t be so excruciating.

So get curious. Next time you’re afraid to reach out for help, ask yourself why?. Wonder if your reason is valid, or if it is based on an insecurity. Are you asking the right person in the right way (upfront and honestly)? If they decline, are you spinning a story around it? Are you internalizing their answer? What are you making their answer mean about you? Is it true? Or can you just accept their answer without falling down the shame spiral?


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Orange County, CA United States
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