I want to share an important insight I gained recently about why I resist asking for help, even when I desperately need it, because I know this issue affects many women. Recently, as I lay in bed recovering from major surgery and entirely dependent on my husband's and family's help to get dressed, bathe, and fix my meals I was shocked to realize how uncomfortable I am with asking for help and receiving help. I already knew that I prefer to do things for myself, but it wasn't until I had no choice but to ask for help for the most basic of daily activities that I saw how pervasive my discomfort was and how limited my sense of entitlement was to get the help I needed.
As I drew my mother-daughter history map on this issue I saw how this is an inherited generational theme from my grandmother and mother. I grew up in a home where the Culture of Female Service reigned supreme. Asking for help as a woman was treated as a sign of weakness. It was normal for my mother and grandmother to deny that they needed anything and to gain their sense of worth and visibility through caregiving. I never heard my mother ask my father for help and I can count the times my father helped out my mom on one hand. And when my mom was ill, my father would leave her to take care of herself. I never heard my grandmother ask my mom for help, even though my mom spent her life caring for her. My mom was expected to know what her mother needed through telepathy and to decipher the indirect and manipulative ways my grandmother voiced what she didn't feel entitled to ask for.
Having grown up in this environment, it makes sense that I became fiercely self-sufficient. I thought that by doing things for myself I would not repeat the extreme neglect I witnessed my mother and grandmother suffering from. And I also thought that it would stop me from continuing the manipulative ways my mother and grandmother used to get their needs met. But this clearly did not entirely change this pattern for me. Outwardly I have created a very different life for myself than my mother was able to create for herself. I have built a career and I am far more able to identify what I need. But the belief that it is weak to ask for help still has a hold over me. And like many women, I have a tendency to put my needs last. When my kids were young I tried to ensure that my family was not affected by my university study and private coaching and therapy practice. I thought that this was normal. I did not realize that I was repeating the gender inequality I had grown up with where the husband is supported and cared-for and his job and career receives the time and attention it needs, whilst the wife's care needs are not inquired after or acknowledged as she squeezes her job and career into the empty spaces around the edge of the family.
This insight has forced me to recognize the downside of my fierce self-sufficiency. Being empowered to take care of myself is a good thing. But it also has a dark side that leaves me doing more care giving than care receiving and more supporting than being supported. And through this I am repeating the same emotional neglect and invisibility my mother and grandmother suffered from. Learning how to ask for help and being comfortable with receiving the help people gladly want to give means that I have to dig deep and work on being comfortable with being "needy". Being needy needs to lose its negative connotations and I need to stop believing that it is selfish or weak to have needs as a female. I need to stop saying I'm fine when I'm not. I need to see myself as a human being who needs help from time to time and not as Superwoman who can do everything herself. And I need to develop a greater degree of empathy for myself as a person.
Sadly my mother and grandmother did not know that they mattered as people. Their only way of being visible was through their role as wife, mother, and daughter, and the caring they provided. They did not see themselves as people who deserved to be cared-for and supported, and for my sake and my daughter's sake, this generational theme must end. I need to grow a deep rooted sense of entitlement that believes it is human to need and empowered to ask.