Have you ever really needed help, like really, and someone said, “Can I do anything for you?” Would you like me to go with you and sit with you while your husband has surgery? Can I run this errand for you? Would you like me to come over and be with you for a while? I am stopping at Starbucks, can I pick up anything for you? And you knew that the answer was really an unequivocal yes. Yes, it would mean so much if you could stop by with a casserole. Yes, I would like it if you came over. And even as every single thing in you wanted to say yes that there was something, some horrible, awful, part of you said instead, “No, I am fine. Thanks for asking, but I am fine. Don’t want to be a bother.”
I have had two friends in the last couple of weeks ask me if they could help and I could feel that “No, I don’t want to be a bother” voice wanting to decline their request. I could hear that inner monologue of worrying about inconveniencing, feeling needy, feeling like it was too much to ask and yet even as I heard the barrage of reasons I should refuse their kindness-- I also knew that I needed them. I knew that if I said no to them that I would feel sad, alone and have had a need go unmet that could have been met.
Yes, it is a pain in the ass for my girlfriend to drive across the Los Angeles freeways to come and hang with me for two hours, but the truth is that I wanted and needed to see her and she knew that when she offered to come over. If I said 'no' I would be rejecting a gift of her friendship by refusing her generous offer just because it was “inconvenient”(my words not hers). I am sure that if I were to ask my friend if she felt inconvenienced, that she would say no, that she too got something out of being there for me---that is what friends do for each other. And I know for sure that if I asked her and she had said, “Yes, I would like you to come over. Yes, I would like you to sit with me in the waiting room as I wait for my beloved to have surgery, that I would like you to sit with me, laugh with me, distract me from my anxiety", that I would have been there in a second without thinking twice. But when it is my turn to say yes I need help, it feels vulnerable and dependent and that is not my deal. However, by letting myself need others I am doing self-care for myself and for the health of my relationships (which are very much part of my self-care).
So often those of us who refuse the offers of kindness from friends and family, they are the first to be there for others. There can be lots of reasons why we don’t accept people’s offers—maybe we don’t feel deserving, maybe it feels vulnerable and scary to let ourselves need others, and maybe there is something deeply self-protective in not letting ourselves need. Some of us have learned in past relationships that we aren’t entitled to have needs, or that when we have, we have been let down by people so we stop expecting anyone to be there for us. Maybe we have had people hold over our heads their acts of kindness and so we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation again. So when you come up against a need that someone who is safe, respectful and who is authentically and genuinely wanting to be there for us, it can be important to assess, “Why am I afraid to say 'yes' here? Is there anything that I believe can happen to me by accepting this act of kindness?” and if there isn’t then it can be helpful to look at the past and see what we have learned about counting on others and how that is impacting what we can accept now.
Here is the truth, and I say this as much for you as I say it for me, we are all humans and we all have needs and none of us, none of us are able to get through life without help from others—none of us. We are a species that requires others for our survival, interdependency is healthy and normal and to be expected. Yes, people sometimes go too far and they become dependent and codependent and they expect another to meet all of their needs---and that is a different topic for a different day---but that is not what I am talking about today. What I am talking about and what I want you, me, and all of us to know, is that when people who care about us offer to do something for us, they as autonomous adults, are making a choice. We have to trust them to take care of their own needs and know that they wouldn’t offer to do something that they sincerely didn’t want to do. So, when someone wants to help and you truly and genuinely need that help----it is not only self-care to accept that help, it is working through beliefs that you need to be completely self-reliant and independent(and all of that is good stuff).
As I write this post, my friend is in her BMW driving cross-town. She is traveling four crowded L.A. freeways to come and hang out with me. When she asked me that simple, loving and genuine question, “Do you want me to come over?” I almost said 'no' , I almost went to the default, “I am fine. I don’t want to be a bother.” But I didn't do the default, instead I trusted that this friend wouldn’t offer something if she wasn’t sincere about it and so I let her come. Instead of saying no, in a few minutes when she arrives, I am going to say “thank you”.