Being in need sucks. Crisis, stress, illness, loss, and pain can all be humbling, defeating, depleting circumstances that brush against the painful edges of humanness.
You’ve probably been there yourself or loved someone who’s been there at some point in life. These seasons show you the susceptibility and vulnerabilities of the world. It is awful on either side of crisis – to experience and to witness. Even further, the response to these difficult circumstances can often make a hard situation even worse.
Do you feel like an inconvenience or problem to someone else? When you are in need, do you refuse help and simply endure and try to manage on your own? Are you someone who tries to suck it up and deal with things in isolation? Do you confuse a time of need with being needy? Well, let me offer another perspective.
Someone I care about is going through an incredibly challenging time. I’m watching their struggle from the outside with sadness, fear, and powerlessness that is hard to deal with. Watching someone you love suffer is one of the hardest things to endure. I want to help. I’m available and have offered (numerous times). And yet, they simply won’t allow it.
Here’s the script:
“How are you?” I ask.
“I’m tired and this is really hard, but I’m ok” is the depleted, exhausted reply.
“You don’t sound ok. What can I do to help?” I retort.
“I don’t want to trouble you. I’ll be ok.”
“I’m here and I want to support you.” I feel myself urgently trying to convince.
“I know how busy you are and I don’t want to trouble you.” is the polite, martyred refusal.
“You are never a trouble to me” I say, saddened by the realization that they will continue to endure this alone.
Why is it so difficult to allow others in; to allow support, assistance, and help? Why do we refuse the efforts of others or deem ourselves a bother? Why do we feel the need to suffer in silence? No one likes to struggle. No wants to endure suffering. So why do we feel the need to do it alone?
Several years ago, I broke my leg. A trip to the ER revealed 10 weeks of non-weight bearing recovery, no driving, no walking… nothing. My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, a 3-story house felt a castle. The 12-mile trek to work would be impossible for me to conquer alone. The laundry, the cat box, cooking, going to the bathroom, showering, putting dishes away, carrying a cup of coffee, grocery shopping… even the basics seemed unmanageable.
Though it was temporary, it was 10 weeks of needing some serious help, learning to do things totally different, relying on others, not being able to reach things, spilling stuff and making messes, needing help with showering and dressing myself in the beginning – it was a lot! There were several occasions I had to be seen in some less-than-ideal circumstances, leaving me feeling embarrassed, “needy”, incompetent, and incapable. Temporary, but humbling for sure. It sucked, but what choice did I have?
Months later, one of my girlfriends was reflecting back on that time and shared “You made it so easy to help you. You told us what you needed, the dates, the times, and the ways we could help. It was so clear where we could jump in and when. You dealt with what you could but asked for what you couldn’t.” Wow, I just thought I was surviving but her reflection offered me an alternative point of view.
This experience came rushing back to me in sharp contrast to what I’m currently dealing with as the helper. I have no idea where, or how, or when, or even if I should jump in. It doesn’t feel right just to show up, especially after I’ve offered. Not doing something feels awful and I have a lot of fear that their fierce independence may actually worsen the situation. But I am powerless, and my offers have been refused, repeatedly. I have no right to force, fix, or manage something I haven’t been asked to, even as awful as it feels.
So, for those of you who try not to “be a bother”, please let me assure you, you are not bothering someone who loves you. Healthy humans want to serve those they love. The confusion, concern, and overwhelm of not being able to help is much more of a bother than the actual effort of driving you somewhere, putting your dishes away, folding your laundry, or simply sitting with you for a moment or two. Allowing yourself to be seen, held, and loved through crisis, through the mess and muck of humanness is scary, vulnerable, and humbling. It’s also loving, rewarding, and so deeply intimate. We need more of that in this world – holding space, serving, seeing and loving each other through the hard times in life. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
For those of you who feel like a bother, a nuisance, or too much trouble, I challenge you to stand in that place of vulnerability, ask for the help you need, and allow others to love and serve you in your time of need. It becomes a win-win that allows you to receive the help you need while allowing others to get outside of themselves and take action for those they love. And the world will be better because of it!
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Life Coach