It would seem that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, because everyone has difficulties. But when you have to ask someone for a favour, many people are embarrassed, take a long time to gather their courage and struggle to find the right words. A psychologist explains why this happens and tells you how to cope with anxiety.

When we need help, the bravest and most determined of us behave like shy children. We start babbling inarticulately, making up convenient excuses, looking for excuses, or procrastinating until the last minute.

Deep down, everyone agrees that asking for help is better than suffering, but it is so hard!

According to psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, five common fears rob us of confidence and speech. And it is in our power to cope with them, and thus learn to ask for help without damaging our ego.


We worry in advance that a person will have to sacrifice something for us. This fear manifests itself in thoughts like ‘she has enough to worry about without me’ or ‘he has more important things to do’.

What to do

Firstly, remind yourself that people like to help. Not only does it strengthen social bonds, but it’s also enjoyable. The contiguous nucleus, the most primitive part of the brain, responds to altruistic acts in the same way it does to sex and food. Asking for help sounds like agreeing to accept a gift and is sure to make the person you’re reaching out to happy.

Leave it up to the person to decide whether or not they are too busy to fulfil your request

Secondly, think about how you would behave if, say, a friend needed help. Most likely, you would feel honoured and would be willing to do the favour. Others would feel the same way.

It’s important to ask for something specific. The phrase ‘I could use some help’ is vague and vague, but ‘these medications make me like a squeezed lemon, no strength to even go down to the shop for groceries’ sounds clear and precise. If someone you know is willing to take on some of the burden, rely on them. Say, for example: “Thank you for your concern. Honestly, I really need help with the laundry – I can’t lift heavy things after my surgery. When is it convenient for you to come round?”


This fear is especially common for those who have been in denial about problems for too long: relationship crisis, alcohol addiction, and so on. We feel like failures and feel ashamed that we can’t cope on our own.

What to do

Of course, you can fight yourself, but, alas, despite our best efforts, not everything and not always under our control. As you know, you can not stop the wave, but you can ride it. And the best thing is to have a friend by your side.

Try to separate the problem from yourself and think of it as an animate object

Draw it, and opposite – yourself and the one who will help you overcome it. There is a problem, but it is not you or anyone else. When discussing solutions, you can refer to the problem as ‘it.’ In family therapy, this technique is called ‘co-distancing.’

A conversation might go something like this: “The credit card debt needs to be closed as soon as possible before we go completely down the drain. This is about to get out of control. Let’s think together about how to cut costs.”


Few people enjoy feeling indebted. We feel that we have to repay an equal favour, as if we are only being helped out of self-interest.

What to do

A group of psychologists at the University of California conducted a study on gratitude and obligation in marital relationships. It turned out that spouses who thank each other for even a little help (not because they have to, but because they want to) enjoy it and fight less often. ‘Apparently, gratitude is the key to a happy marriage,’ the authors conclude.

First, consider who you can turn to. If you know that the person does not mind playing on guilt and is prone to manipulation, look for someone else. When you help out of favour and put a lot of conditions – it is a duty. When they help willingly and without too many questions – it’s a gift.

Let’s say your request has already been fulfilled. Replace the feeling of duty (‘I owe her!’) with a feeling of gratitude (‘She’s so helpful!’).

If at the same time you realise that you want (not owe) to do something good to a person, go ahead. But in general, after you’ve been helped, it’s enough to just say, ‘Thank you! I really appreciate it!”


We often don’t ask for help for fear of being thought badly of.

What to do

Think of your problem as an opportunity to consult an expert and yourself as a savvy craftsman who needs reliable tools. Think back to who you think of as an expert. Perhaps a relative of yours has recently had a checkup and can speak in detail about the mammogram that scares you so much. Perhaps the young genius next door can help improve your poorly designed website.

In any case, treat people like experienced professionals – trust me, they’ll enjoy it

For example: “I remember the last time you were looking for a job, you were called for several interviews at once. You have talent! I’m struggling with my cover letter. Can you look over my drafts and give me a recommendation?” Use phrases like, ‘Can you show me?’, ‘Can you explain?’, ‘Can you give me your opinion?’, ‘It’s been so long since I’ve done this, can you remind me?’.


Once you’ve been burned by milk, you blow on water, don’t you think? Did someone turn you down when you were in trouble? If you still remember that symbolic ‘spit in the face,’ it’s no wonder you don’t want to make new attempts to ask for help.

What to do

First, try to change your attitude about that bitter lesson. What was the reason for the rejection – was it you or other people? Unfortunately, some people lack empathy. Others are afraid of the ‘what-ifs.’ Others only care about themselves. Rejection doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It’s likely that the people you risked bothering are the ones with the problem. Don’t be discouraged. If the request is reasonable, another person will respond to it.

Also, the next time you need help, use the decatastrophising technique. Imagine that your fear has come true: you’ve been told no. How bad is that? Have things gotten worse?

Most likely, the ‘no’ just means that your situation hasn’t changed

If you’re still afraid of hearing a rejection, admit it so you can worry less. Any intelligent person will understand your condition and treat you with empathy. For example: ‘I’m so embarrassed, but still – can I ask a favour?’