You don't have to be Superman

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

man pulling open shirt to show Superman logo
Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay


I've heard it said that death is humankind's greatest fear, but it's hardly the only fear that haunts us.

For me, there's something that scares me even more than death, and that's the idea of complete and utter helplessness.

I remember when I was still a research chemist working in the lab, our safety group introduced us to a book about a compound that left those who accidentally ingested it completely unable to move. They couldn't even blink or swallow or their own free will.

The victims were mentally (and emotionally) unchanged, so they had full consciousness, but no way to move or communicate in any way. They were entirely dependent on others to care for them, without even the ability to express their needs.

That terrified me like nothing else I've ever encountered, especially when I realized that a compound that I was currently working with in the lab was only a slight modification of the one described in the book.

That is, of course, an extreme when it comes to a need for help, but it's not the only time when I've found myself shying away from the idea of needing help.

I've discovered that the more I need help, the less control I have over my life and my situation. Even when it comes to things like home repairs, as soon as I have to hire help, I find that I begin to lose control over the outcome and am often pressured to accept something other than what I had wanted in a project.

How much more has that been true when it comes to needing emotional help and support when I'm facing hard times! Sometimes I have received the help and support I've needed, but I've also had times when asking for help has left me vulnerable to new wounds from the very person I had hoped would help me.

It's left me leery of asking for help and, therefore, all the more afraid of being in a situation of needing help.

I don't think I'm alone in that fear.

We are a culture who idolizes the lone hero who needs no help from others, the one who can do it all on her (or his) own to rescue others and themselves.

And yet, part of being human is that we are social creatures, interdependent on one another. We operate within a social context, we make meaning as part of our social surroundings, and we are hurt and heal in the context of social relationships.

When our lives fall apart and we are flattened by grief and loss, we all need help in many forms to put our lives back together and find new ways forward. It's a natural, normal part of being human.

The truth is that there is no shame in asking for the help we need, and asking for help does not require that we release control of our lives to anyone else.

The problem comes when we fear asking for help, don't know how to ask for the help we need, or ask for help from the wrong people.

It's natural and normal to need help when we face loss and grief. Don't allow yourself or anyone else to make you ashamed of that need! Needing help in dealing with a painful loss does not mean you are weak or incompetent or faulty. It just means you are human.

Asking for the help you need is a step of bravery and of hope and of empowerment as you move toward healing and reconstruction of your life. There's nothing there to be ashamed of and much to be proud of.

As you take that brave step of asking for help, though, you'll get the best results if you are clear with yourself and others about what it is you need.

Do you need someone to listen and not offer advice? If so, don't hesitate to make that clear up front.

Do you need someone to just be present, even if you (and they) never say a word? If so, communicate that.

Do you need physical help with handling the details of life (making funeral arrangements, preparing food, driving you to doctor's appointments, helping with child care)? Make it clear what you do and don't need and how you need that help to look.

You'll be much more likely to get the help you need when you are able to tell people exactly what those needs are and set boundaries around what is (and is not) helpful to you.

Finally, make sure that the people you ask for help are people who are able to provide what you need.

This may be the hardest step of all. When we are hurting, we most often turn instinctively to those who are closest to us, but they are not always the people who are able to be the most helpful in times like that.

It's not that they don't love us or care for us; it's that they can't separate their own pain in watching us hurt from their wish to help. There can be a tendency of those closest to us to want to rush us through our grieving because it is painful for them to watch us grieve, and that can undermine their best efforts to help us.

It can sometimes take a little trial and error to figure out who is best suited to provide the kind of help we need. One person may do well with offering one kind of help, while someone else excels at offering a different kind of help, and it's up to us to learn who to ask for which thing.

Most importantly, when we find that someone is not able to give us the kind of help we need, we need to be able to ask elsewhere. That person's inability to help does not mean that we need to surrender our need for help, accept that which is unhelpful, feel ashamed of our need, or otherwise cease seeking that which we need.

In a culture that idolizes Superman-like heroes, learning how to ask for help and to give help are skills that are often neglected, but that doesn't mean that you need to try to become Superman.

Needing help is normal and natural, especially when life is falling apart around you. Being brave enough to empower yourself to seek the help you need (while rejecting shame and other unhelpful responses) is a skill that can be learned and mastered.

Give yourself the gift of embracing that skill.


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