Receiving Help Openly and Giving Help with Empathy

I would like to expand on a Facebook post of mine where I declared, to friends and followers, my personal pledge to be more comfortable asking for help.

I have a strong “built-in” aversion to asking for help from others. In thinking about this more, I discovered that this phenomenon is not limited to just help, but is equally true for receiving gifts, kindness, compliments, etc. I have this great desire to never be in debt to another, but am coming to realize that this makes me controlling and possessive over my own life by limiting what others can contribute to my experience.¬†There are two ways I want to practice removing this reflexive habit from my life.

First, learning to uncritically and wholeheartedly receive help/advice/kindness without questioning, without probing. Too often I sell myself short and down-play a kind word or play devils advocate against myself. I do this to avoid ego, but I’m learning there may be a healthy amount of ego and that there’s a certain amount of ego that will be perceived regardless. My desire to be self-taught and learn the skills/wisdom needed to carry me through life limits how much I’m able to accomplish. I need to learn how to gain skills through observation and osmosis, instead of my own blood, sweat, and tears. To do this I require more patience to passively observe, listen, and absorb information uncritically, taking in what it has to offer, and not frustrating myself with the excess, which may be known to me or not useful to my current situation.

Second, I recognize that, to complete the equation, I must practice giving help only when it’s asked for and with empathy for the helped. I’m guilty of short-cutting for solutions to my own challenges, to move on to the next problem du jour. While I work on that, I need to be mindful of when I impress that problem-solving technique on to others. When listening to others talk about their day, I should do just that, listen. Not all problems need answers from me and sometimes it’s better to wait to be asked. When hearing about an issue, I often see a past self in them, where I went through the same challenge. Thinking all they need to do is hear and benefit from my wisdom, I come off as unconcerned or dismissive of the real struggle the problem presents in their life. I believe that seeing myself in others makes me empathetic, but short-circuiting the process for the speaker does not show it.

  • “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” –¬†Mohsin Hamid

There’s a whole lot more I could say about this by delving into my upbringing, career spent being an analytical problem solver, or relationships tarnished by what I always viewed as conversations cut short. My intent was to focus on what I’ve learned and need to practice in order to change deeply ingrained habits and thought patterns. Hopefully this will resonate with others because knowing that I’m heard helps it sink in and allows me to explore the ideas further with others, which is what this is all about.

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