Sunday, January 28, 2007

Asking Directly for What We Want

Asking directly for what we want is very difficult.

First of all you have to know what you want. That is not always easy. It involves noticing your own distress or need, and correctly diagnosing a possible solution. Many times we feel vaguely unhappy or sad and have no idea what would help.

Then, you have to have in your heart the concept of needs being met, the possibility of improvement. You have to have some experience of feeling bad, then feeling better. When you need help, some times people help you.

And which people would that be? You have to have people you can trust around to receive your requests. You have to experience them being willing, pleasant, and regularly saying yes to you. Your experience must also be that they are gracious and generous about helping you, and do not extract a high price.

Also, to ask for help you have to feel enough okay about your self that you can handle not being perfect. I need help, I cannot manage everything myself, but I am a good enough person over all. I actually deserve help. I help others.

That deserving is a big thing. You have to think there is some reason that some one would actually be willing to do something for you.

Asking for help directly makes you vulnerable. The other person could say no. They could make fun of you. By telling them what you need you are showing how they could hurt you.

I know a lot of very competent people (especially women) who cannot ask for help. I know many professionals that have trouble delegating and work from an "I-can-do-everything-myself" stance. I know women who take on every responsibility in their family, and men who can’t share worries about work. I know a man who overwhelms his friends by doing things for them until they become annoyed, because he can’t imagine they would like him unless he "bought" their friendship. I myself often have difficulty asking for and accepting help.

When we work with treatment systems we try to teach staff willingness to step back from an interaction with a kid and accept help from a peer when you are stuck. People say that this is hard. Harder still is identifying the kid you are struggling with and asking the team members to help you figure out what is going on for you and thus do better treatment with that kid.


When we focus with our kids on "asking appropriately" we are demanding a very high level of functioning, maybe more than we ourselves can do. How many times have I heard a staff saying "you didn’t ask appropriately" or "she is only doing that for attention". Manipulation, as we have seen, is the essence of asking indirectly and dishonestly for what one needs.

If we believe that symptoms are adaptations and solve a problem, we cannot wait until our kids can "ask appropriately" to meet their needs. None of the above conditions have been true in their lives. Instead, we have to guess and use observation and trial and error to figure out what their needs are. Then we have to meet them. We have to volunteer help, give graciously and generously to them as best we can. Then, maybe, after much time, they can relax, trust, and feel safe enough to ask for what they need.

Maybe even appropriately.

And maybe if we also create environments in which we can relax, trust and feel safe, we can also learn to ask for and accept help from each other.

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