Bruce Fountain - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  

Bruce A. Fountain
101 Redlands Blvd
Suite 200
Redlands, CA 92373
(909) 792-9797

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Asking for Help is an Acquired Life Skill


Asking for help does not always come naturally and it is difficult for some of us. I am aware that my own difficulty asking for help has too frequently gotten me farther down the road to trouble than was necessary. Whether I am stubbornly driving in circles with my wife or trying to repair plumbing by myself, I am making a decision to let things get worse. This behavior defies common sense and in some cases creates a situation that is annoying if not damaging to me and to my relationships. A child who fails in school without asking for help, a couple that continues to fight over the same issues, and someone that will not seek assistance with personal issues, are all choosing to fail because they will not or do not know how to use an important life skill.

So what should we do when the answers are not obvious or someone else has expertise in a particular area that we need to know about? Maybe a friend has some suggestions that might help with a dilemma . Possibly, a good therapist can help us find our way and untangle our issues. If we do not ask for help, we are choosing to use obsolete remedies that are not appropriate for the job at hand.

This time of year, some families are getting the first look at their children's failing grades. The school year has gotten underway and the student has let too much of the quarter slip by without having an action plan to earn passing grades. Without a plan to stay organized, keeping up with homework and tests is haphazard. The student and his or her parents must attempt a herculean effort just to get the grades up to passing, if it is not already too late. Parents ask, what happened, why didn't you tell us you were getting behind?

In some cases, it is not just a matter of asking for help. Children can get distracted by everything but schoolwork, betting that failing a class will not feel as bad as missing out on having fun. In some cases, there is an underlying reason for the academic failure or avoidance of schoolwork. Possibly a learning disability or an emotional problem is interfering with learning. Without help and guidance, the problem is not identified, much less corrected. The stigma of failing and the negative impact on a child's self-concept can prevent his or her best self from ever coming forward.

Children need to be taught early that asking for help is not uncool, a sign of weakness, or shameful. It is an important skill that will serve him or her well for a lifetime. This is a skill that needs to be modeled by adults.

Instead of brainstorming solutions in marriage counseling or correcting bad habits by another means, a couple may become even more deeply entrenched in behaviors that are destructive, or cold and hurtful. Living in the drama of the relationship prevents them from seeing the problems clearly. A third, unbiased perspective may be helpful. The stories partners tell themselves and each other, about the experience of being in the relationship, are not always accurate or functional. Some people have developed destructive patterns of interaction and deeply ingrained beliefs that drive their spouse away from the close, warm bond they want.

Denial temporarily reduces anxiety that will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Letting go of the drama or chaos seems scarier than change does. Once the step of asking for help has been taken, patterns of negative bonding can be replaced with new ones that will help the couple or individual reconstruct, at an emotional, behavioral and cognitive level, a positively reinforcing system. In therapy, a new story can be written by the couple that more accurately and constructively supports warmth, intimacy and positive problem solving. Finding solutions to academic or career problems also helps write success stories.

Asking for help may feel like a failure, but in fact it is a rational way to problem solve. It breaks the denial and opens the way to improving the way we function in life and in our relationships. When a man, woman or child can accept that he or she does not have control over everything and does not need to have all the answers, more mastery and effective decision making will come to light, better preparing him or her to deal with life's challenges and setbacks.

Bruce A. Fountain, MS is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has a practice in Redlands, CA and can be reached at (909) 792-9797 or via e-mail at © 2006-2010