If you don’t rely on anyone, they can’t let you down. That philosophy served me well for decades.
But now that my own setback has extended into months, I’ve taken a stab at learning how to ask for what I need. If I don’t figure it out, the coming weeks will be too annoying/lonely to bear.
To be honest, I detest asking for anything. When it comes to personal pain, I prefer to work alone. So. I started from square one and workshopped the concept. Six weeks in, here’s my step by step.
1. Avoid it. Assume that if people didn’t spontaneously do the thing you need, there is no hope they ever will and hence, no point in asking. Believe in your bones they wouldn’t get it right in any event. Harbor resentment against the very people who haven’t met the needs you’ve chosen to keep secret. If you ever do ask, choose folks you know are wholly incapable of showing up, thereby reinforcing your original theory.
For years, I chose unavailable partners and friends who were takers. People guaranteed to ditch me when I needed them. This habit solidified the belief that people suck so who needs them? Banging my head against the wall in this way eventually got old so I have stopped doing it. (Mostly.)
2. When no one reads your mind about what you need from them, tell them off.
Making dinner while on the phone with a friend, I lamented how mainstream medicine treats women.* “I am still in the diagnostic phase, yet I will be cut open. How is that possible in 2022? If men had breasts, it would be better, guaranteed.”
“It’s not going to help you to rail against the medical system,” my husband chimed in from across the room.
“Who asked you, oh my God. I’m pissed. It’s called being human. Try it sometime,” I fumed. When I got off the phone, I told him he had no right to tell me how to f-ing feel.
3. Realize that before asking anyone for anything, you must first take care of yourself. Included in that is feeling your feelings. Begin to recognize when emotions arise. Allow them to flow. Notice that when they aren’t pushed away or stored up, they don’t detonate later on. Learn that sometimes when you don’t process your feelings, they come out as different emotions—fear can be expressed as anger, for example. If you don’t process your feelings, they may also be directed at others. (See #2 above)
Yesterday on my walk I wished so hard for a parent capable and willing to come take care of me during the scary times. The thought of going without one for this experience brought tears to my eyes. In the empty streets of the early morning, I sobbed my way down the road. The feeling passed. I felt lighter. Just this one insight alone is worth this entire thing.
4. Practice asking for what you need in small ways. To prevent anticipated work interruptions from your family, maybe try a sign on your door.
My work feeds my soul and it has become even more important to me right now.
5. At a time when you feel grounded and centered, try asking for what you need out loud. Assure the scared, sensitive kid inside you that it really is acceptable both to have needs AND to ask for them to be met. You will be just fine. If you are like me, the closer the person is to you, the more difficult the conversation.
While my husband laced up his running shoes, I took a breath and let it out.
“I have tried to ask for what I need and so far, it hasn’t gone that great. I’m going to keep trying and hope it comes out right on one of these attempts. So, here goes. I don’t need advice. I don’t want pity. I just need you to believe in me—that I can handle it. You don’t have to say anything. When I have moments of being scared, angry or whatever, just be there. If you feel the need to talk me out of the feeling I am having, please don’t. Your urge to shut me down is about your comfort, not mine. Okay?”
5. After you ask, surrender the outcome. If people don’t give you what you have specifically asked for, it’s just information. When you have been super clear and they cannot deliver, it’s not about you. It may be that they are having their own moment. Perhaps they are not your people. Either way, it’s okay. Tell that uneasy part of you who will take this personally to keep going, keep taking up space as yourself. The world needs you.
For me, this one is tricky. If I have worked myself up to ask only to get shot down, it’s mildly soul crushing. I’m just not used to it yet. It happened recently with a friend and I am still trying to let it go. So much work left to do, honestly.
6. Bonus tip for anyone with a friend or loved one going through something: ask the person how you can best support them. Do not offer your own or someone else’s war stories or condolences. No one wants to hear I’m sorry your life is f-ing terrible. That’s what they want the least. They may be too focused on holding their sh!t together to stop you from putting your foot in your mouth so take it from me, ASK.
Here’s an example, “what can I do for you right now? Do you need to vent or can I help in some way?” Before you offer feedback, check in with them. A friend reached out yesterday to ask how I was doing and asked to share a similar experience. Before she told me, she checked in to see if it was okay. I told her that carrying my own unfolding story is challenge enough, I didn’t have room for hers just now. I felt guilty saying no. We’ve been conditioned to prioritize other people’s comfort over our own. I told her how much I appreciated that she asked first. After we said goodbye, I was so proud that I had taken care of myself. (yay)
It’s uncomfortable not to know what to offer someone in pain. We have all been in that position. But you know what asking is? That’s what love looks like. It’s deep respect for the other person. Anything else is about making YOU feel better. It has nothing to do with them.
When we learn to love ourselves and each other better, we feel more connected and truly seen. We get the sense that it’s all going to be okay. Take excellent care of yourself.
WRITING PROMPT: How are you at asking for what you need? Do you find it hard? Are you a lone wolf like me?
P.S. I’m all trained up on Martha Beck’s Wayfinder tools and I’ve started a personal coaching practice. I have an introductory package, maybe for you. If you have begun to do some work on yourself and are looking to level up, I invite you to schedule a Discovery Session. Email me at email@example.com. For more information on these methods and to sign up for this newsletter, go to elizabethheise.com. You can also come find me on the socials on Instagram @elizabethheise.coach and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1. Thanks for joining me!
*This is a real thing that I don’t want to gloss over. And, since once a lawyer always a lawyer, here is my evidentiary record:
“A 2019 analysis in Denmark, for example, found that in 72% of cases, women waited longer on average for a diagnosis than men.” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gender-bias-in-healthcare#ending-gender-bias
“I’m not sure how we end up in a place where there’s 20-odd years of data pointing to how important sex differences are in health and disease and there’s not more attention to this across all fields, disciplines, journals, and so forth. No one wants to call it sexism but where else is it okay to ignore the basic facts?” Dr. Paula Johnson, Executive Director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/30/fda-clinical-trials-gender-gap-epa-nih-institute-of-medicine-cardiovascular-disease
“The study [of a female sexual dysfunction drug Addyi] enrolled 92 percent men for a drug intended only for women.” https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/a-drug-for-women-tested-on-men/
“According to the Mayo Clinic, fewer than 1 in 10 residents in family medicine, internal medicine and gynecology told the clinic they felt “adequately prepared” to manage the care of patients in the various stages of menopause. Add to that the well-documented bias against female patients — one that exponentially burdens women of color, as well as trans, intersex and nonbinary people who experience menopause — and a vast information vacuum persists.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/28/menopause-hormone-therapy-nih-went-wrong/
More than 1 billion people worldwide will be in menopause by 2025. Today, there are 55 million in the United States alone, nearly 75 percent of whom report not receiving support or treatment for its effects. This database provides doctors in your area who have sought special certification to help their patients manage menopause. http://www.menopause.org/for-women/whats-an-ncmp