When Leah recently needed extra support, she didn't quite know how to get it. Psychologist Todd Kashdan joins her and Ofosu to discuss why so many of us struggle to ask for help and what we can do to better support ourselves and our loved ones.
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OFOSU: Hey, what's up. I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on Balance.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
LEAH: So Ofosu. Today I wanted to talk about something that I've been going through recently, and it's been kind of a learning experience for me because, uh, well, it's actually really personal and, um, I wanted to share it because I think there's something that they can take away from it about how to get through hard things in a healthy way.
OFOSU: I’m like feeling concerned, but I'm going to assume that if we're talking about this, that all is generally well. But I'm just curious to hear what we're talking about here. So please share.
LEAH: So I have a 14 month old son and his name is Luca and he's a wonderful boy, but he was born with a cleft palate. It's like, uh, a hole or an opening, his is in the roof of his mouth, in the pallet. So it's something we've known since he was a few weeks old and that he was going to have to have surgery for, and he had to wait until he was around a year old to do.
So we've been looking for the right doctors and places to do this. We ended up finding a good hospital and surgeon in Mexico City. So we've been there for the last few weeks and he had his surgery just a couple of weeks ago.
Yeah. It was pretty tough leading up to it because you know, you have the fear of, oh, is going to be okay. How difficult is this going to be? And we knew we didn't have friends and family in that city and it was too difficult for our family to fly in for a COVID reasons and whatnot. So we had to really take on this journey with just the two of us in a new foreign place with a baby, with a lot of needs.
And I have to say it was probably one of the hardest 10 days of my life. Following the surgery because poor baby Luca was just scared, confused, um, in pain. And there was not much we could do about it. Other than we, we did the best we could, right. Like be there for him. And so we're running on lack of sleep cause he was waking every hour and crying.
Inconsolable. And he was just a lot of energy to give him. So I'm sharing this because I'm going to give you background and explain why my husband and I were both, like, we kind of checked in with each other and we, we heard something about this from a therapist a long time ago, about how this technique of checking in with each other, like saying, okay, to operate as a couple, we need to be at a hundred percent, then both of us either need to be at 50 and 50 or one of us needs to be at a hundred.
Well, then the other could be less than, yeah. But if we don't reach a hundred between the two of us, then like we need support outside or we need to like stop, you know, don't cook dinner, don't do all the extra stuff. Just make things as easy as possible. So I was checking in with him and I was going, you know, I'm at like 10%.
Yeah. And that's really rare for me to get below like a 50. And he was like, yeah, I'm at 20. So we were both operating between like 10 to 20%, uh, throughout the day. And we had to go, how do we like do this hard thing that is requiring so much of us and still take care of ourselves? How do we ask for help from each other?
How do we navigate that?
OFOSU: So my heart is going out to you in a very empathetic way.
What I'm also thinking about is the emotional and physical exhaustion in the lead up to all of the above, knowing that Luca has this condition that is addressable, but not for a long period of time. It's like someone telling you like, hey, I've got something important to give you, but you have to wait a year and then you get to the main events, so to speak and there's a lot involved there as well. I just, my heart just goes out to you and Paul and Luca, it's a lot.
LEAH: Well, you know, we've passed the tough part now, so I can kind of reflect on it all and talk about it. And for me with the learning lesson was, is how do I become really, really clear and direct about what I need.
So my husband and I had to figure out, you know, like we can try to exercise, we can try to meditate every day and we can try to eat as healthy as possible. But at the end of the day, like it also comes down to communication of when we need help and being able to ask for that help and also know that sometimes you can ask for the help and it won't be there. You know, we asked for help and support from our family, but they couldn't be there. So then we have to pivot and instead of being a victim and being like, why is this happening to me? Which only makes the stress worse.
It was sort of like, okay, how do I get into the solution here? What is it that I need in this moment physically? So I didn't even have the mental capacity at some point to look for. Support in the local area. So I had to ask my mom, can you just be of support because we need a hand and she's like, I can't be there. I'm like, well, then just help us figure it out. And so she found like a babysitting service that was for travelers and Mexico City, so that we could hire someone to come in for a few hours.
And I thought about that with, you know, folks who are going through different things than what I'm going through. Maybe it's like depression or anxiety, or just really busy time with work. And it's really hard to even stop what you're doing or to even figure out the help that you need. And sometimes it's just asking someone.
I can't physically do this for myself right now. Can you help me? And sometimes that takes admitting, like I'm not fully Wonder Woman or Superman. I'm not capable of doing it all in this moment. And I need help with the basics.
OFOSU: Yeah. You know, we are given these ideals and these archetypes of the hero, the person who takes everything on their shoulders and powerfully conquers, whatever obstacles are in front of them.
And we see this in movies using those examples, Wonder Woman and Superman are usually beat down within an inch of their life. And then they find something inside them and they call up and they scream at the top of their lungs and then they strike the final blow and then they win, you know, usually they're just powering through.
And I think that we do have this ideal or ethic in the Western world. And just maybe just as human beings that like, I must face this with this sort of stoicism and et
LEAH: cetera, or see it as a failure. If you're not. You know, silently breaking down inside and what is it that makes us resist asking for help?
So I think this is a good time to loop in our guest today. He's a friend of the show. You might remember Todd Cashton and for our new listeners, Todd is a professor of psychology. He's a leading authority on wellness. And author of an upcoming book, ‘The Art of Insubordination’.
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LEAH: Hey Todd, excited to have you back.
TODD: Hey, great to be here. Part of the Balance gang.
LEAH: Yes. So Ofosu and I were talking a little bit about this superhero complex, like how it can feel almost shameful to ask for help because we're trying to do everything ourselves. We think that we should be able to do it ourselves. So. Can you tell us a little bit more about what our brains do that to us?
TODD: Yes. So there's three silos of costs of why we don't seek help and Leah you kind of hit one of them. So in that shame bucket as also the fear of being low incompetence, the fear that your sense of self-respect is going to go down and that all comes from this false notion that we're supposed to be independent in a society that really cares about rugged individualism. And so there's this false belief that if I require other people, I, by definition am weaker than my counterparts. So that's one silo. And the second silo is that we're going to be a burden to other people. We know that it's going to take time. It's going to take energy and there by helping us there's something else that we imagine is more valuable to them and more conducive to their wellbeing and spending time and taking care of us. And then the third silo is that we think our relationship is going to diminish or be destroyed by us asking help, or in some ways we kind of imagine these social hierarchies, where if I asked for help in so many I'm subservient to you, I'm weaker than you, you're more competent than. And there's this idea that it's a zero sum game, that if I need help, you're competent, I'm incompetent. And that's the new dynamic of our relationship. And we can talk about ways to getting out of all those three. But I think the first thing is to really clarify the barriers.
LEAH: Wow. That makes a lot of sense. And what we were sort of intuitively thinking might be the reasons, but this does lead me to ask - what do we do about those? How do we handle it, given these barriers?
TODD: Yeah. So take silo number one, right? So this is the feeling of being ashamed. The fear of being incompetent low self-respect, if you seek help. Well, one thing we know is that people view people who expose their vulnerabilities and expose that they require other people, not as something that's weak, but someone that's strong.
Oh, my God. Just imagine if you were giving advice to a friend, if someone said that they were depressed, you would say, oh my God, I can't believe you're strong enough to ask for help. So we know that we do this with our friends. When we give them advice of listen, it's not a sign of weakness. So a good thing to remember is what advice would you give to a friend?
And that self distanced perspective allows you to realize we're mean to ourselves. And we're very nice to our friends and that the other part of that for the second silo, that we’ll be a burden to other people. One of the greatest predictors of being happy and having meaning in life is being kind and generous to other people.
Now, this has been studied in over 55 different countries. So this isn't an American thing. It's not a Nigerian thing. It's not a Taiwanes thing. Across the world, people that engage in more altruistic behaviors, generosity, kindness, compassion, they feel better about their lives and they feel as if their lives have meaning.
So if you think about it from this science, you're depriving meaning by not allowing anyone to pick up the check by not allowing anyone to hold your kids when you go to the bathroom. And so in some ways it is a route for people to experience well-being so it's good to remember that it's not just about us.
It's also about the positive emotions of other people who are the helpers.
OFOSU: So many of the insights around wellbeing. Come from things that are counterintuitive. And so I really think it's powerful to consider that you are creating an opportunity for happiness for others, by giving them the opportunity to be helpful to you.
I mean, that's not an intuitive thought in my estimation to wrap your head around, but I know from my own experience, going out of my way to do something kind for another person just has this non ego centric feeling of goodness. It's like, you just had like a glass of water after being thirsty or something like that.
So, yeah, I totally get that. And with Leah's situation, she was able to ask for help. She was able to reach out to her mom and get some babysitters to help with Luca. That's like a really specific and helpful thing. Speaking for myself. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I'm just kind of locked in that feeling of overwhelm, and I'm not even sure what to ask for. I'm not even sure how somebody might be able to help me.
Do you have any thoughts of what to do when the overwhelm has us kind of short circuit it and we don't even know what to ask for.
TODD: I really liked the language we're using. Cause I think this is what a lot of the people are experiencing right now, which is I’m burdened. I'm exhausted. So for Leah, you know, you have this very specific situation, you know, with your son in terms of help.
And then there's this other one of, I don't feel like I can handle the level of things that are going on in my life. So here's a few strategies. One, you can do a soft ask. The soft ask would sound something like this. Is there any way I could get some assistance on this project. I've been working a ton on this and I have some sticking points that I need to get through.
So I give them an out when I asked that way. And you could do this, you know, with other people in your regular life. Hey, is there any way you could watch my kids for a couple hours in a house? I have to get some groceries.
So I've given them an out, I didn't say something hard ask like hey, I could use some help. Remember that time it helped you back then when I watch your kids any chance you can do that now and kind of repay the favor. That's the hard ask. I've just kind of created some friction for doing that
LEAH: A little guilt too!
OFOSU: Trying to cash that check [laughs]
TODD: like a bank account. You withdrew some money, got to put some money back in. So that's a very transactional relationship you could see, even with my language softening, it's softening kind of the approach there. The other way of doing this is doing it in questionable way. Where you're using language that's inclusive as a community.
So more we, as opposed to me or I, so I might say Leah, how can we make this vacation better being that neither one of us has been to San Francisco before. So instead of asking something specific, such as, hey, can you do the passports to make sure everything is under control that, you know, nothing's expired.
And I'll handle looking for restaurants. I can just make it more communal, hey, we're in this together. How can we make this amazing?
LEAH: That's great advice on how to ask for help when we need it. I appreciate that. Um, but what about when there’s soomeone else that I care about that might need help,, I can tell they're struggling to ask for it in a healthy or direct way. What should I do in that situation?
TODD: Great. This was the third bit of advice I was going to suggest. And this goes both ways, us asking as well as us trying to make an inference that someone looks like they could use some help.
And I've started to apply this in my life, which is giving two options. It looks as if you're having a little bit of a challenge right now. Which one can I help you with, do you want some support or do you want someone to listen to because I'm not going anywhere. So this way, when I asked for advice, in the other example, in terms of going traveling in terms of asking my neighbors something, I'm trying to give them an out.
Now if I think someone's in need, you know, particularly thinking of, of mental health issues, where people are, there's still a stigma, unfortunately in society, I'm actually not giving them an out. What I'm saying is here's two approaches. I'm ready to do both. I'm going to be there. You tell me which one you need.
OFOSU: I was teaching a retreat, a family retreat, and we do parent circles. And it's a really awesome opportunity for people to kind of share what their challenges are, but also like what best practices they have come up with just navigating their lives. And this one couple shared that whenever either one of them is having an issue they ask, is this a listen or a fix?
You know, do you want me to do anything about this? Or do you want me to just hear how this is challenging, but what you've added is this piece of like, but I'm committed to being here for either. So not giving them an out. That's really powerful. I can think of friends of mine right now, who I know need one or the other, but probably what's going to reduce those cortisol levels is just that they know that either way I'm here.
I'm not looking for a way out. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we should all be so fortunate as to have a friend like you Todd and hopefully we're inspired to know that there's goodness in asking for help. And then there's goodness in offering.
LEAH: Yeah. Thank you so much, Todd, for your time and for this wonderful insight.
OFOSU: I appreciate you, Todd.
TODD: Yeah. I'm there for you guys.
LEAH: He's not going anywhere.
TODD: That's right. I'm not even leaving this phone call - three day podcast episode.
LEAH: Thanks so much, man.
OFOSU: Appreciate it. Thank you, man.
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LEAH: He was talking about those three silos, the reasons why people don't seek out help. And I, I relate to them when it came to my situation with asking for help for Luca, because the shame, if you're being seen as incompetent or weak. I think as someone who's in the industry, if you want to call it of wellness as a meditation coach, I can sometimes place too high of expectations on myself to always be in that zen chill state and then the moments when I'm not to feel like, oh, no, I don't want others to see that I can be human too. But of course, um, like you said, the vulnerability can help you appear stronger actually and build connections because the truth is we are all
OFOSU: human. Yeah. I totally resonate with you out of being someone in a, uh, in a wellness or a helping profession. And. Being someone that people traditionally come to for help when the shoe is on the other foot feeling a lot of shame or embarassment,or just like, oh, I can't let the world see that this is happening to me because if it's happening to me, then maybe that invalidates all the other advice or, or help that I've given, you know, it's like, oh, well you can, it doesn't look like you're hacking it pretty well.
LEAH: Right. But I think that it's really great advice that Todd gave us. And if you're listening and you are the kind of person who always takes things on is always in support of other people, gives a lot and has trouble asking for help, which I think a lot of us struggle with this, but if that's you then take to heart, what's being shared here because it can actually give fulfillment to others to help you and help you appear stronger to build connections and ultimately to feel some relief because you can't always do it alone. Neither can we.
LEAH: All right. Well, thanks for listening and thank you Ofosu. Thank you, Todd Cashton for joining us and his new book called, ‘The Art of Insubordination’ comes out February 15th. You can pre-order it. On his website toddcashton.com. We've got a link in the episode description for you.
OFOSU: All right. Y'all as always, if you like what we're doing here, please tell your friends and make sure to follow or subscribe to our podcast to get notified when a new episode is added.
LEAH: And we'll be back with another conversation next week. But until then, please take care. Ask for help when you need it and relax.
OFOSU: Be kind to yourself. Y'all holla back buh-bye.
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