How do you get past the shame in admitting you need help?
Answering this question from a reader.
I have never felt more envious of a celebrity than when the news broke that Britney Spears checked herself into a “wellness” center for 30 days of mental health treatment in 2019. I was nearly completely unwound at that point, fresh off the biggest and scariest panic attack of my life. The thought of taking a 30 day menty-b “vacation” sounded better than a trip to Fiji.
A month of being cared for? A team of people trying to figure out why all my parts were misfiring? THE LUXURY.
I looked up what a program like that costs, and quickly reminded myself that, duh, I’m not a loaded celebrity. Obviously, I would have to white knuckle my way through my brain shutting down like any normal mom.
I wasn’t aware of intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization programs at that time, which is what I ultimately wound up in at the end of 2021 and into 2022. But, I think even if I had known about those then, I would have felt too ashamed to go- to ask to go.
A “wellness center” sounded much more palatable and less like I was admitting out loud that my brain was scaring the fuck out of me- more like I was just in for a tuneup and less like I was wrecked and totaled.
It would take 2 years, several more panic attacks, leaving my marriage, and losing most of my business while I lost myself deeper into despair than I thought I could survive before I finally said, “I need help.”
So I thought, I get it. Holy hell, do I get it, when I read this comment on a previous post:
How do you get past the shame in admitting you need help? I'm supposed to be the one that has it all together and have to take care of everyone else. I don't want pity, I just want a fucking break from it all.
You deserve a break, and not because you are at your breaking point. You deserved help all along. The fact that you have held it together, no matter how precariously, for this long is something I want you to recognize. Celebrate it, grieve it, or both.
Now, let’s breakdown your question and talk about how to move through this. I want to start by addressing “the shame in admitting you need help.”
Here are a couple things Brene Brown, the authority on shame, has to say about it:
Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
In my own words, shame is an asshole fucking liar.
Shame, this powerful master asshole emotion, has you convinced you are not GOOD ENOUGH to deserve help. Why would you be? It’s not like you can change, right? Why do you get to burden anyone else asking for help you’re not worthy of and probably won’t even work?
Fuck you, shame.
Something I found annoyingly helpful in therapy was noticing and naming dumb brain shit like this. That I felt worthless and hopeless was not a groundbreaking revelation. But saying, ok, I feel these things because shame is telling me this- NOT BECAUSE I actually am these things, that helped me start a new pathway in my brain that lead away from a downward spiral and toward self-realization.
Shame is never going to move out of my head, but it’s not disguised as captain of the ship anymore.
So this feeling- feeling ashamed to ask for help- is only there because of shame, not because of who you are as a person. It’s also not the way the people who love you feel. When you imagine people who love you annoyed or frustrated you asked for help, that is your shame talking, lying to you. Your shame is telling you they will think you’re asking for pity.
We’ve established a few truths so far:
You are worthy of help, no matter what your shame tries to tell you.
People who love you (generally) want to get you the help you need, no matter what your shame tries to tell you.
You are not your shame.
So now, let’s move beyond feeling ashamed and get you some help.
Because shame has the megaphone in your head right now, this next move is going to require a leap of faith. This is you trying right the ship, restoring the true captain. You’re gonna have to be brave.
First, identify who around you is probably being run by their own shame. Some people in our lives who love us or claim to love us have their own shame steering their emotional ships. And if they aren’t aware of this, their shame may tell them that you don’t deserve help. Shame really hates being found out. Eliminate those people from your list for now.
Now, decide who you CAN ask to help you, and think about how you feel most comfortable doing that. (But remember you may be uncomfortable no matter what because this is you being BRAVE.)
Asking for help can look like asking a friend to drive you to a nearby psychiatric treatment center, or like asking your spouse to find a therapist for you and to book an appointment for you. It could be saying the words out loud for the first time to a parent or sibling, “I’m not ok and I need help.” Or it can be calling a Suicide Lifeline, like 988, to talk to someone.
You don’t have to know what the next step will look like. In fact, tell the person you are asking for help, “I don’t know what to do next. Can you help me figure that out?”
For me, I got caught up worrying that I would just be complaining if I didn’t have a plan or a way someone could help me. That was my shame lying to me, telling me I would burden people if I didn’t know what to do yet.
As for being the one holding everything together for everyone else, and the worry that comes along with letting any of those balls drop, I think it’s important to remember more than one thing can be true at once. Yes, you are likely crucial in keeping things running for those around you. AND ALSO, they are completely capable of stepping in and figuring things out without you. (I plan to write more on this part in a separate post soon.)
I can’t say this is a universal truth, but I’d put a lot of money on it being true for just about anyone- nobody gets to the other side of healing feeling ashamed they needed help.
The absolute MAGIC of healing is you look back with so much compassion for your former selves, and so much gratitude for the very brave things you did to fight for yourself.
The way you feel right now, the lies your brain is telling you, feeling ashamed- none of that has to be forever. You are worthy of a break, you are worthy of feeling safe in your own body, you are worthy of help.
Perhaps the scariest thing you’ll ever do is admit out loud that you’re not ok. I believe you you. Shame is a lying asshole. Keep going; people are cheering for you.
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Yes, to everything you said. Asking for help is a sign of strength and not of weakness. Let's break the stigma. I love the book about shame by Brené Brown. I think that its title is I THOUGHT IT WAS ME. I read it a few years ago. Bravo to all who seek and ask for help and courage to those who are in need of help and who haven't dare yet. Let's break the chain of shame. Thank you for sharing!
Shame is a wily-nosed bastard, ain't it? This is a good one. Thank you for always letting us in when you're ready to open the door. It's lovely in here, friend.