Question: I am in a bit of a tough spot these days, and I am having to rely on friends for help. Fortunately, I have a lot of wonderful friends who are happy – even eager – to provide all kinds of support for me here in Bali. I know this because they have told me so, repeatedly. But for whatever insane reason, I am finding it hard to ask. I don’t think it’s pride; I fully admit that I need help. Rather, it’s my fear of feeling beholden, or of asking for too much. Before I ask for even the simplest thing, I am racking my brain, trying to think of who might be available, who would say yes even if they don’t actually have the time, and how I can pay them back. I know I need to let my friends make the decision to help me (or not), but I am stuck in a mire of over-analysis and totally useless guilt. How do I dig myself out?.
Dr. ZZ: From your email, I suspect you already know exactly what you need to do: slow down, stop worrying, and realize that your friends, who are adults, can set their own boundaries about helping. By that I mean they won’t offer to help if they don’t actually want to, and they’ll say no if they aren’t willing. They’re also probably not too concerned about being paid back because they know that if the shoe were on the other foot, you would be the one helping them; it will all come out in the wash. In fact, they would most likely be concerned to know that you are suffering in silence and not asking for help that they can provide and have outright offered to give.
When the oh-no-I-can’t-inconvenience-anyone cycle starts up again, aim to acknowledge the “control freak” aspect of yourself, the part that feels out of control and is fighting whatever is going on by taking on extra worry and guilt around not wanting to feel helpless or appear out-of-control. Remind yourself that your friends are adults who like you who want to assist. Then, make a list all the things you know you need assistance with by blocking them out on a calendar or making a spreadsheet. Take a couple of deep breaths, and email the list in a shared format (Google calendar?); so that all your friends can read it and, if they choose, use it to reply to everyone.
Make your requests, as specific as possible (ex., “Al, can you handle shopping for me on Tuesday?”) If you’re lucky, your friends will be control freaks too, and they will take your list, run with it, and work out among themselves to make sure everything is covered without anyone getting too bogged down.
At some point in the future, you can have an amazing dinner party to thank everyone for their help, and give each of them a small, thoughtful, personal gift. But don’t worry about that now; just control what you can control, take a deep breath, get organized about what you need help with, and let yourself be vulnerable about the rest.
Question: For several months, I’ve been growing apart from a close friend as changes in my life have made it clear how little we have in common. Although she and I are quite different, we bonded when our sons were born. For the past number of years, our boys have been friends, and we have watched them grow and change together. Recently, however, her son’s behavior has changed dramatically. Where he used to be quiet and shy, he has become bossy, aggressive, and a braggart, disrupting any play date he attends. Other children, my son included, get riled up by his boisterous behavior and act out much more than usual. There’s also been a lot of gossip on the playground about both the mother and her child, and other moms have started to seek out play dates which the two of them are not attending.
My question is should I say something to my friend? Our friendship is already waning, and I’m tempted to just let it lay because it would be easier for me, and I don’t think she’ll handle it well. Still, if I were the subject of the gossip, and my child were the one that people were starting to avoid, I think I’d want to know. What do you advise? Thanks!
Dr. ZZ: Although I am not a parent, my instincts are to get together with your friend for a play date and to bring this up with her directly in the form of a question. Leave out the gossip and judgment of other people and the fact that her child may or may not be affecting the other kids’ behavior. Just say, “Your boy has been acting out a lot lately. Is there something going on with him? Is everything okay?”
There is always a temptation in dealing with an uncomfortable conversation like this to rely on the consensus of the crowd (“The mothers have talked, and we all agree that there is something wrong”), but this is never well-received. It’s a lot harder to ignore someone who is expressing concern and saying that she’s noticed certain details based on her own observations and experience.
If she’s a snippy person who takes concern for herself and her child as criticism, she may get brusque and leave in a huff. But I don’t think you’ll harm anything by asking the question, and you can also put the same question to the gossipers: “Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too. Has anyone asked her what’s going on? Is everything okay with him?”
Dr. ZZ has a Ph.D. in Counseling and a doctorate in Natural Healing. Drawing on a background of over thirty years as a professional therapist, she offers self-help in the areas health, relationship and personal growth. All queries are answered by email and, if they appear in print, are subject to editing. Please email your questions : <email@example.com> All identifying information is kept strictly confidential.
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