Problems Trusting: Difficulties Asking for Help

John came for counseling because he felt powerless and angry.

John was living in his parents’ basement. He had a long-term, dead-end job working in a drug store. He had no social life and no interest in having one. His anger had turned into anxiety and depression. When John came in for counseling, I asked about his childhood, he said, “I had a great childhood. I was happy.”

John’s childhood was characterized by brutal punishments from his father and emotional abandonment by his helpless mother. His brother, Bill, escaped from childhood more or less unscathed. John, as the older brother, got the brunt of the abuse and neglect. Bill stayed out of the house as much as he could. He left town as soon as he was able and hasn’t been back since. So much for a “happy childhood.”

John was angry at his wife, his parents, his brother, and his employer. But the real source of his anxiety and depression was his anger at himself. John was angry for failing to stop problems from happening and not being able to have more control over his life.

I asked John to push his comfort zone and release his anger by writing. He wrote anger letters to the people who had caused him pain and to himself for carrying the hurt around for so long. He was able to see that, as a child, he had no power to do anything. They were in control and he had nothing to say about it. But as an adult, he had choices now that be didn’t have then.

After he wrote his anger letters, John began to experience some relief from his pent-up emotions. I asked John how he makes sense out of his struggles. The first thing that popped out was something his mother told him after he graduated from grammar school, “If you get anything, it has to be on your own.”

John heard this as an expression of his mother’s confidence that he could manage his own affairs and assume his adult responsibilities as a young man. That is not what she meant to convey at all. That statement was his mother’s way of telling John, “Don’t bother coming to us for help because you’re not going to get it.” After a while he stopped asking.

To this day, John cannot ask people for the help he needs and deserves, just like anyone else. He feels compelled to get things on his own. There was no trust or cooperation between him and his parents, only betrayal and abandonment. This theme of self reliance caused hardship in his relationships and career.

John couldn’t trust people to help him, so he missed opportunities he might have been encouraged to explore. John imagined he was capable of solving problems all by himself. However, he failed to overcome struggles by seeking reassurance from social support or drawing on others’ guidance. His mothers wisdom echoed: “If you get anything …”

At his next session, John reported how he had continued to push his comfort zone by asking a co-worker on a date. It took courage, but he did it. It took even more courage to show up on time, but he dis that too. He had taken a risk. He had made it happen, not because he had to, but because he was free to. He had pushed his comfort zone, John took the risk of asking for what he wanted. He did something that was hard and that is what courage means.

When we told him in his counseling session that he had encouraged himself, John said, “You encouraged me!” My standard answer is, “I wasn’t even in the room!”

It was hard, but John was finally able to take credit for his success. He was also able to identify feelings of accomplishment, maturity, and confidence. He was beginning to see that he could trust his own judgment. He felt free from his old role as the strong, independent, self reliant one, which was a prescription for loneliness, failure and pessimism. He experienced what true success felt like. He had done something hard and did it anyways.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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