I’ve had trouble asking for help most of my life, so being independent happened naturally.
I can remember struggling with math in fourth and fifth grade. Math was never my strongest subject in school, and I was having a hard time. Finally, my mom told me to ask my teacher if I had questions about the work. I said that I would but, in my head, I rolled my eyes. There was no way I was asking for anything in school. It was easier for me to stick it out and try to figure it out independently. I didn’t want to call attention to myself.
In middle school, I can remember being bullied. My grades were immaculate, so people resorted to teasing me about my weight. The bullying started in elementary but escalated in middle school. I can remember coming home in tears after school once. My mother asked what was wrong, and I told her that the other kids made fun of me. My mother looked at me and told me to get over it. “They made fun of Jesus, and they’re gonna make fun of me too.”
Shoutout to the Savior, but this was not the comfort I was looking for. From that point on, I decided to keep my problems to myself.
As an adult, I have a tough time accepting help. My independence has been close to harmful on multiple occasions. Youthful autonomy is good, but it can quickly go too far. This inability to trust can stem from many traumas—grief after a death or a difficult breakup, bullying, or abuse. Do not blame yourself. It is essential to keep that in mind on the path to healing. Remember, you are not your trauma. What happened to you is separate from who you are as a person. Your reaction to the trauma was survival. You did what you felt like you needed to survive.
Strong Black Woman
This brings to mind the stereotype of the strong Black woman. The belief is that Black women have some supernatural ability to handle every situation, carry every burden, and do it without complaining. We can take more pain and suffering than anyone else and accept it gladly.
This narrative is harmful trash, and I reject it.
The stereotype comes in part from slavery—a blend of the Jezebel and Mammy narratives that became something more harmful over time. Black women were (and are) easy targets in society. We are rarely protected and defended against society’s ills. The murder, trafficking, and assault rates of Black girls and women are appalling. Sex workers and trans femmes are high on these lists, and it seems that society at large could care less.
I’ll say this. Black women are strong and can handle a lot because we are not allowed the alternative. We are not allowed to crack under pressure. As Black women, we need to pick up the slack in our families and communities and keep things running smoothly. That has translated to society at large, and it is exhausting. I talked a bit about the expectations of Black women to entertain the masses not long ago. We are tired, and we need help. Just like everyone else.
This brings me back to my point about extreme independence.
I know it can be hard to ask for help or support when things are tough. Asking for help can inflate anxiety by bringing up suppressed feelings that have been lingering for years. It might stem from something that occurred in childhood or a complicated relationship in your young adult years. The result becomes a betrayal of trust and a withdrawal from depending on others. As a response to trauma, you may isolate yourself.
A trauma response is an emotional response to a particular event. Trauma responses can take various forms, including depression, anxiety, denial, self-harm, and withdrawal. Decision anxiety (mistrust of self) can also be a trauma response. This anxiety can look like refusing to accept help or support, doubting your abilities, or constantly questioning your decisions. (Imposter syndrome, anyone?)
Perfectionism is also a trauma response relating to extreme independence. You know that person that wants everything to be just right the first time. This person that you know has no tolerance for mistakes or missteps. A procrastinator that produces stellar work at the last minute that may also have some unrealistic standards.
It is I. I am her. She is me.
I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but once I did some reading on the subject, the mirror was staring me in the face. Apparently, it can be a problem, and I’m working on it now.
There is Hope
All of this may feel daunting. As if the hyper-independent person has no hope of redemption. Fortunately, that is also an untruth. Everyone could have hope in this world if they chose to pursue it! So here are a couple of suggestions to get past those extreme independent tendencies.
- Use mindfulness and affirmations: Self-talk is key to learning to trust yourself again. Delivering positive and affirming messages to yourself every day can be extremely helpful in building self-esteem and self-worth. In addition, reminding yourself to stay grounded in the present can serve to keep anxious thoughts at bay. That thing that may be coming is not a worry right now. Focusing on the right now of things is very beneficial if something unpleasant, like a traumatic episode, may be looming in your mind.
- Start building relationships with others: Easier said than done, but it is possible. Remember to avoid relationships that may become harmful or codependent. People who harm others seem to have a knack for attracting other hurt people, including those trying to heal. If you can recognize some red flags, get out while you still can. If connecting with one person is too much initially, I would suggest looking into group activities like an online book club or maybe a sports team. Sharing similar activities can create a common bond. Also, getting a pet is an easy way to build a relationship with something that will love you no matter what. Pets are very therapeutic for a variety of mental health reasons!
- Delegate small tasks: When working with others, let go and trust that people won’t let you down. Start small by asking a family member or a partner to help you out with household tasks. Maybe even ask them to handle something that you usually do on your own, like making dinner or doing laundry. At work or school, group projects are nearly unavoidable. Try not to assume control for a change. Let other group members take the lead, and don’t get mad if things get uncomfortable. Others don’t have your standards, and that’s okay. As long as things get done, everything else is fine.
This is huge, but you have to get more comfortable asking for help. I know it feels like weakness but that’s okay. Asking for help means you can recognize your limits. You are strong enough to know when to throw in the towel. That vulnerability is amazing! The only way to make that change happen is to do it. Start small with low stakes tasks. Practice makes perfect.
You got this. I know you can do it. I believe in you!
Take care. Be safe. I love you!