Humans are interdependent creatures. Our behavior affects the environment we all share. Even in prison, solitary confinement is the most severe form of punishment.
Too much isolation leads to bad decision-making and bad citizenship. If you cut off your connection with others, it hurts everyone.
You need to emerge from your shell. The good news is that you can do it at your own comfortable pace. If you’re playing piano, you have to learn scales before you play jazz. If you want to create a bond with another person, you can start with a 30-second chat in an elevator.
3 Things to Do When You’re Afraid To Ask for Help
If you are afraid to ask for help and share your emotional pain with others, try a few of these tricks. They might not “transform your life,” but they might keep you from cracking completely.
1. Take Your Emotional Temperature
If you’re more comfortable with logic and measurements than with the poetry of feelings, take a few tips from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s a paced, practical approach to putting your emotions in check, and I recommend giving it a try.
Here’s one CBT technique I still use.
Every day, I measure my overall life satisfaction on a scale of one to ten. After a few months, I graph out my responses. The first time, I expected a sad, straight line, flatter than the Midwest. What I got looked more like a mountain range.
What looks like a mountain can turn out to be a big pile of gravel. If you keep your emotional pain to yourself, you may believe it’s harder to deal with than it is. If you feel terrible consistently over time, you should get professional help. However, you may be relieved to find that there’s more variation in your feelings than you sometimes perceive. This will let you know that life is less predictable than it may sometimes seem.
There’s no need to hide. Everyone’s a basket case.
2. Ease Into Expressing Your Feelings
I’m afraid to ask for help and express my emotions because they have been pent up so long that they are likely to explode all at once, and I know that will make me seem crazy.
If this sounds like you, I suggest you make expressing your emotions a daily practice. Here’s a technique I swiped from my friend Ciaran Healy called “The Whispered Question.”
When someone asks you a question, practice hearing it on two levels. First, there is the practical request for information. And, beneath that, as unspoken subtext, lies The Whispered Question:
“How do you feel about that?”
Let’s say someone asks me,
“Where are you from?”
It would be easy to give aborning, businesslike answer. But let’s have a little fun with it instead.
I’m from Los Angeles. I love it. I’m inspired by the pouring light, the creative adventurousness all around, and the apocalyptic absurdity. Thinking about the city makes me want to go out and explore it until I collapse from exhaustion.
That’s a lot more interesting than just telling you where I’m registered to vote, and it’s good practice for expressing a range of emotions and getting more comfortable doing so. You may even build more meaningful connections with loved ones, strangers, or the clerk at Yum Yum Donuts.
Try treating your emotions as less of a shame and more of a game. Express yourself about small matters, and you’ll practice not taking vulnerability so seriously.
Little improvements can lead to bigger improvements. If you get consistent at opening up in minor ways, major social risks may not seem like such a big deal.
3. Get Angry
If you’ve been holding back your feelings for a long time, the most prominent feeling may be irritation or full-on anger. Anger is a defense mechanism that conceals something more painful and corny. And you may need to clean out a lot of it before you get to the good stuff.
So go ahead and get angry.
Rant into a recording device.
Rain pissed-off invective onto a keyboard.
Scream into a bath towel or a pillow.
Feel your anger fully and let it pass.
Don’t make a mad face until it sticks.
Anger doesn’t make you powerful but expressing it can get you to the deeper levels of feeling. The point of this is to get in touch with the anger and let it play itself out.
Everyone’s pissed about something. Most of us don’t know what that thing really is. If you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you, commiserate about the traffic.
Then keep driving until you find an oasis of vulnerability and connection.
The Interdependent Introvert
Your feelings aren’t everyone else’s business. But they affect those closest to you, whether you want them to or not. A healthy respect for others means overcoming fear and being a bit less stingy with your emotions.
There’s no need for you to rush into this. Daring to ask for help and share yourself with others takes a certain level of vulnerability. You may not have the bandwidth for that today, right now.
Make sure you have a place to go where you can be safe and alone when you need to. Then, start with tiny interpersonal risks.
Build on that.
I’m a hardcore introvert and I always will be. “Getting out of your comfort zone” doesn’t mean “become a different, zany, outgoing, and totally awesome person.”
To hell with that different person. That person annoys me.
As an introvert, I appreciate introverts. And when I share a tiny morsel of emotion with a fellow introvert, it makes the loneliness of life easier to bear.
We need to connect with each other. That’s why isolation hurts. If nothing else, that’s one thing we all have in common. When you build the courage to reach out, you may help ease someone else’s suffering, too.
With all my love,