I’m afraid of imposing on people

Smiling old womanThis is the fifth installment in my series of posts about beliefs many of us family caregivers have which hold us back from reaching out for the love and support we and our loved ones need.

Fear of imposing on people.

Imposing. Asking for something without regard to the other person or their own needs. Pushing someone to do something they don’t want to do.

There are three parts to this challenge:

1. Having a value of not wanting to impose on other people

2. Assuming that reaching out and asking for help is automatically imposing on others

3. Unpacking that connection so that asking is asking and imposing is imposing

The first one, not wanting to impose on other people, is one that all of us would agree with.

So the problem comes with #2, equating asking with imposing.

Before addressing this entanglement of concepts, it’s important to share with you the reports that so many caregivers have given me. So many people who they’ve reached out to have been deeply grateful to be asked, to have been given an opportunity to pitch in. It often helped them see their lives in a broader perspective; it lessened their sense of worry or powerlessness to make a difference in the recipient’s struggles and challenges; it simply felt good to help.

Now back to the idea of equating asking with imposing.

Each of us has our own way of looking at this and, consequently, our own way of disentangling these two ideas. So, please consider these questions:

• When would your asking someone clearly not be imposing on them?

• When would it clearly be an imposition on them?

What is it that pushes it over the line into imposing? The way you ask? Your sense of whether the other person would feel free or pressured?

I once spoke about this with my older sister. Her communications style sometimes felt to me like she was commanding me to do something, rather than asking me to do it. I truly wanted to be helpful to her. So I told her that she could always ask me to do anything. She could trust that I’d do my best to be responsive, while still paying attention to my other needs at the time. As the “askee” I aimed to be helpful to her and also honest about when I could say yes and when I needed to say no (or not now, etc.)

As the “asker” what can you do to make it easier and more comfortable to the “askee” to respond freely and more truthfully?

Sometimes when I’m about to make a request of a friend, I’ll begin by telling them I’m about to make a request of them and asking them to assure me that they will feel free to truthfully say yes or no.

You undoubtedly can come up with easier and better ways of doing this. And, in doing so, you will have made it easier for you to reach out and get the love and support you and your loved one need.

Let us know how you do this, insights you’ve gained, stories about how you have wrested with this, and any new ways you are about to invent to make this work better.

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