I was recently asked this question, “Why do women find it hard to ask for help?” I want to qualify my answer by sharing that finding it hard to ask for help is not just a difficulty for women, men also share this issue. However, I believe that women have additional and/or differing layers of baggage to clear in relation to this topic.
Culturally, women have been taught from an early age that their role is to be the caregiver and nurturer of the family, usually at the cost of their individuality. We don’t have to go too far back in our history to see that women were considered second class citizens, with no individual rights or identity. Young women were forced into the role of striving for and making a “good” match, which benefited the family as a whole. Once married, their husband controlled them and any assets they brought to the union. Thus, asking for help probably was not even in the realm of conscious awareness for many women.
The Field of Epigenetics
More recently there have been studies in the field of Epigenetics that show that lifetimes of trauma and belief systems are passed down through the generations in the DNA of each individual. To explain this phenomenon further, these studies have swept away the idea that having a particular gene produces a particular result. It turns out that many genes work together to influence a single outcome. Even more important, genes are not fixed. Life events can trigger biochemical messages that turn them on or off (by a process called methylation), making them sensitive to messages from the body. While life events can change the behavior of the gene, they do not alter its fundamental structure. Methylation patterns, however, can be passed on to children. This phenomenon is what is known as epigenetics. Stressful experiences affect gene expression in humans. Family tragedies can send shock waves from one generation to the next and it can be important to explore three or more generations of family history to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma that repeat.
Generations of Family Trauma
When members of our family have experienced unbearable traumas, or have suffered from immense guilt or grief, the feelings can be overwhelming and can escalate beyond what they can manage or resolve. Sometimes pain submerges until it can find a pathway for expression or resolution. That expression can be found in the generations that follow and can resurface as symptoms that are difficult to explain. Events such as the death of a parent or infant, a child given away, the loss of a home, or even the withdrawal of a mother’s attention can all have the effect of collapsing the walls of support and restricting the flow of love in a family.
Discovering the origin of these traumas and long-standing family patterns can finally be laid to rest. How women deal with trauma of any kind can be directly related to their family history and whether that trauma was dealt with appropriately at the time. Most often it was buried because survival was the number one priority at the time. Thus, women were not encouraged to or even taught how to ask for support.
Societal and Generational Expectations
I believe we could take the question even further and ask why do women find it hard to receive? Why do women feel it is selfish for their needs to be met? Why do women feel it is part of their “job” to put everyone else first? The answers to these questions can be traced to societal and generational expectations as stated above, but also to the individual experiences of each woman in her own life. What if asking for help is perceived as making yourself vulnerable. What if you have experienced/learned that allowing yourself to be vulnerable actually puts you in harms way both physically and emotionally? So many what if’s…
Are women doomed to never be able to ask for their needs to be met, to never put themselves first on their list, to never learn how to love and nurture themselves? Of course not. If there is a struggle with receiving support, give yourself permission to ask for help, to clear what is getting in the way, and remind yourself that you cannot give from an empty vessel. You are worth it!
Eilis Philpott is the owner of Soul Healing Journey, LLC and the Academy for Soul Healing. She has been a healing practitioner and teacher for over 20 years.