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Friendship by the Book: An interview with the author of MAYDAY

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M. Nora Klaver is the author of MAYDAY: Asking for Help in Times of Need

I asked Nora, to think about some of the ways women can overcome the natural reluctance to ask their female friends for help.

Why are women afraid to ask other women for help?

As children, girls learn to navigate the emotional channels of relationships. As we grow into womanhood, we learn to modulate our emotions in order to attract and retain friends, supporters, and partners. Somewhere along the way, we learn to believe that friendships are fragile. In reality they are often much stronger than we imagine.

More so than men, women are concerned that asking for help will result in rejection or damaging or destroying a friendship. When we invest so much emotional energy into our relationships with others, we rarely want to risk that investment.

Women also hesitate to ask other women for help because we all want to appear capable and in control. And, asking for help implies that we are lacking something: competence, skill, energy, or knowledge. Letting another know, even another woman, that we don't have what it takes is humbling and a bit intimidating. Women, at work and at home, will burn themselves out before asking for the help they need simply because they don't want to appear weak.

Given how busy women are balancing careers and their own lives, how can they expect help from friends?

Perhaps one of the reasons we are so busy is because we aren't asking for the help we need. Instead, we decide, often quite deliberately, to take on everything ourselves. I encourage women to sit down with one another and brainstorm common lists of activities -- things we all do -- that we could share with one another. That simple support may be enough to lighten our loads. With just one task alleviated, we might be able to spend a bit more time with each other laughing over tea or margaritas. We might be able to help each other avoid the common illnesses that come from being overwhelmed or drained of energy.

For centuries, women have supported one another in Circles. My mother's own Circle, and it has been called that for decades, is still going strong though many of the ladies have passed on. At first they played bridge and talked about their children, but then they began to be there for one another. Each woman knew she could call on any of the others for help with a meal, babysitting, or finding a new job somewhere in town. Life is definitely different now: expectations are higher, women are working more out of the home, competition at work is stiff. Those differences strike me as stronger reasons for creating a powerful and supportive Circle.

Are there any hints you can offer to women about how to ask friends for help?

Sure, there are simple things to remember when you need to ask for help. First, cut yourself a little slack. We are way too hard on ourselves sometimes. Demonstrating a little self-compassion, you'll see that it is permissible for you to ask for help.

As you ask, be sure to be clear, as clear as you can, about what it is you need. Be open to other ideas that your friend may have to solve your dilemma.

Believe that everything will work out just fine. By now, you have received amazing blessings in your life. And some of the hardest times have turned out to be the best of times as well. Have a little faith. Not only will you get through your crisis more easily, but if you believe everything will be fine, your voice will remain calm and your hands will steady and your request for help will come out clear and strong.

Remember to focus on what's already good in your life. Be grateful for your friendships especially. That gratitude will relax you and help you continue the conversation with your girlfriend. I always suggest the Three Thanks Rule: say thank you when your friend agrees to help you and again when help is rendered. Then, the next time you run into your friend, quietly mention that you really appreciate what they did for you. This way, your friend will know you remember what they've done and will see how truly grateful you are.

What has been your personal experience in asking for help?

My life changed dramatically after I learned how to ask for assistance. Years ago, I was diagnosed with a tumor that needed to be removed. My boyfriend of three years reluctantly agreed to stay with me post-operatively. Two days before the surgery however, he dumped me. I ended up having to ask my elderly parents to come stay with me. I vowed then and there to have people around me who not only accept my help, but are willing to come to my aid when I need it. I have an entirely new circle of friends who have internalized the importance of supporting one another.

 
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