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Why Some People with ADHD Refuse to Ask for Help

Why you hate asking for help—and how to overcome your discomfort.

Key points

  • Many adults with ADHD hate asking for help because of a fear of looking incompetent or weak.
  • Perfectionism in combination with ADHD makes it tough to trust others to follow through and meet your standards.
  • Break tasks down so you can be more specific about asking for assistance or delegating some of them.
  • Reframe vulnerability as a strength and acknowledge the courage you need to know you limitations.
iStock: PeopleImages
Source: iStock: PeopleImages

Many adults with ADHD hate asking for help because they fear looking weak, helpless, or incompetent. My client Ellie, age 24, told me, “I’m embarrassed that I can’t do it alone—that I have a disability.” But when someone refuses to ask for help, rejects it when it’s offered, or pretends they've got things covered when they really don’t, they make life much harder for themselves.

When neurodivergent adults are overwhelmed by a task, they are often not sure where to place their focus, and asking for help becomes even more difficult. They feel stuck, but don’t want anybody to know or see their shame and struggle. Learning when, how, and where to delegate can change this pattern and offer an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Asking for Assistance With Confidence

Asking for assistance or delegating tasks doesn’t come easy for many of us, especially for folks who live with both ADHD and perfectionism. But sometimes you simply can't go it alone, and leaning on others is both necessary and the best way forward.

Becoming comfortable asking for help or offloading things to others relies on several things:

  • Accepting that it’s OK not to know how to do something.
  • Accurately assessing personal strengths and limitations.
  • Understanding that learning happens through trial-and-error experiences.
  • Acknowledging that perfection doesn’t exist.
Source: iStock: KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Source: iStock: KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Progress counts more than perfection. Perfection is impossible to achieve and can cause you to freeze out of fear of not achieving it. Instead, focus on shorter, reasonable goals that you can actually meet. Making some amount of progress on a task is always better than striving for perfection and getting nothing done.

Here are some common obstacles to asking for help and how you can overcome them:

1. Lack of clarity.

Sometimes neurodivergent adults are genuinely confused about how to proceed when a task isn’t clear or is too big. When you’re emotionally overwhelmed by uncertainty and confusion, it’s tough to prioritize your tasks and get organized. You just can’t process anything else at that moment and yet you may well reject any offers for assistance.

Tool: Break things down. Take a large piece of work and break it up into a few smaller tasks. Name each task, decide what is needed, and identify when things are due. Ask for assistance from an ally like a friend, relative, or coworker. Brainstorm and separate identified items into categories either by subject, deadline, or complexity. If possible, break these items down further into smaller steps and mark who is in charge of completing each step.

2. Discomfort with vulnerability.

Although most adults dislike feeling vulnerable, it’s often especially tough for those with ADHD. You’ve already spent years hearing about how you’ve missed the mark—at school, in extracurriculars, at work, and at home. You probably believe you will mess up again. You may not trust your abilities to respond appropriately and believe asking for help further demonstrates weakness. By refusing any support, adults with complex ADHD falsely believe that they can protect themselves from feeling exposed.

Tool: Reframe vulnerability as a strength. It takes courage to be accountable for your limitations and stay open to assistance. Instead of seeing help as a manifestation of weakness, focus on the strength in authenticity and knowing when you can’t do it alone. Most people are kind and will be happy to assist you. They may even be flattered that you sought them out for guidance.

3. Overwhelmed by shame.

Many neurodiverse adults live with deep-seated and internalized shame about being "different" from their peers. There’s an expectation that you’ll do or say something wrong and will be criticized for messing up. Whether this shame is visible or hidden, you may see any successes as short-lived. Shame prevents people from asking for support.

Tool: Recall a time in the past when you struggled, asked for assistance, and pulled through. How can you link the lessons from that experience to a current situation? Asking for help is not a reflection of failure but rather an act of resilience.

4. Change your expectations.

Asking for help seems like opening the door to an avalanche of disappointment you would rather avoid. So instead, you go it alone, try to get things "just right," give up (so you can’t fail), or pray for a miracle.

Let’s face it: There is no perfect, and everybody stumbles. The most important thing is to pick yourself back up, understand what happened, and make different choices as you learn from your experience.

Tool: Stop worrying about disappointment and pivot to what’s needed for optimum productivity. Are your expectations for yourself realistic? If not, what needs to change? Create goals that are within your reach. Reduce your focus on the outcome and shift to emphasizing the process of doing something—efforting. You may not be able to do it alone. That’s OK. Who can help you and what can they do?

iStock: PeopleImages
Source: iStock: PeopleImages

Start Small and Build on Each Success

Sometimes, asking for help isn’t enough, and you may need to delegate aspects of a project or activity.

For many folks with ADHD and perfectionism, delegation can be really tough. Sometimes, it’s hard to trust that other people will follow through and you may feel insecure.

Start small. Build your confidence in others slowly by establishing low-risk experiments on simple tasks first. If you’re stuck on a spreadsheet task, seek out a friend or coworker who is a spreadsheet rock star. Tell them how much you’d appreciate their expertise and ask them to walk you through a couple of examples until you get the hang of it.

Your goal is to relieve your stress, increase productivity and get things done. Rely on your resilience to bounce back if something needs to change and use collaboration to meet a challenge. Recognize when you need a little extra help and empower yourself to ask for and accept it.

More from Sharon Saline Psy.D.
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