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The Fortysomething Report: Controlling Your Innner Control Freak

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We're the competent ones. The Moms, Wives, Dads, and Husbands. The Ones Who Get Things Done. We're Decision Makers, Managers, Heads of Households. I put these all in capitals because they're our identifying titles. Try saying them in a deep-baritone, commanding voice, like in monster-truck commercials.

##### About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.

The point is, we're in control. We are the go-to folks when other people need help. Can't make up your mind? Ask your husband. Can't figure out how to get something organized? Go talk to your wife. Got a problem you just can't see the solution to? Your Mom knows what to do--she always does.

What happens, however, when Charles in Charge and Boss Betty are the ones who need help? If you're like many, you won't ask for help until you're so desperate that you're on the verge of a meltdown. You won't ask because:

  • You assume you won't get it.
  • Your credo is, "If you want something done right, do it yourself."
  • You're worried that asking for help will result in your helper completely taking over, or turning your problem into an entirely different problem.
  • You think you'll look less competent, or worse, vulnerable.
  • You just don't want to be a bother.
  • You don't even know what kind of help you need.

Eventually, even The Competent Ones need to reach out. And, hopefully, before they're helpless. Here are five tips for asking for help for control freaks:

1.Ask early, often and liberally. With practice, asking for help isn't all that difficult. Start with little things, like opening a jar, household chores or advice about your toddler who bites. Not only will it loosen your grip on total control, it signals that you're willing to be helped--you're open to compassion and kindness in your life. Then, when something big comes a long (say, a teenager who bites), you'll be a skilled help seeker and know who to count on.

2.Err on the side of thinking that people want to help. They actually do. Are you kidding? People love to help. It makes them feel powerful, kind, competent and honored. Unless you're asking for constant, needless help and never bother to reciprocate (we've all known one of those), you're not a burden. You're showing that you trust your helper and value their skills. It's a compliment. People are always at their highest and best self when helping others. As the one in need, you're providing them an opportunity to be a better person.

3.Prioritize, organize, delegate and accept. Prioritize what you need help with--the problem you want to solve or goal you want to achieve. Organize by breaking down the problem or goal into specific tasks. Delegate by asking for help with specific tasks. Accept help gratefully and gracefully.

If you need assistance with a specific issue, ask for specific help. Try something like this: "I need help juggling the kids' schedules with my job and the housework. Will you drive the kids on Tuesday and shop for groceries?" If you're not specific, your helper won't know what you need and, in an effort to be generous, might swoop in and take over. That may or may not be what you're looking for.

That said, sometimes you're too overwhelmed even to know what type of help you need. In that case, prioritize becomes "I'm drowning here," organize turns into "I don't know what to do. Please help me," delegate is "Can you just listen and help me figure this out?" Accept stays the same: "Thank you--I really appreciate it."

4.Ask for help from people who can really help. Don't ask for babysitting from someone whose kids are in foster care. Don't delegate work-related tasks to a slacker. Pick good people. Ask the neighbor whose kids are well-behaved to watch your children while you run an emergency errand. Ask responsible and creative co-workers to help lighten your workload. Nurture friendships and family bonds. That's good advice in general, and it's especially helpful when you need good people to count on in a jam.

5.Be generous with your praise and time. Thank your helpers and offer help in return. Be sincere. Find something specific to thank them for. "Thank you for listening to me when I was upset. Your kindness and ability to be there for me really helped. I hope you'll let me help you whenever you need me." When people feel valued and accepted into your circle of trust, that's a natural payback for the help they've offered. If they know they can count on you, that's a bonus. (If you're having trouble with the concept, you can always rent "The Godfather, Part I.")

Bottom line: It's important to keep in mind that we all need someone to throw us a lifesaver sometimes Grab hold of that thing! And be grateful for the person throwing it.

Reprinted with permission from

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