What Do You Need? A Practical Checklist to Help Your Loved Ones Help You

Kitty Stryker
Consent Culture: A Conversation
3 min readMay 6, 2023
Source: Unsplash

Let me start with a scenario.

Something big, and scary, or sad, or angering has happened. We feel helpless, hopeless in the face of this thing. We know we are not alone, yet we feel completely isolated in the experience of this thing. Frantically, we reach out for help from our loved ones and/or our community. We are vulnerable, we are raw in our ask. And people respond, “of course, just let us know what you need!”

It’s an absolutely fair question. The problem at the moment is that for many of us, it’s difficult if not impossible to figure out what we feel, never mind what we need. It was hard enough to ask in the first place! And so we quietly accept whatever help people thrust upon us, knowing that it’s well-intentioned, even if it doesn’t feel helpful to us. Or maybe we just withdraw, and say, yeah, sure, I’ll get back to you, and by the time we’ve dealt with the immediate trauma it’s been a couple of weeks and we no longer feel comfortable following up. Our loved ones feel frustrated that they couldn’t be of service, and we feel alone, even as we know how unfair that is.

I’ve definitely scolded myself in those moments, like how dare I ask my friends to read my mind and give me what I need when I don’t even know what I need myself! But that doesn’t actually HELP anything.

I thought about how sometimes when I go to a restaurant I don’t know what I want until I see a photo of it. Seeing the options clearly made decision-making far easier and more efficient. What if I could do that, but for acts of service and showing up? I started making up a list of things I could look at when in that numb state of crisis and instability to help me decide what I needed. I’d look through my list, and see what felt stressful, what felt like a relief, and what didn’t make me feel anything at all. Then, I could provide people with a short list of the kinds of help I was looking for.

It was incredible. People were far more likely to show up for me when they knew exactly what the ask was. I needed a meal? Done. I needed someone to call when I was grieving? Easy. I needed someone to make me a playlist of music for my mood? No problem. By having a variety of ways that people could show up for me that I genuinely wanted, some that cost money, some that cost time, I was able to meet my needs and feel the love of those around me — and they felt like they were making a positive impact. Win-win.

So, I wanted to publish this here as a starting place for people so they could start their own lists. This is, of course, not appropriate for all people in all moments with all of the people they may ask for help, but hopefully it will stir up some thoughts so you can make your own menu of emotionally supportive acts. Also? You may be surprised at who shows up when you do this. I’ve had people I rarely hang out with show up out of the blue to be my biggest cheerleaders during times of crisis.

I really hope this helps people. I know it’s helped me a lot as I grieve my mother, and it’s made it just a little easier to break down the barrier I built around myself to protect myself during my mourning process.


  • advice
  • sympathy
  • someone to just listen to you
  • food delivered
  • a chore handled
  • a plan created
  • time alone
  • time with another person
  • time with a group
  • being at home
  • being away from home
  • a distraction
  • doing something familiar/comforting
  • trying something new
  • a physical activity
  • a fun activity
  • money
  • a referral
  • a list of resources
  • a book that might help
  • time with animals
  • time with children
  • in-person time
  • a phone call
  • a video chat
  • physical contact
  • emotional presence
  • regular text check-ins (every day? once a week?)
  • listening to music
  • time in nature
  • sensual touch
  • cuddling
  • massage
  • meditation
  • dance

What about you? What would you add to your list?