People who might be willing to help

Sometimes, when I really need help, I have no idea where to start. Who can I ask? What is appropriate to ask for? So this page is some of my random thoughts (as of this morning!) on different people someone might ask for help, and what you might expect from them.

Please remember that the people you might ask for help, and what you might ask from them, will probably be different from my list. The purpose of this list is more to get you thinking than to give you specific instructions.

The advantage of asking friends for help is that, presumably, they care about you for the person you are. They like you, and they chose to be your friend. The disadvantage of asking friends for help is that they are less likely to be experts on what you are asking for help with (or if they are experts, they may come to resent being asked to continue “working” after they are done with their work for the day).

With friends, the relationship should be reciprocal. It’s not so much a matter of always making sure the ledgers are balanced, but over the course of the relationship, you should find that you are giving and receiving in about equal measure.

Here are some things my friends and I have asked each other for:

  • Company. Friends are often willing to spend time with you so that you don’t feel so alone. When I can make it clear that I don’t need them to solve my problems, I just need them to be with me, they are even less likely to feel burned out. “Company” can extend to being a support person who will go with you when you have to face a stressful situation (like a doctor’s appointment).
  • A listening ear. This goes beyond just being with me, and includes being able to listen when I need to talk about something that is on my mind. I’m not asking them to make everything better, I’m just asking them to listen while I talk.
  • Emotional support. My friends have proven very willing not only to keep me company or listen to me, but also to demonstrate that they care about me, and that they understand when things are difficult for me.
  • Advice. Sometimes, I really don’t know what to do in a particular situation. A friend can help me to sort through different options, and figure out which choices to make. In this case, just because they have given advice doesn’t mean I am required to follow that advice. But I will have some options to consider.
  • Help with tasks I am unable to do. This can be things like bringing me orange juice when I am sick, giving me a ride when I can’t drive somewhere, or scratching my back when I have an itch I can’t reach.

Family (both birth family and chosen family)
In many ways, the things I ask for from my family are similar to the things I ask from my friends. The difference for me is that I’m willing to ask for a little more from my family. And I think there is an expectation that the “balancing” in the relationship will occur over a longer time period.

One of the advantages of asking family members for help (whether they are your birth family or “family” you have chosen for yourself) is that because they are closer to you, they may be more willing to give the help you have asked for. Family members may be more likely to notice when we are having a hard time, and they may be more likely to want to reach out and help us.

There are disadvantages, too. For one thing, not all of us were blessed with birth families that were reliable sources of help. We may have learned that help from those people came at an intolerable cost. Additionally, the dynamic of who helps and who is being helped can become unhealthy within some families. And the fact that we feel a greater obligation towards family can sometimes mean that while help is given, the person giving the help feels resentful about it.

My family (including chosen family) and I have helped each other in the ways friends help, and also in these ways:

  • Financial assistance. While it is possible that people might ask their friends, or strangers, for money, I am personally most comfortable asking for this kind of help from the people I am closest to, because I know that our relationship will be strong enough to handle the stresses of dealing with money.
  • More extensive care when I am sick. I might hesitate to ask a friend to cook meals for me or drive me to repeated doctor’s appointments, but family members have been willing to do this for me. They have come to my house, or taken me to theirs, to give me consistent care when I have been particularly sick.
  • A deeper level of emotional support. While I might ask a friend for sympathy, I am more likely to turn to my (chosen) family when I am deeply upset. They are the ones I would ask to hold me while I cry, or to stay present with me when I am having a panic attack.

People in helping professions

I am combining quite a few types of people in this category, because I personally think of them in the same place in my mind. I’m thinking of teachers, therapists, doctors, counselors, and that kind of people. The advantage of asking for help from these kinds of people is that the help does not need to be reciprocated. I don’t expect to be called when my doctor has a sore throat; I don’t expect to listen when my therapist has a hard day; I don’t feel responsible for whether or not my teacher has learned new information. My relationship with these people is more one-sided. They give help, and I receive it. But because of this, the boundaries on what I can ask for are more strictly defined. The help is given on their terms, and can be much more limited than what I would receive from my friends or family.

I don’t expect people in the helping professions to give me the same kinds of help I would get from my friends or family. They aren’t there to bring me orange juice when I am sick, or to loan me money when I need it. Their role is limited by their professional boundaries. While we may be friendly with each other, they are not the same as my friends (nor, in my mind, should they be).

Here are some of the ways I have gotten help from professionals:

  • I have learned new information and new skills, from teachers, therapists, and even doctors.
  • Help finding and accessing the resources I need. This can include calling a crisis line when I need help finding a doctor or therapist, or my therapist helping me to figure out ways of asking for help from my friends and family, as well as many other things. I have found that someone whose job it is to know about resources is often far more able to help me with this kind of thing than a friend or family member is.
  • I have had the advantage of their knowledge in figuring out what kind of help I need. By this I mean, when I have a sore throat, my doctor has the ability to figure out whether I just need rest and fluids, or whether I need medicine to treat an infection. What is more, helping professionals have experience in their area of expertise. I would not have learned Latin without my teachers, because they were able to explain it to me step by step. I would not have made the progress I have with my mental health without good therapists, because they were able to guide me through the steps of healing.
  • My therapists in particular have been a great resource when I needed someone to listen to me without judging, and without the expectation that I would be equally able to listen to them. Friends and family are good, but they are more involved in the situations I’m dealing with. Sometimes, it can be a great help to have someone who isn’t connected to the rest of my life, who can listen to me, and who I can feel is wholeheartedly on my side.
  • These people have offered advice and support within the limits of their roles. My teachers guided me through the process of getting into college and graduate school. My therapists have suggested ways of building up a support network, as well as ways of coping with the things going on in my own head. Librarians have been a great resource for finding new books to read, and doctors have sometimes been very helpful in figuring out how to improve my health.

Support groups (both online and off) and online friends

I have found that the internet can be a really excellent source of support. Mostly, it is the support of knowing that I am not alone. For me, in-person support groups work in a very similar way. Because there is a certain level of distance built into the relationship, I don’t ask as much of people I see only as online friends. We “listen” to each others’ words over the internet (or at an in-person support group), but the main focus of our relationship is on finding out that we are not the only ones dealing with whatever it is we are dealing with. We offer advice, sympathy, and congratulations. We keep each other company at times. But that is the limit of what I expect out of online support. A few times, my connection with someone over the internet has grown into a true friendship, and that is something I really appreciate. But for the most part, it is not something I expect from online friends, or members of my support groups.

And that is ok. Sometimes, all I need is to know I am not alone, and the internet is great for that. It seems rare that all of the people I know online are asleep at the same time. If I can’t sleep, I can read someone else’s words, or I might discover they are also awake and typing, and then I don’t have to feel quite so alone. I would not rely on online support (or support groups) as my only form of support–what they offer is very useful, but cannot stand on its own. But if you haven’t already got some online support, take a look around and see what you can find. I think there is probably a group for any type of support you might want. And if you can’t find one, you can still probably build some community by starting a blog about your own experiences!

My community

I use this to refer to people who or work live near me, or who are also involved in some organization (whether that is a religious institution, a workplace, a volunteer organization, or anything of that sort). These people can often play some of the roles of friends and family, and can come to be members of those groups in my mind as well. But to me, a community is something a little different from friends and family.

For me, having community means that I have a large network of people, not all of whom I am closely connected to. It’s something I have some trouble defining; community are the people I chat with on the street, or the people I see on a regular basis. A community might come together to help a member, simply because they are part of a community. But the help might be more limited and less personal that what you would get from friends or family. Having a community, I guess, is largely about not feeling like I am alone in the world. It is an important part of my support network, but it is more amorphous than the other kinds of support (help) I give and receive.



There are many other kinds of people you might ask for help, and I may add them as I think of them. But for now, think about people you might have in each category. For me, it can be helpful to have a list of those people, along with the things I might reasonably ask from them. I can keep this list somewhere I will find it when I am feeling as though I need help, so that I will remember that it is possible to ask for help.

If you’d like a writing assignment, make one of those lists for yourself. If you choose to, you can post it in the comments on this page.

One Response
  1. Mandy :

    Date: January 26, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    I have been scouring ALL OVER your blogs, you truly are an amazing – person, people… Very wise, love your spirit & attitude! What a journey this blog must have been? I would like to know more! I can tell, you’re the type of person, if you’re going to do “it”, “it” better be right! Thank you for sharing your LIFE with me! What a statement.. I never thought I’d say to ANYONE over the net, right? Love & Peace **bow**

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