I think a lot about how people interact with and support each other, especially around the harder things in life. Many of us did not learn the skills necessary to do this well from our families of origin growing up, and they are definitely skills. Luckily, there are some resources out there to help us find our way, and to become better friends to those we care about. This is part 1 of a series exploring some helpful tools.
“How not to say the wrong thing” from the LA Times in 2013 has become a classic that makes the rounds on social media as people find comfort in it. Susan Silk and Barry Goldman present Susan Silk’s Ring Theory. The key essence is that when a person is going through a thing, they are the center. There are concentric circles surrounding the person that represent closeness of relationship – nearest and dearest closest, most tangential at the farthest. That regardless of where a relationship is in the ring, the way to support is to offer help, support, listening inward toward the center, and to issue complaints, fears, needs, outward.
From the article:
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
Fundamentally, the crisis is about the person in crisis. As friends, we need to let it be about them. Be present with *their* pain, without making their pain about us. But any crisis that affects our nearest and dearest may well bring up our own emotions, fears, concerns, hopes. Those are OK to have. In fact, I believe that fully noticing and experiencing those feelings is critically important for us personally, and for those around us. It allows us to have more clarity, authenticity and honesty in our interactions with others. But if we want to process those things externally, we need to process to those who are further away from the crisis. It is not OK to add to the burden of those closer.
I think it is possible to take this too far, or turn it into something destructive. In my relationships, It isn’t OK to pretend we’re OK when we’re not. Let’s imagine I’m in a crisis. And I have a partner. That partner withholding from me that they are scared or angry doesn’t actually help anyone. Ideally, they process and find some clarity about their feelings on their own, with a therapist, with a friend – without putting the burden of the processing on me. But the way to connection is to be able to honestly and appropriately share those feelings with me when I have the bandwidth to hear them. And to rise to the occasion to provide support the rest of the time. I think this is especially helpful when a crisis is sustained over an extended amount of time.
In Part 2, I’ll share some thoughts on how to not center ourselves in our conversations when talking with the person in the center.
Source: How not to say the wrong thing