When someone experiences a crisis or a challenging situation – intermittent or constant, could be momentary or chronic and sometimes even terminal – they need all the support, comfort and more. Such tragedies drain you, you find yourself shattered with little or no emotional capability to deal with anything or anyone. You want support without feeling answerable for anything. You find people who would just let you whine and comfort you. Others start telling of their own similar crisis they have been through and how they managed it. Even with the best of their intentions, it is insensitive and selfish. You get into a situation to reciprocate their support. Your comforting them feels very strange when you hardly have the emotional strength to process your own tragedy. Those people are actually talking to the wrong circle (the circle of the Silk Ring theory).
Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
In addition to the fact that it is definitely tough for the person experiencing it, it puts stress on everybody trying to help and comfort. So much so that Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue are literally common phrases you might have heard of.
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.
Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring.
The Silk Ring Theory – Kvetching order
Recently through someone’s Instagram stories, I chanced upon this article written in 2013 by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman in the LA Times; on “How not to say the wrong thing” to someone suffering from a crisis. They called it the ‘Kvetching order’. Also talked about how we can apply it to so many other forms of crises – health, marital, financial, death.
Circles of The Ring Theory
Think of it as a series of homocentric circles expanding out like a ripple in a pond.
- The most inner circle is the person/persons actually suffering from the crisis. Be careful while talking to that person. Don’t say anything about how their crisis has affected you or others even when you intend to make them feel important. Instead, maybe just listen. It’s about them and not you.
- The next circle includes their spouse or caregiver or other immediate family members. They are next in line to receive support. Only the person/persons in the center is allowed to dump on them.
- The next circle may include extended family members, concerned friends and colleagues they see frequently. Note that each succeeding circle of people is a little more further from the person and their situation.
- Moving outward, the next circle represents people in their larger community they don’t see regularly. These are the people who know about the crisis but aren’t close with those suffering from it. They are the dealers of your property, the guy that shops from your online store, someone who hasn’t spoken to you for months, or someone who follows you or other family members on social media. They aren’t allowed to vent to anyone, but they can offer help. Sometimes, the people from outer circle prove to be a source of great help to the family.
Below is an excerpt from the Silk Ring Theory:
“When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.”
Comfort In, Dump out
The idea of it is “Comfort in. Dump out”. It helps to make sure that the person at the center of the crisis gets only support and comfort. The people in the inner circle are not responsible for comforting or supporting the people in outer circles. The main role of the people in the outer circles is to support those in the inner circles. Yes, it’s not easy to be someone from the outer rings. They are the people less affected by the tragedy and far from the crisis. This space gives them the emotional strength to support. They are generally there as listeners.
The circle of support you live in, will define who you comfort (in other words, who vents to you), and who you dump your anguish on (in other words, who comforts you).
What Streams In, What Streams Out?!
The individual or people in the center with the sickness, crisis, or challenging condition; they get the chance to kvetch, whine, complain outwardly to their first circle of support (or to the second, third, fourth and so on according to their relationship with the person in the center). Whereas the first circle doesn’t vent about difficulties, the sleep deprivation, the emotional exhaustion etc., to the individual or people at the center of the crisis. However, they do get to vent outwardly.
Likewise, the second circle of support doesn’t vent to the first circle of support, who, again, only vents outwardly. Simply put: Comfort, support, caring STREAMS IN. Kvetching, whining, venting, complaining, demands for compassion STREAMS OUT.
Know Your Circle
Regardless of which circle you’re in, just remember that you are meant to comfort those residing in the circles inwards from you. There are many ways to support and provide them comfort. On the other hand if you are upset, feeling sad or generally in the Compassion Fatigue zone and want to get this out by crying or complaining; better approach is to do so with people in the circles outward from you or with people in the same circle as you. Comfort IN, dump OUT. As important as it is for you to process those feelings, you need to remember the ring theory and know your circle before you vent to somebody closer to the tragedy than yourself.
Concluding the Ring Theory
To summarize, the Silk Ring Theory helps in offering appropriate help to somebody who is experiencing any kind of trauma. It is also about how to recognize the effects of that crisis setting off other events in unexpected ways. How it also makes the people, who are close to that person, suffer. It perceives that they may require support as well.
While Ring Theory may not be accurate or possibly not work in every situation. We as human will always have problems with who resides in which ring and how these rings overlap ruining the idea of “comfort in, dump out”. Nor can we appear to support as others expect or deserve. Still, I believe that using Ring Theory to any crisis can help improve the way we involve with everyone around us.
Taking turns inside the center ring
All things considered, pretty much every one of us will go through a crisis one day and many of us are coping with a challenging situation of some sort. It will do us all good to have a framework in mind regarding how not to say the wrong thing.
You might have experienced living in that center ring and you may have your turn again. Meanwhile, look around and support others utilizing the Ring Theory, as they struggle with their turn inside the center ring where no one want to be.
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