Culture & Entertainment

Circles of support: How not to say the wrong thing

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Circles of support: How not to say the wrong thing

By: Jennifer Gruden

Lately, unfortunately, several people in my community have been dealing with pretty tough times. From cancer to bereavement at sudden and unexpected loss, it's seemed like there just isn't enough comfort food in the world to make up for various losses and struggles. ( We here at Canadian Living try though, we try.) One of the hardest things to do when supporting our friends and family can be to manage our own reactions. We all have our tough days and trigger points and I think that most of us have had that moment that we've said something that in hindsight, we wish we hadn't said. It's all too easy to blurt out the wrong theory ("that doctor doesn't sound like he knows what he's talking about!") to the wrong person. I've experienced this myself. After I lost my daughter, I had a few people express their utter despair about my situation to me quite early in my grieving days. Of course I understand that what they were really saying was that they felt bad for me, and that they cared about me. But every time I had to pat someone else on the back, I felt drained. Although it was a temporary situation, at that time, I really needed that energy for myself. Last year this Op-Ed from the LA Times about how to not say the wrong thing struck me as a great way to think about it, so I thought I would share. It calls this the "ring theory" of kvetching. Basically, you sort the people around you into circles of closeness to the person who is having the terrible time. And then you only provide comfort when you are moving into the circle. If you need to vent, despair, or just plain whine, you look outside your own position in the circle. That way the people closest to the terrible event still get the support they need. But everyone's needs count. Here's a diagram: Circles of support I think this is brilliant. Kudos to Susan Silk and Barry Goldman for coming up with a way to discuss the difference between helping and "helping" in a way that respects everyone's needs. What have your experiences been? And what's your way to show someone you care during those most terrible times of their lives?
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Circles of support: How not to say the wrong thing

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