The Ring Theory can support you during a crisis and it’s one of our favorite pieces of advice for how to offer help during a traumatic event or experience. While this theory was developed with people’s personal grief in mind, it also works for processing collective trauma and social justice, as shared on the Reimagine website.
Lean in TO support / Lean out FOR support
The main premise is that we support those closest to the trauma and find our own support by looking outside our own circle of care.
We refer to it as “Lean in TO support” meaning, we support those closer to the epicenter of the crisis than us, and “Lean out FOR support” meaning we find people further away from the epicenter to support ourselves.
What is The Ring Theory?
This concept was created by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman and first appeared in @latimes in 2013 as an article titled “How not to say the wrong thing“
“Ring theory is a concept or paradigm in psychology that recommends a strategy for dealing with the stress a person may feel when someone they encounter, know or love is undergoing crisis. The concept, developed by clinical psychologist Susan Silk, advises those surrounding a person in crisis to direct expressions of their own feelings of stress toward those less close to that person and direct only support toward those closer to the person, using a diagram of concentric circles to illustrate the concept.”
What does The Ring Theory entail?
The concept consists of a series of concentric rings with the person in crisis in the center and each larger ring containing those next closest to the person in crisis.
⭕️ Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma.
⭕️ Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma.
⭕️ 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.
Comfort In, Dump Out
“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 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.”
This concept can be so helpful when supporting someone in the midst of a trauma or crisis, or if you find yourself at the center of one. Having a framework and language to draw from can empower us during times of grief and chaos, giving everyone clear expectations and boundaries as to how best to support one another.
Having a community to support you is critical so you can ‘dump out’ and ‘comfort in’, or as we like to call it “Lean in TO support, and lean out FOR support”.