I recently read an article by clinical psychologist Susan Silk & her husband, Barry Goldman–How Not To Say the Wrong Thing.

The gist of the article is that people get to grieve and cope in their own way; if you want to help, listen and/or offer practical help (specific offers of help with kids, errands, food–not advice on how to handle the situation, though!).  Don’t insert your own grief, anger, or preferred coping mechanisms into someone else’s crisis.

Photo from the FB page of The OpEd Project

Photo from the FB page of The OpEd Project

Dr. Silk recommends a simple technique she calls the Ring Theory as a guideline for helping and supporting those in crisis.

Draw a small circle at the center of the page and put the name of the person experiencing the crisis in that circle.  Then, draw a larger (concentric) circle and put the name of the person closest to the center person–for adults, this is usually a spouse or partner, but may be children, parents, or closest friend.  Keep drawing larger circles around the other circles and add the layers of people–close friends, more distant friends, colleagues, etc.  Here are the rules:

“The person in the center ring can say anything she wants, to anyone, anywhere.”

The center person can be angry, complain life is not fair, talk about her worries, etc.  “Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.  When talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help.”  You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours, only to those in your circle or larger circles.

The concept is simple–“comfort in, dump out.”

And remember, everyone copes in his or her own way.  Some people cope best by sharing about their crisis, with friends or even the media, and may find comfort and strength in becoming active in a cause related to their situation.

Others prefer to keep their crisis private.  This is a valid coping mechanism as well–private does not mean denial!  It’s perfectly healthy to look for comfort in the normalcy of day-to-day life.  So don’t be surprised if someone going through a medical crisis or other tragedy chooses to brush the topic aside–and please don’t press!

Sending thoughts of comfort and support to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and my neighbors in West, Texas.

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