The recent tragedy in Dallas, Texas, leaves many people asking not only “How did this happen?” but “How can I help?”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown has asked the community for support:

“We don’t feel much support most days.  Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support.”

When tragedy strikes, it affects not only those intimately impacted, but also the broader community and beyond.

How do we balance our own emotions and reactions to a tragedy, while acknowledging the greater burden carried by those immediately involved?

The Circle of Grief, or Ring Theory, provides a template.

Draw a small circle and put the name of the person closest to the tragedy in the middle of 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, a colleague, or closest friend.  Keep drawing larger circles around the other circles and add the layers of people–close friends, more distant friends, members of the community, etc.  Here are the rules:

Ring Theory/Circle of GriefThe person in the center circle can cope any way he/she wants.  The job of those in the larger circles is to listen and support.

When talking to a person in a circle smaller than yours, remember that you are talking to someone closer to the tragedy.  Your job is to help.  You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours.  Express these emotions 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, others prefer to grieve privately.  Both are valid coping mechanisms–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 crisis or tragedy chooses to brush the topic aside–and please don’t press!

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.  Seek support for yourself from those in your same situation (same circle), or those further from the tragedy (larger circles).

Sending thoughts of comfort and support to the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officers.

Dallas, TX