Mourning circle: supporting while complaining

If you’re wondering how to best support someone during a crisis or what to say when someone is grieving, Circle of Grief can help.

Learning what to say and what not to say to loved ones in times of grief and bereavement can be difficult. It’s natural to feel anxious about saying the “wrong” thing.

The Circle of Mourning is a resource that can help you deal with a crisis situation. It is based on the ring theory, the brainchild of psychologist Susan Silk and her husband Barry Goldman, an arbitrator and legal mediator.

The theory provides a simple technique to offer support and protection to those who need it most, while also allowing you to have opportunities to speak up and be supported.

This technique can help in any type of crisis, including a community dealing with a natural disaster, a medical emergency, or when someone is mourning the death of a loved one.

In 2013, Silk and Goldman first wrote about Ring Theory for the Los Angeles Times, where they explained that the Circle of Mourning begins with identifying the person closest to or most affected by the crisis.

Circled around them are five or more outer rings, listed here in order of proximity to the person in the center:

  • immediate family members such as spouse or parents
  • close friends
  • other friends and family
  • colleagues
  • acquaintances or onlookers

The organization of the circles is based on the understanding that the stages of grief can involve intense and diverse emotions for everyone involved. In this sense, those closest to the center may need more comfort and uncensored opportunities to express how they feel.

Based on this, the Circle of Grief works by “comforting, throwing away”. This means that support always goes to people in inner circles, while expressions of concern, anger, or fear go to people in outer circles.

In other words, people in smaller circles have the opportunity to complain and speak out with those in larger circles. People in these larger circles offer support and comfort to those in smaller circles.

The most vulnerable people, says Silk, can sometimes be overlooked in crisis situations. It is important to identify who needs support – and what type of support – in order to provide the comfort they need instead of adding to their possible overwhelm.

The Circle of Mourning ultimately offers a framework for filtering what to say and to whom. It seeks to further reduce emotional pain in what can be an already trying time.

Silk says the ring theory can help answer a question we should always ask before speaking: “How will it help people who are closer to the center of the circle?”

Here are some things to keep in mind when you want to avoid saying “the wrong thing:”

Practicing WAIT can help

Silk recommends using an acronym that is often used in Alcoholics Anonymous: WAIT, which means “Wait, why am I talking?” »

The acronym is used so that the speaker can determine the purpose they hope to achieve with their words and be aware of their wording and timing.

Try to be responsive to feedback

Let’s say you’re grieving and someone says something that you think may have added to your pain or worry. You always have the choice to express yourself if you wish.

Silk says, “If you have the bandwidth at the time and you’re ready to go, you can say, ‘That wasn’t helpful.'”

If someone you’re trying to support says this to you, consider being open to those words instead of being defensive. This could be an opportunity for the grieving person to feel heard and for you to reconsider your approach.

Consider apologizing and forgiving

If, in your attempt to support these people in the inner circles, you say something that doesn’t help, there is always an opportunity to make amends.

“If I say something stupid, I don’t have to cower and isolate myself. I can apologize. This is not the end of the world. We all make mistakes,” says Silk.

Sometimes supporting those in the center of the circle can also mean skipping a few words or behaviors.

Consider who you share with

It is natural to want to find ways to relate to what is happening to others. Something they go through can remind you of losses you’ve also suffered, for example.

In this case, it is also natural, at some point, to feel the need to talk about your personal experience. However, doing this with people around them may not be what they need right now to feel supported.

Keeping the Circle of Grieving in mind can help you find spaces to share how this situation makes you feel with people in the outer circles. This way, you can avoid sharing with those in the inner circles and instead offer them comfort.

“I still have to remember even when I’m not with clients but with friends who have dementia, cancer, [or other illnesses], not to ask questions that concern me or are of no use to them,” says Silk.

Instead, Silk says, you might want to consider offering practical support like bringing a hot drink or running an errand for them.

Try to avoid avoidance

Intense emotions in yourself or others can sometimes be difficult to deal with. It is natural to try to avoid what makes us feel uncomfortable or upset. But when it comes to grieving, try not to avoid the grieving person and consider reaching out instead.

Acknowledging someone’s loss rather than ignoring it for fear of saying the wrong thing can be difficult, but it helps.

If this seems difficult to you, try to keep the circle of grief in mind and seek social support from people at the ends of the circle.

Remember to check periodically

It is common for some people going through a crisis to receive a lot of support when they lose a loved one for the first time or go through a traumatic event.

Consider checking in, continuing to lend a listening ear, and offering practical help even weeks, months, or years later.

Silk says, “Social support is the psychological equivalent of penicillin. This is the basic DNA of recovery.

The circle of grief, which is part of the ring theory, can offer you a way to support others while still getting the support you need.

The Circle is about “supporting, complaining”. In other words, it’s about allowing those closest to the crisis to let off steam and say freely what they need to say, while those farther from the crisis offer support and comfort. .

As you support those closest to the bereavement, remember to also support yourself with self-care, therapy, support groups, and support from outside circles.


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