Ring Theory of Support

Support In, Pain Out


How can we show support in times of crisis? Especially if we are all facing different levels of crisis?




Clinical pyschologist Susan Salk proposed something that is now known as the "Ring Theory" of support - comfort/support in, pain/dump out.


Basically, most affected by a particular crisis should gain support from each other and everyone further away from the crisis. Conversely, those further away from the crisis should NOT rely on support from those more closely associated.


An example: Let's look at how this could be seen during a funeral


  1. The spouse and immediate family are typically at the center of the circle. They should be able to reach out to anyone else at the funeral to get support, talk about their feelings, and express grief.

  2. Close friends or extended family should rely on everyone EXCEPT the spouse and the family

  3. Friends and colleagues of the deceased can rely on each other or others in attendance, but NOT the closer friends or any family members

  4. Everyone else in attendance should be giving support, listening, and helping everyone else. They can rely on each other for condolences, but should not be reaching in.

Of course, these dynamics differ based on the person who has died. But hopefully you get it - those closest should get the most support, those furthest should support them and each other. Nobody should be reaching IN to the circle to gain help.


Everyone who attends a funeral is in mourning. BUT they are dealing with different levels of pain. The immediate family does not need to hear the trials and tribulations of a prior coworker. The spouse should not have to console a long-lost relative.


These practices help in whatever the crisis may be. We all need support, but we have to be careful who we are leaning on for that support. Whether we are asking them to listen, to help, or to share in our pain, we need to be mindful of how are actions may be useful or harmful.

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