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Don’t know what to say? Use The Ring Theory

Don’t know what to say? Use The Ring Theory

Other People’s Reactions

When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and then 2 years later with leukaemia a strange pattern started to emerge. I certainly did my best to maintain a positive, I-will-fight-this kinda attitude which looking back, was exhausting to maintain.

But what I couldn’t manage was other peoples reactions. Take for example Sarah when she saw me lying in the hospital bed in the isolation ward, hooked up to countless tubes and machines she broke down in the corridor telling my husband to ‘prepare himself for the worst as it did not look good’ Now Hello! How is that helpful? How is that comforting?

When we are going through the proverbial shit storm that’s the best you can come up with! I know Sarah loves me to bits and pieces but there are times when you need to know what NOT to say.

The Ring Theory


For these such occasions I’d like to introduce The Ring Theory by Susan Silk


It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential.

It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.

  • Draw a circle.
  • In the centre ring put the name of the person at the centre 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.
  • When you are done you have a Kvetching Order.

Here are the Rules:

The person in the centre ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. He/She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the centre ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the centre 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 it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.” 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. Comfort IN, dump OUT.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Would love to hear people’s thought on this.

Hope this helps!

Bye for now,


Caroline Warren
Therapeutic and Oncology Massage Therapist at | caroline@touchtherapycentre.ie

Caroline is a therapeutic and oncology massage therapist, and founder of the Touch Therapy Centre in Cork. The Touch Therapy Centre offers a range of specialised therapeutic and oncology massage treatments in a safe and comforting environment for those going through a serious illness or for those who simply want to relax, recharge and unwind.

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