“This was a theory that I found after the really hard stuff during my daughter’s cancer treatment. I wish I’d known this in the beginning. I would have used it to help teach people how I needed to be handled with care. I use it now when providing support for others”.
I love the Ring Theory – it’s a support theory that shows us, at a glance where to send our comfort and compassion and where to seek comfort and how we can dump our own feelings with the least amount of emotional impact on a person suffering.
The idea in that you send your comfort IN and you dump OUT.
It was created by Breast Cancer Survivor and Clinical Psychologist Susan Silk and Barry Goldman.
The Ring Theory is this – We provide support to those closer to the trauma than we are and we look for our own support and dump our feelings, either within own circle or we dump outward.
You take a piece of paper and in the middle you draw a small circle.
In our case, this is the diagnosed child. This person is completely protected – they are the centre of this cancer universe – they receive all the comfort and none of the dumping. Their only job is to get through it.
Siblings. Now this depends on their age and their emotional capacity and is a parenting call. A young sibling would sit right in the middle with the diagnosed child. If they’re older and more capable they may sit in their own circle between the child and the parent. Siblings are to be protected from dumping JUST as much as the patient, however if they sit one ring out from the patient their brother or sister in the middle has full rights to dump onto them.
The next layer out are the immediate caregivers – in most families this will be the parents or guardians. It may be tempting to put a treasured friend or auntie into this circle but, unless they’re in trenches with you at home being immediately impacted by emergency hospital visits, long admissions, drug protocols and sleepless nights, this isn’t their ring.
The next layer is for those nearest and dearest. It’s where the closest friends, the family, often the grandparents sit.
The next ring is for the regular players – the extended friends, the work colleagues, teachers at school. People you see a lot and are part your regular lives.
Outer circle is for the Drama Queens and Lookie Loos, but don’t dismiss them out of hand, they’re actually quite important and we’ll get to that.
Support and comfort can be practical – pickling up siblings from school, dropping off milk and bread, chocolate and wine or it can be emotional support – listening to the tantrums and the tears, picking the phone up EVERY time it rings, going to hospital visits, loving a person when they can sometimes behave pretty unloveable.
What’s Dumping? Dumping is talking about your fears, your own pain, the impact that the diagnosis is having on you. How hard it is to watch the centre of this cancer universe have to go through childhood cancer. It’s really important to dump – please DO dump your feelings, you can’t hold those feeling inside, but please DO dump OUT, not in.
Dumping IN creates burden and guilt, which makes the job of those closer to the action so much harder.
Dumping is often unintentional and it comes from a place of kindness but let me lay down some real life scenarios from my own experience, where well intentioned statements hurt them hell to hear.
’It’s so hard watching you go through this’
‘I’m so scared for you’
‘My heart is broken from watching Lara be in so much pain – I can’t sleep at night thinking about it’
These are statements that came from love for me and my family, but in fact when I heard them I really wanted to care and protect the person who said them. I was already acutely aware of how my own pain was burdening others. Dumping in was a real challenge for me to navigate.
Who are the Drama Queens and the Lookie Loos? Childhood cancer is extremely emotional for everyone involved, even those in the studio audience. It can be tricky for some people not to feel attracted to that drama, to want to be involved and to genuinely want to support childhood cancer. People in this circle, however well meaning, have no STAKE, they’ve got no skin in the game. They are not allowed to dump in, no matter how much they want to emotionally connect with the key players. But these lookie loos aren’t to be dismissed – they can massively improve the lives of those in the centre of the rings – they’re often the ones holding fundraisers and organising food drives, they’re the ones making sure the diagnosed child has a support network at school. The reason drama is attractive is because it’s full of human connection and love and compassion. Lookie Loos and Drama Queens can in fact be really important players as long as they’re following the ring theory.
So – the golden rule is to support in and vent and dump OUT.
If in doubt, find someone who is in the same ring as you and figure it out together.
Remember, the Time for Courage… is NOW.