Ring Theory is a rule that will help you find out who you can turn to in times of crisis and avoid confiding your problems to the wrong people.

Emotional events can cause a ripple effect across families, distant relatives and groups of friends. Loved ones and close friends are all affected when someone suffers injury or a family suffers a loss. It can be difficult for anyone to know who to turn to when times get hard, but knowing who to turn to can help you to push through these hard times and get back to normality.

Ring Theory, developed by clinical psychologist Susan Silk, is the newest psychological ‘rule’ to help people know who to turn to after an emotional time.

The rule follows a simple exercise.

First, write down the name of those who are directly affected and draw a small circle around it. This may be one person, a couple, or a family.

Then, draw a slightly larger ring around that and write down the names of whoever is closest to whomever is experiencing the emotional event. This could be the parents of the sufferer or close friends.

In a third ring, place the outer circle of friends and distant relatives.

Part of this exercise is assessing which circles you are in and who the closest to the problem is.

The rule itself:

‘You can only complain to those is circles larger than the one you are in, and you can only offer help and support to those who are in a ring smaller than you are.’

This rule does not mean that those in the larger rings aren’t affected or don’t experience the suffering. However, it points out who is closest to the issue and who is taking most of the impact of the trauma. Those who have the heaviest weight to bare should be the ones who receive the most support to those around them.

The rule also takes into account that tough times can build up a lot of pent-up frustrations in families and friends. Complaining to others is a natural way of dealing with these frustrations.

The main aim of the rule is to assure that you can better understand who you need to offer your full support to in times of crisis. It also reminds you who is appropriate to turn to when you need to lighten the load a little and let off steam.

Using the Ring Theory in practice

Key examples of the Ring Theory are things like medical cases and health issues. Those who are suffering in hospital should have their wishes to be left alone and their dignities respected, rather than being bombarded with questions and visitors.

It is not about the wants of those in the outer circles but the needs of the sufferers in the inner circles. They are the ones who need the support more than they need to hear the woes of a friend or family member. That is not to say that you can’t talk to them, as for some, it can be a good distraction to hear about what is happening in other people’s lives.

It is important, however, to be careful, as people who are going through tough times cannot offer the same level of support. If someone asks you what has been going on recently, keep it light and simple, as they don’t need anything more to worry about.

How you can benefit from it

Conversely, the Ring Theory also helps you to understand who it is appropriate to depend upon when times are tough. Those in circles larger than you are the ones that you are able to depend upon and whom it is more appropriate to depend on.

Knowing who is in a larger circle than you are the best ones to turn to and can offer you an objective and balanced view of the situation. Their thoughts and feelings will not be as strong as of those who are in the inner circles. Keeping this in mind helps you make important social decisions, even when you are put on the spot.

The Ring Theory can help families and friends understand how to better help and support those who need it. It also reveals how to better navigate certain social situations that naturally come from times of crises. Knowing how to help support a family member helps families to get through the rough times together and make the family stronger.

It can be difficult to know who you can vent to and who needs more of your attention, and the Ring Theory takes the thinking out of it. By deciding on the rings, you make an assessment of who you think needs the most support and who may need less support than you do. This conscious choice of those who need your support will make you become more motivated to offer them your help.

The Ring Theory can be difficult to respect. It can be easy to place all of your frustrations on those you feel are causing it. But it’s important to remind yourself who the event is really hurting.


  1. http://articles.latimes.com

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