I've had plenty of difficulties in my life--I've lost both my mom and dad, have struggled through parenting my autistic daughter and have nagging health issues just from being a little person, for starters. And I'm guessing you've had your share of suck, too. Whether you're dealing with a cranky boss, money trouble, addiction, loneliness or anything in between, science shows it's to your benefit to get your woes off your chest. But to whom do you go? How do you know which person to vent to and take comfort from?

Mapping out your options

As Olivia Goldhill highlights in Quartz, clinical psychologist Susan Silk has developed what she refers to as "Ring Theory" for figuring out the best people to turn to in any type of crisis or distress. It involves drawing rings to identify levels of closeness.

  • Start with one small ring. Place people directly affected by the problem in this ring. (If you're the one with the issue, you are in this ring.)
  • Draw a second ring, slightly bigger, around your first. Place people who are closest to the person experiencing the difficulty--for example, a spouse or best friend--in this ring.
  • Continue to draw circles, placing people in each according to decreasing intimacy levels.

At the end of this process, you'll have created a visualization of your proper "kvetching" or griping order. Once you've got this in your hands, follow just one rule.

If someone is in an outside or bigger circle, complain to them. If they are in an inner or smaller circle, comfort them and listen.

Or as Silk puts it, comfort IN, dump OUT. The concept behind this rule is that those in smaller circles are closer to the trauma or difficulty and thus don't need you to pile on more trouble. If you vent to people in smaller circles, they might be offended at your lack of sensitivity or brush off your complaints because they're already so overwhelmed.

Perception is everything

Silk's Ring Theory is handy both in and out of the office and can apply to a myriad of situations. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. Where you place people in the rings is entirely a matter of relationship perception, and what you perceive isn't necessarily what someone else perceives or even reality. For example, you might not feel very close to a coworker, but they might admire you a great deal and secretly even see you as a mentor. Subsequently, don't be surprised if there's some tension based on which people you ultimately talk to. It might be the case that someone doesn't understand why you went to someone else with your troubles, or that you're given the cold shoulder by someone you thought would have your back. Thinking carefully about each relationship before you decide on a ring position might help avoid these situations.

Using Silk's Ring Theory well requires you to be entirely honest with yourself and objectively analyze the relationships you have. But it is a good basic method for narrowing down which people might be able to help you through a rough time, or for understanding which people could benefit from your kindness. Give when you can give, and if you need a hand, there's never any shame in reaching out.

Published on: Sep 8, 2017