DEAR AMY: I’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and have focused my emotional bandwidth on my family, my health and curing my cancer. I have a huge support system that includes family and friends. One of my close friends is having trouble coming to terms with my diagnosis, as well as my not taking her up on her offers of help (yet). This friend called a few nights ago sobbing and looking to me to help her feel better about my diagnosis and my long-term prospects. My diagnosis isn’t as good as it could be, but it’s also not as bad as it could be. I did my best to help her understand, and then changed the subject. I’d really rather not be calming down my friends when inside I’m losing my mind with the slow pace of health care and juggling my appointments and treatments. Is there a gentle and polite way to explain the “grief circles” to her that’s nonconfrontational? I could really use some help, as I have months and months of work concentrating on my health ahead. I’d like to kindly and gently explain to my friend that I cannot be the person making her feel better about my illness. Your suggestions?
Not Dead in California
DEAR NOT DEAD: “Grief circles,” otherwise known as “ring theory” conceptualizes the important idea that, when dealing with tough or tragic times, it is important for the person at the center of the circle (that’s you) to preserve her strength by only dealing with the person most intimately involved in her care — this might be a spouse, family member, or friend. Other relationships arrange outward in concentric rings. This is called the “kvetching order.”
The person at the center of the ring (you) can say anything (complain, cry, howl at the moon) to those in outer rings, but those in outer rings should limit their own needs, fears, and statements and focus only on being helpful. No unsolicited advice, no raging at the injustice of it all, no demands for comfort or constant updates.
Honestly, this seems so logical that it should not need to be spelled out, but understand that ring theory is mainly for you — to give you permission to react the way you want to during a time when you need to preserve your strength (and “emotional bandwidth”).
In short, you are not supposed to be worrying about how to be gentle and polite, comforting your friend through your crisis.
You could say, “I understand that this is hard for you, but I can’t help you through this. I’ve got too much on my plate. I hope you understand.” Encourage her to contact someone else in an outer ring when she is upset.
DEAR AMY: I’m in my early 20s, and I always wanted to be in a relationship. Lately, I’ve been feeling that whenever I get a guy’s number, I feel like the guy only wants to use me for one thing. I know two guys who want to use me. I met up with one guy last year. He has a girlfriend, but he’s using me as a side chick. There is also a guy I met last month. He has a girlfriend, too, and wants to use me as a side chick. Amy, I don’t want this. I just have no idea how to tell both of them that I don’t want to be used as a side chick anymore. What do I do?
Done Being Used
DEAR DONE: When you find your voice — and use it — you will finally be able to be in a heathy relationship. The fact that you don’t know how to tell these men what you want means that they have all of the power.
Your neediness is showing. Neither of these guys is good for you, so you would benefit from a personal and relationship reset. When you reveal your own positive values, respect will follow.
Ditch them both and read, “How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving,” by David Richo (2002, Shambhala).
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Sad and Mad in California” broke my heart. This sister was wrestling with her homeless alcoholic sister who was basically camping on her property with her alcoholic guy and their dog. Thank you for counseling her to get to a “friends and family” support group. Al-Anon could change everything.
Worked for Me
DEAR WORKED: Al-Anon has helped countless people to find a path forward.