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How to be supportive to someone in crisis


How to be supportive to someone in crisis


I love this article from the Los Angeles Times (April 7 2013). Please read it, it's short and sweet. And it resonates on so many levels for families with infants in the NICU. It centers around the fact that many people don't know how to properly, kindly support people in a crisis. One woman, Susan Silk, experienced a medical crisis, and found that friends and loved ones didn't know how to say things to her that seemed appropriate, didn't know how to respect her needs & wishes. People with smaller problems would complain about their own struggles, seflishly want to visit her when she clearly stated she needed to be alone. To help people understand better how to support someone, she devised a technique, she called it the ring theory, and used a woman named Katie as an example:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. 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. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. 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 center ring. 

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

NICU parents report that they are frequently bombarded with questions and comments that are well-intentioned and yet are upsetting, thoughtless. I love that this model makes it very simple and clear who has the right to vent, complain, kvetch about their situation. With this diagram, we're reminded that NICU parents are the only adults in this situation central to the trauma, and they should be supported by everyone else around them.

But another reason this technique is really useful in the NICU is this - it reminds us all, even the parents, that the individual truly in the center of the circle is the baby. Even though the baby can't complain, can't kvetch (yet), can't understand if someone says insensitive things, they are there in the middle, rightfully needing any and all love and attention they can get, their needs are highest- higher than the parent, who is sick and tired of pumping, of driving all the way to the hospital. Higher than the staff, who are having a hard day, have worked 3 days in a row, have issues at home. So when any of the rest of us feel entitled to complain, let's keep in mind that the baby's needs come first in this crisis, then the parents, and then, outside of these individuals, come the needs of perhaps staff, friends & family, anyone else. Here's my quick sketch of what it might look like:

Maybe it is a nice, simple visual that can make it easier to do those things for the baby that are hard. Maybe it can help NICU staff remember to support the parents in this crisis, since we may be the next closest in this crisis and may be exactly who they need to turn to and kvetch. And as the authors remind us:

You can say whatever you want if you just wait until you're talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.  And don't worry. You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Right now, it's baby's time. Then parents. Everyone else, let's support them in the very best way possible.

How have you been impacted by other peoples' insensitive comments?  Would you draw your rings differently?

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times, Illustration by NICU Central