Circles of Support by

Circles of Support

March 4, 2015

In my counseling/coaching practice I have been using a technique called ‘Neuro Relationship Therapy’ which uses a system of circles.

Recently a friend of mine made me aware of this article here, where they use the circles in response to ‘how not to say the wrong thing’ when someone is severely ill.
I have now adapted this to help supporters of grieving parents say and do what is supportive.
What do you think? Let me know in the comment section.
(Find more resources for supporters here.)

Circles of Support

Comfort IN, dump OUT

In terms of ‘saying the right thing,’ there is a simple rule to follow: Comfort IN, dump OUT. What does this mean?
Imagine the bereaved couple in the centre of concentric circles, their closest family, siblings, grandparents in the next circle, close friends in the next, other friends and colleagues in the next, acquaintances in the next circle, etc.

The rule states that where ever you are, you offer support to the people closer in the circles and you ONLY dump (complain, cry, protest, say things like “it’s so unfair” or, if at all, use clichés like “it’s for the better”) to the people in the circles to the outside.

Click on the image to see a larger picture.


Anything you do or say towards the people closer to the centre of the circle needs to be supportive or offer comfort; otherwise don’t say or do it.
Being supportive to the parents or the close family is the best you can do for all of them.

Three simplest things to say:

  • I am sorry for your loss.
  • I am here for you.
  • I don’t know what to say; I’m at a loss for words.

Whatever you do or say, remember these things:

  • Acknowledge the parents
  • Listen but do not try to fix
  • Encourage and give them hope
  • Practice the Art of Presence.

–> Read more in the book Grieving Parents: Surviving Loss as a Couple (Chapter 12)


Dumping is anything you do or say that makes it more difficult for the parents or the people in a closer circle to the parents than you:

  • excessive crying in front of them
  • whine, moan, complain, compare with other losses
  • make statements like “It’s unfair”, “why you?”
  • use any clichés like, “God has plan,” “It’s all for the better,” “At least he didn’t have to suffer.”

Also, do NOT give advice. Even if you feel you have been were the parents have been.

Remember that it’s ok to cry or feel, “It’s unfair.”You might even talk to someone about the losses you’ve experienced, just say it to someone in your circle or further out.


  • Nathalie Himmelrich the author of a number of resource books for bereaved parents. As a relationship coach, grief recovery expert and bereaved mother herself she believes that relationships (intimate and to other support people) are the foundation for a healthy grieving experience. She is also the founder of the Grieving Parents Support (GPS) Network and the May We All Heal peer support group. Find Nathalie's books here: Nathalie Himmelrich or the Grieving Parents Support Network here: Grieving Parents

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