How to support ourselves when supporting others

Supporting someone who is grieving can sometimes feel emotionally difficult. Compassion literally means “to suffer together” and as such there is a cost to compassion. It is recommended that you take a “support in, dump out” approach in bereavement. This is surprisingly simple to do and can help all of those involved support and be supported in the best way possible.

Step one:
Draw a small circle and write your grieving loved one, friend, colleague’s name next to it. This circle represents them.

Step two:
Draw a bigger circle around the bereaved person and put the name of their next closest loved one.

Repeat this step adding circles for the next closest loved one until you reach acquaintances.

Your support in, dump out map should look something like this:

The rules are simple. Sara, as the bereaved individual can say anything she feels she needs to express to anyone else in the outer rings. She can grieve in any way she wants, sob, cry and ask questions like “why me, why did this happen?” Those in the circles bigger than Sara’s are welcome to do this as well BUT ONLY to an outer circle. Sara’s best friend may not want to talk to Sara’s boss but she must talk to someone further away from the loss than Sara or her sister.

Why? Because when you are supporting someone in a smaller circle then your primary aim is to HELP. Listening is often what is needed most and despite it being a natural impulse to want to “give” a grieving loved one something to feel better whether that be advice or an apparent reassuring statement, giving someone the space to talk is more helpful.

Don’t use this space to tell them how hard you are finding it or how you coped in a similar situation unless directly asked. Statements that show you are listening and that you empathise with their situation such as “I’m so sorry that you are going through this,” and “that sounds really difficult” are helpful.

If you are finding the situation or the support of your grieving loved one difficult then DUMP OUT. Take those concerns to someone in an outer circle. You need support as well but not from an inner circle.

You can read more about supporting others and yourself in Susan Silk and Barry Goldman’s LA Times piece by clicking here.


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