tree rings

Ring Theory and Aphasia

While we talked earlier in the week about empathy and sympathy, we didn’t pinpoint where that good energy would come from. People with aphasia and caregivers need empathy and compassion, though they’ll get it from different places.

People should look outwardly, rather than inwardly, for compassion. Leaning on people outside the experience is part of Ring Theory.

tree ring

What Is Ring Theory?

Susan Silk came up with her “Ring Theory” back in 2013. The theory states how support should flow during a crisis or chronic situation.

The person experiencing aphasia is the center of the ring. Their closest loved ones — the ones doing the caregiving — are the next ring. The caregiver’s support system — friends, specialists, etc — are the larger ring after that.

How Are the Rings Used?

Knowing your ring is important because your placement in the situation dictates where you should look for empathy:

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.

Meaning, the caregiver shouldn’t complain to the person with aphasia, though they should definitely seek empathy from people on outside rings such as specialists and friends. And friends should be giving not seeking empathy from the person with aphasia or the caregiver.

Comfort IN, Dump OUT

Silk says, the point is “comfort IN, dump OUT.” This means the comfort flows toward the person with aphasia and the complaining about the situation flows towards people on the outside of the crisis. Everyone has someone to talk to, but the person with aphasia isn’t asked to bear an even larger emotional burden, and the feelings of the people on the outer rings aren’t given more weight than the people closest to the crisis.

Help or compassion also flows toward the center of the circle, to that person with aphasia in the center of the rings. This is the direction you want that compassion to flow; towards the person who needs it most. This isn’t to say that your favourite nurse or speech therapist doesn’t deserve a treat and thank you for their hard work, but that good energy and help needs to be directed at the person in need.

Moreover, support networks of friends and specialists should be holding up close caregivers, too. When comfort flows in, it washes over all the people as it makes its way toward the center of the circle.

What do you think about Ring Theory?

Image: Davidgsteadman via Flickr via Creative Commons license



  • Mary Sullivan
    April 18, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    How do I help a sister from whose husband has had this for several years. I live far away from them and wished I could be of more help to her.

    I feel so bad that I am so far away, she is so good to this gentlemen and I say gentlemen because he was always that, but, since this has happened he seems so lost and forgets to tell my sister how much he appreciates her.

    I know that this is part of the condition, but, I know she misses that so much, even though I think way down inside he does still love and appreciate her

    When we have gone back to visit the East coast and been with them, I see how much he needs her to be there with and for him.

    I wish I could do more for her as the caretaker – any suggestions – thank you for your information it helps me to understand more about this

    But for the grace of god there goth I

  • sharon
    April 18, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    The Ring Theory is a beautiful reinforcement to all caregivers. I was blessed to be able to take care of a love one with aphasia for several years. Life certainly changed but I cherished each step we could take side-by-side as our many years of travel turned into short walks in the park. The memories we created continue to be a blessing and I thank God for watching over both of us and giving me the strength to take this journey along with my dear friend.

  • Dee
    February 15, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    I do so need to be reading all about The Ring Theory. I have felt so alone since my husband had his. stroke May 2017 . I am also quite guilty of becoming frustrated and losing patience at times. I have to go into the bathroom and have a good cry and tell myself off! We attend a communication group at the hospital which helps my husband but not me. I hate to complain as his Aphasia is not as bad as many in the group. Yet I do not really have any family or friends close to be my support. I do call my best friend in another state and she is a very good listener and empathizer. My brother and sister-in-law ( who we see every few months) do not really see a whole lot of my husbands difficulties. He has not been in any therapy, as the Neurologist said he was “functional”. Thank you for listening.

  • It Matthew Sullivan
    May 21, 2018 at 8:44 am

    I have a stroke 13 years ago. My brain is half, MRI, three times nothing.
    I am independent. Me, only me.
    I am working on this now. Dictionary, produce words.
    I am better, more please.

  • Claire
    August 21, 2018 at 9:03 am

    Can the person in the center ring really say ANYTHING? Can they insult the way people voted, or criticize whole groups of people for reacting badly? Is that what the author intended? I’m curious.

We'd love to hear your thoughts below! Please note: inappropriate comments will be moderated.

Your email is never published nor shared.