Someone recently gave me a tremendous gift, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was until a few weeks later.  All they gave me was a concept: circles.

Imagine you have three concentric circles.  One large one, one medium one nested inside of that, and the smallest of the three nested inside of the medium one.

The outer circle you can label as “strangers” or “acquaintances”.  These are people that have no real bearing on your life.  People whose input or advice, in the general arc of your life, mean little-to-nothing.

The middle circle is probably the hardest to define for a lot of people, especially trauma survivors and people with co-dependent behaviors and habits.  This is the “Friends” circle–people you like to hang out with, people who enjoy some of the things you enjoy, people you don’t mind listening to.  Input here is generally acceptable, but still safe to ignore or take with a grain of salt.  The people in this particular circle don’t really know you the way the last set of people do.

The innermost circle is probably a lot smaller than you’d think.  These are the people you can call in a crisis, the people who will (often with no thought to consequence or otherwise) bail you out, send you money, or hop on a plane to help make something better.  The people who know your deepest secrets, desires, and fears.  The ones who seem to be able to light up your world with just a text message or a phone call.  The ones who don’t balk at the word “intimacy” and whose words and actions speak volumes.  This is the “inner circle”–others might call it your “tribe”.

The people who belittle you, dim your shine, or downplay your excitement aren’t for you.  They’re there for someone else.  The ones that are ambivalent or are otherwise silent in your struggles and successes are similarly not worth the effort.

The ones that show up–repeatedly, doggedly, with purpose–are the ones you’re looking for.  The ones who smile and brighten when they hear your voice across the phone line, the ones whose eyes lift and carry your own when you walk in the room, the ones who think nothing of grasping your outstretched hand and pulling you back to your feet.

Those are the keepers.  It’s your job to find the others.  But it’s no one else’s responsibility to make you happy.  You have to make yourself happy.  Sometimes it starts with figuring out what circles people belong in.

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