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The Three Circles

By Dean P

The journey of recovery can be challenging and overwhelming at times. However, there is a helpful tool known as the three circles that can assist us in our recovery journey.

The three circles framework, developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, is a visual representation of the boundaries and behaviors that support a healthy recovery process. By understanding and utilizing the three circles, we can navigate our recovery journey more effectively.

The first circle we will discuss is our inner circle this inner circle represents the boundaries that individuals need to establish to protect their recovery. The items listed in this circle would be what you define as “breaking your sobriety.” By defining and maintaining these boundaries, individuals can safeguard their recovery journey. Within our recovery group some common items listed here are as follows:

  • Viewing pornography

  • Masturbation

  • Engaging in inappropriate emotional or physical relations outside your marriage.

  • Sexting

  • Online or in person “hookups”

The second circle represents risky or triggering behaviors that may jeopardize an individual's recovery progress. These activities have previously led to our inner circle activities listed above. It is important for individuals to identify and be aware of these behaviors, as they can be potential triggers that may lead to relapse. By acknowledging the presence of these behaviors, individuals can take proactive steps to minimize their impact on their recovery journey. Some examples of middle circle activities are:

  • Social media “doom scrolling”

  • Staying up too late

  • Lingering in bed in the morning

  • Having to much unstructured time

  • Traveling to prior acting lit places

  • Feeling alone

  • Being overly tired

  • Unexamined stress

  • Watching or listening  inappropriate content

  • Idle internet usage

  • Joining online dating site

  • Certain places/people

The third circle we will discuss is our outer circle, this outer circle represents healthy behaviors and activities that contribute to a person's overall well-being and recovery. By focusing on healthy behaviors, individuals can build a strong foundation for their recovery journey. Common items found in this circle are (note not all are spiritual):

  • Prayer

  • Reading the Bible

  • Spending time with healthy individuals in your life

  • Attending recovery meetings

  • Reading healthy books that help you grow in your recovery or personal development

  • Attending church

  • Spending time outside

  • Doing hobbies

  • Fishing

  • Writing

  • Painting

  • Hiking

  • Working out

  • Walking your dog

  • Listing to worship/uplifting music

  • Listening to preaching

  • Listening to podcasts

  • Doing a side job that you enjoy

  • Laughing with friends

  • Playing games with friends

  • Going for a drive

  • This list can go on and on!

Just like the circles, you’ll notice that each list gets larger, as a general rule, you should have at least twice as many examples as the circle before. So if you have 4 inner circle, you should have at least 8 middle and therefore 16 in your outer list.

Please note the above examples are not exhaustive, and each persons videos, just like their recovery is unique to them, and should be used as examples to build your own 3 circles.

Using the three circles to help in a recovery journey involves a continuous process of self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-care. It requires individuals to regularly assess their behaviors, identify triggers, and make conscious choices that support their recovery. By using the three circles, individuals can gain a clearer understanding of their actions and their impact on their recovery journey. This tool provides a visual representation that helps individuals make informed decisions and stay focused on their path to recovery.

I hope that me writing this article helps you build a healthy and robust three circles for yourself, I personally have found this as a valuable tool that aids in my recovery journey. By understanding and incorporating the three circles into my life, I have been able to establish healthy boundaries, identify triggering behaviors, and make choices that support my recovery.

This tool, among the others, promotes self-awareness and empowers individuals to take control of their recovery process. Remember, recovery is a lifelong journey, and the three circles can serve as a compass to guide individuals towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.

A downloadable copy of this exercise can be found HERE

My name is Dean P, I’m a Grateful believer in Jesus Christ, striving and fighting for moral and sexual purity.

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