Written by Roxanne Ridge
Sharing circles – where a group of women come together to share what’s on their mind – are on the rise. But could you pour your heart out to a group of strangers?
OK, I admit, I have a complicated relationship with sharing. I tend to switch between oversharing information absolutely nobody needs to hear, and holding back on the important stuff that’s bothering me – then later regretting not saying anything at the time. So when I first heard about ‘sharing circles’ – where a small group comes together to speak uninterrupted –from a friend who’d been trying them out, I was intrigued.
Sharing circles aren’t a new idea. In fact, women gathering in a circle to share plans, problems and stories is an age-old tradition, sometimes directly tied to menstruation and the moon cycle. After some research, I found several in-person and online circles advertised on Instagram by yoga teachers, life coaches and therapists offering everything from “exploring intimacy” and “releasing your wild beauty” to “intention-setting for the spring equinox” and “bringing together mothers”.The session I ended up joining is held every Sunday over Zoom for a fee of £10pp, and was themed around finding “pause and connection at the end of the week”. I liked the sound of that.
It’s hardly a surprise that sharing circles are surging in popularity. In the Office of National Statistics’ latest research into loneliness, around 7% of adults in the UK said they were “feeling lonely always or often” – with women feeling lonelier than men. If the high volume of sharing circles advertised on social media is anything to go by, women are reaching far and wide to find others to talk to.
Before gathering, London-based circle facilitator and yoga teacher Clare Proudfoot prepped us with some guidelines. (Proudfoot trained with Sister Stories, a UK training organisation that’s “on a mission to make going to a circle as common as a yoga class”.) Confidentiality is key – what’s said in the circle, stays right there – and the space is advice-free. This means even if you’re dying to say something, you respond through ‘deep listening’: if you feel touched, you simply place your hand on your heart.
Similarly, there’s no obligation to share; if staying silent serves you best, roll with it. You can share anything you like – it might be a happy snippet, something traumatic or a stream of consciousness – whatever arises in the moment.
We were told to bring a ‘talking piece’ to hold while we spoke. I used a necklace from my Burning Man camp, which reminded me of good times.
After logging in, Proudfoot led a grounding meditation and I felt myself relax into the space. There was a long pause before the first person spoke and, in all honesty, I wondered if we’d be in silence for 90 minutes. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it did feel like a period of waiting and I didn’t have a burning desire to break it.
Eventually, someone did. And then the sharing flowed, with attendees unmuting themselves when they had something to say. There were pauses between the shares, but this felt like a sinking-in period. I chose to speak and it was quite emotional. Therapeutic, in fact. Looking at all the hands on hearts was really powerful. It felt good.
Proudfoot brought people together with another breathing exercise before the circle closed and I logged off feeling as if I’d let off some steam. I’m a chatterbox, so I was surprised that I’d enjoyed listening as much as talking – people were sharing the deep issues bubbling up inside them and I loved it.
“As humans, we’re wired to connect,” explains Proudfoot. “On a practical level, we’re more interlinked than ever before, but people are craving more depth of connection with others beyond small talk, brief interactions and the social media ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, which can sometimes feel exposing.
“A circle is also a unique place where women can come together,” she continues. “We can fall into a pattern of only having hen-dos, weddings and baby showers as female ritual gatherings.”
Whether it’s post-lockdown loneliness or simply a wish to talk uninterrupted to strangers, there are many personal reasons a sharing circle might appeal to someone.
“For a lot of women, how we spend time together growing up is like one big sharing circle,” says Carina Wan, 39, who attends a monthly online gathering from her home in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. “But then for those of us who find partners, start families or move out of the city, finding opportunities to connect with people at the same level of intimacy can be really hard. I really struggle with small talk. I want to get straight to the stuff that matters, so a sharing circle is the perfect environment.”
Saira Plane, 39, from Gilston, Hertfordshire, echoes this. “After the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder, the world had changed, as had my life and social circles,” she says. “I found myself feeling really alone and didn’t have anyone in my life who could understand. Circle is a place where I am heard, seen and held in ways I haven’t managed to cultivate in other areas of my life yet.”
It’s this desire to connect that is likely behind the surge in these circles. “Generations past buried their feelings,” Melissa Maouris, a reparenting coach who runs regular online and in-person sharing circles, tells Stylist. “But now we’re seeing a rise of people who want to openly talk about their experiences and gain support from others, even if they don’t know them. It’s easy to believe we’re the only ones struggling, but when we hear of someone else going through something, it gives us perspective.”
Before dashing off to find a local circle, it’s important to seek out a properly trained facilitator through a programme such as Sister Stories to ensure boundaries are in place.
“I have been in a circle where the facilitator was overly focused on her personal struggles,” explains Laura Bidgood, 42, from Southend-On-Sea, Essex. “A circle is a time to open up, a freedom to laugh, cry and scream, so it’s about putting the attendees first.”
Several days after I attended my own, I found myself still thinking about the way a handful of strangers opened up so honestly and deeply via a Zoom call. It’s a sad truth that we’re often too busy in life to properly connect in conversation. But in that hour my faith in human relationships, and our ability to listen to one another, was restored.
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