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spike bullet July 2011 - The Nine Circles of Acceptance

The Nine Circles of Acceptance
The Nine Circles of Community
Exercise for using the Nine Circles of Acceptance
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)
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color bulletThe Nine Circles of Acceptance

Have you ever noticed that you seem to feel closer to some people than others?  That when a good friend moves away, you seem to fall out of touch, even though before they moved, you talked every single day?  Or, maybe a co-worker leaves or moves to another job, you don't see them much any more, even though when you worked together, you knew everything about each other's daily work experience? 

Those things happen because we place people into groupings by the level of emotional intimacy we are comfortable with when dealing with them.

As with the case of someone moving away, our closeness changes over time.  When we first meet a new person, it takes time to develop trust, caring, sharing and the ability to share our thoughts and feelings with them.

One way to describe this sense of closeness is a model from the work of JP Van Hulle in the San Francisco Bay area of California.  JP describes it as Nine Circles of Acceptance and might be conceived something like this graphic.

Nine Circles of Acceptance graphic

The circles are not in their correct proportions due to the limitations of the web page so keep that in mind as you read the descriptions.

The Circles of Acceptance are one way to define how we relate to others.  The qualities of an Acceptance Circle are:

  • Inclusive
  • Round, easier to move
  • Healing energy moves around
  • Shares a common viewpoint
  • More visibility
  • Facilitates integrity and accountability.

1st Circle of Acceptance

The 1st circle is our inner-most circle ó containing very few people (up to 3) ó the mother of a child, a spouse or mate relationship, closest friend or working partner, and similar relationships.

These are our most intimate companions ó people we love and trust.  If there is no one is in our 1st circle, a person will feel very lonely.

2nd Circle of Acceptance

The 2nd circle contains up to 7 people ó our next closest family: father of a child, grandparents, babysitter, close sister or brother, parents, child/children and others.  People may feel guilty when they have someone in their 2nd circle who was (or could be) in their 1st circle.

It is difficult to have someone be too close.  It is hard to keep many people in the inner circles because it takes a lot of energy to maintain the care that is required to keep those relationships working well.  People feel the emptiness when someone is missing for whatever reason in their inner circle.  If there is no one is in our 2ndcircle, a person will feel very lonely.

3rd Circle of Acceptance

The 3rd circle contains up to 3 dozen people ó our closest friends and family, people who stay in touch regularly with strong interests and mutual admiration.

These may be friends or family.  In the 3rd circle, people feel close even if they are not in constant contact.  They must be intensely bonded at this level and can remain in this circle for a long time.

4th Circle of Acceptance

The 4th, 5th and 6th circles are where people go when you first meet them.

The 4th circle contains casual friends.  You may enjoy them and they may move closer over time.  This group includes our extended tribal or community groups as well.

5th Circle of Acceptance

The 5th circle contains acquaintances you like or you may not be sure where they fit yet.

These might include a favorite car mechanic, barber/hairdresser, doctor/dentist, members of a club, friends of friends, co-workers that you donít socialize with, etc.

6th Circle of Acceptance

The 6th circle contains people that you recognize or have a nodding acquaintance with.  You may or may not know their name.

These could be neighbors, community members or other people you know casually who share common experiences.

7th Circle of Acceptance

The 7th, 8th and 9th circles are people farther away emotionally.

The 7th circle contains people who share some commonality ó another redhead, another Californian when you are out of town.

8th Circle of Acceptance

The 8th circle contains people of the same sex, ethnic background or country origin.

9th Circle of Acceptance

The 9th circle contains everyone else you accept as human on the planet.

Beyond the 9th Circle of Acceptance:

Beyond the 9th circle is everyone else you donít know and donít accept (enemies, criminals, people with conflicting values or lifestyles, etc).

Circles of Community

The Nine Circles of Community overlay the Nine Circles of Acceptance.  The Circles of Community wrap an envelope around us, as do the Circles of Acceptance.

1. Devotion Circle

Yourself, God (Great Spirit, All That Is, the Universe, or whatever you may call a "higher power"), closest "other" person (mother, mate). Some people donít have any more than that.

2. Intimacy Circle

The Intimacy Circle includes best friends, our spouse or mate, our closest family, our children or parents (depending on the relationship).

3. Family Circle

The Family Circle includes the rest of the family, biological or otherwise.  Those people to whom we are related or feel a close affinity to and consider them our "chosen family."

4. Friendship Circle

The Friendship Circle includes true friends (instinctive) ó people you love, even if you donít see them a lot.

5. Heart Link Circle

The Heart Link Circle includes a recognition of a heart bond (present or past link) ó people with whom you feel intimately connected to without a logical "reason" for the connection.

6. Company Circle

The Company Circle includes working companions, community pals and less intimate friends.

7. Tribe Circle

The Tribe Circle includes members of church groups, school members and other students of a common teaching or philosophy.

8. Civilization Circle

The civilization Circle is a very large group with some common trait (sex, race, ethnic connection, etc.)

9. Humanity Circle

The Humanity Circle includes all other humans that we respect as humans.

Ideally, there should be no one and nothing outside the Circles.

In fact, though, we tend to put parts of people out of the circle, which energized its continued existence, until we judge them as hopeless.

As we put someone (or part of someone) outside our circles, we diminish their ability to help us.  Everyone is in our life for a reason.  If we put them outside, someone else will come in to fill their spot.

What to do:

  1. Appreciate why they are in our life.
  2. Ask, "What can I learn from them?" instead of "Why are they making me crazy?"
  3. Appreciate who they are (really!) so we can learn what we need to learn.
  4. Accept that they are there for a reason.
  5. Trust their higher self and your own higher self to know what to do.
  6. Donít interfere with other peopleís karma (OPK) ó meaning donít interfere in something that is not your business.
  7. Reframe the lesson and relationships from fear and judging ó to a feeling of trust that there is a reason why someone is in our life.


Watch out for fossilization, which means holding someone in a rigid, stuck idea of who they are or holding rigid ideas of what / how people are or will be.  We hold them as stuck, therefore, we donít allow someone to be flexible or changing.  We will then get that from them, like a magnet.

Instead, we should hold everyone as "a miraculous surprise."  And, we should hold ourselves as a "miraculous surprise" also.  If someone is fossilizing us, we should show them a different aspect of ourselves to help break the rigid pattern.

Because of the limits of the Physical Plane (time and space), there are limits to how many people we can be emotionally intimate with at any given time.

Many of us want to put more people in our intimate circle.  We want closer connections with others and canít figure out how to do that given our very busy lives.  Thatís a big reason why Facebook has become so wildly popular Ė it helps us to keep our connections with others alive when we donít see people face-to-face as often as we would like.

Our 1st Circle of Acceptance ~ can only hold 1-3 people (our most intimate connections)

Our 2nd Circle of Acceptance ~ can hold up to about 10 people (our next most intimate)

Our 3rd Circle of Acceptance ~ can hold up to a few dozen people (our next most intimate).  Some people have more people in this circle; some have less.

We usually fill up our closest circles by the time we are 5 years old.  Therefore, for every person that we move into our closest circles, we have to move someone out.

When we move people from our inner intimate circle to an outer circle, we feel a sense of loss.  They may feel the sense of loss also.  They may react to that feeling without really knowing why.  We must live through the pain of losing them.  That pain of loss sometimes keeps us from moving people out when we really should move them out.

Remember: "What we focus on, expands."  If we put our attention on complaints, we bring in more of what we donít want.  If we focus on how much we enjoy other people, we get much more of the "feel good" feelings.

Exercise for using the Nine Circles of Acceptance

An exercise that might be useful this month:

  1. Review the overview of the Circles of Acceptance.
  2. Make a list of key people in your life and note which circle they fit into in your own life.
  3. Think about changes in your life that might have moved people into or out of one of those circles.
  4. How did you feel?  Did the other person notice?  Did you have a conversation with the other person about the changes in your relationship?
  5. Think about changes that might have moved you into or out of other peopleís circles.  How did you feel?  Was the change unexpected for you?  Did you have a conversation with the other person about the changes in your relationship?
  6. Are there changes you should be making now to move people into or out of your circles?
  7. What are you going to do with the knowledge and awareness you have gained from this exercise?

Source: Article adapted from training classes and audio tapes by JP Van Hulle, Michael Educational Foundation, used with permission. 

  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter article:
    The Personality Game - a fun way to understand yourself and other people
    November 2007 - True Community

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  


About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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