Three circles
Chris X
English (United Kingdom)
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3 three circles inner middle outer bottom line tools
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This recovery tool was submitted by a member as part of a set of tools which may or may not be helpful for everyone.

I have found the Three Circles to be a foundational tool in all my recovery step-work. It is documented in the leaflet provided by the International Service Organization of SAA.

Unlike alcohol, I cannot eliminate sex from my life even if I wanted to, because it is part of my make-up. And not all sexual behaviour is harmful to me or others. Yet I have learnt through experience that if I leave to the last minute the decision as to whether something is harmful or not, my addiction is likely to fool me into making the wrong decision. So when I admit my powerlessness over addictive sexual behaviour as part of my first step towards recovery, I draw up a diagram showing very clearly which harmful behaviour I now know I am powerless over.

Inner circle - significantly harmful behaviour below my bottom line

I call this significantly harmful behaviour my Inner Circle, because the Three Circles diagram is often drawn as a kind of target, with the most harmful behaviour in the centre. I usually find it easier to draw my Three Circles diagram by dividing a piece of paper into three horizontal bands by drawing two lines. The bottom, solid line, is called my Bottom Line. I never want to go below that Bottom Line into my Inner Circle, because the behaviour there is so addictive - that is, so harmful yet so compulsive for me as a sex addict, that I must avoid it at all costs.

Outer circle - significantly healthy behaviour to replace it

I have learnt I cannot avoid addictive sexual behaviour simply by cutting it out of my life - I have had to discover healthy alternatives to meet the real needs that my addictive sexual behaviour was masking. These healthy behaviours and habits constitute my Outer Circle. In my diagram I put them at the top of the page above my Top Line. They include behaviours that meet my basic human needs, such as social activities, healthy food, fresh air, rest, meaningful work, and creating a safe environment. They also include some behaviours which I particularly enjoy or need - and hopefully both. These reflect my particular skills or interests as well as my special needs as a recovering sex addict.

Middle circle - warning signs and potentially risky behaviour

If I only had two circles, then I would always be teetering on the edge of my Bottom Line. For me as an addict, that would be like walking on the edge of a cliff and hoping I would never fall off. Instead, I have a Middle Circle. In my diagram this is the middle band above my Bottom Line and below my Top Line. This for me is the battleground, a place for warning signs, intervention, or caution. Here I put any behaviours that are not significantly harmful, but have in my experience often lead one step at a time in the direction of my Inner Circle. Towards the bottom of my Middle Circle are behaviours which I should ideally avoid, because they serve no purpose but to lead me into the Inner Circle. The only reason they are not in my Inner Circle is to avoid diluting the Inner Circle with behaviours which are not directly harmful, and possibly weakening my determination and motivation to keep out of my Inner Circle. Higher up my Middle Circle are behaviours which could go either way, but being aware of them gives me a warning that I need to take action - usually by discerning the real need behind my habits and substituting some healthy Outer Circle behaviour instead. Right at the top of my Middle Circle are some behaviours which, although they could be risky for me, could also have some significant benefit. In this case I might justifiably act out the behaviour, but take extra care and support to ensure that it is beneficial and does not go the wrong way.

My Three Circles

See the document above for my current Three Circle diagram. Everybody is different, and our Three Circles will be different. Some people would not dream of the Inner Circle behaviour that I struggle with, and I would never even consider theirs. Others may have different routes they have followed down through their Middle Circle. Many of us will have some basic healthy Outer Circle behaviours in common, but we will all have different needs and interests there as well.

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