Holding space for someone is an idea that is confusing for some and hard to do for others. Our tendency as humans is to offer up advice and fix things that are broken, especially if someone that we love is in crisis. However, there is power in simply holding space, allowing someone a safe space to voice their concerns, troubles, or feelings. Sometimes it is too hard for us to carry things alone and it is imperative that we share some of it with others. Holding space for someone is a very simple idea but it is often much harder to execute. Simply put holding space means showing up for someone, being fully present and without judgment as you sit with that person through their difficult time. You listen fully. You allow yourself to feel their pain and negative emotions so that they don’t have to do it alone. You allow your opinions or judgments to take a back seat as you meet someone exactly where they are at. Regardless of if you agree with their actions or whether or not you have an opinion on the situation, you remain neutral, empathetic, and merciful.
The most important hallmark of holding space for others is creating a space where that person is fully seen, heard, and held. You don’t have to provide a resolution to their problem. You are not there to “fix” anything. You simply provide a space, bubble, container, zone (whatever you would like to call it) where they can show up fully to be understood and heard by an unwavering ear. This is a space where others can feel safe and loved, which allows them room to process difficult situations on their own timeline while feeling supported.
5 Tips for Effectively Holding Space
1. Learn to listen.
Hone in on your active listening skills. The most powerful thing you can do at this moment is truly listen. Your goal is not only to hear what someone is saying to you but truly try and understand it, put yourself in their shoes, and see it from their point of view regardless of if you agree with it or not. Let what they’re saying resonate with you beyond your ears, feel it in your heart. Doing this provides them a safe space to truly show up as themselves, not having to hide or feel alone. Sit with them in this space.
2. Accept that your job is not to “fix it.”
As I mentioned earlier, our tendency as humans is to help others especially if it is someone that we love and care about. We want to ease their pain and help them come to a solution as quickly as possible. Sometimes that is not our job or our place. The “fix it” mentality often harms more than it helps. Simply wanting to just fix the problem for someone else can often come across as distrust in them to process situations and work through them on their own. It can often lead to enabling them instead of empowering them. There is much more power in holding someone’s hand through a hard time rather than just swooping in and saving the day. Lift your people up, hold space for their murkiness so that they can be their own hero.
3. Be open, and allow all the feelings to flow.
However someone shows up in the space you are holding for them, simply allow them to be there. Let them feel each feeling that flows through them, allow them to scream or cry or laugh in this space you are holding. This allows them to accept any emotion that comes up. Vulnerability is hard but you can provide a safe space for someone to explore those feelings. Suppressing feelings and emotions during a difficult time can lead to self-sabotage and low self-confidence. Providing a space where others feel safe to explore each feeling can be incredibly empowering.
4. Practice unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional positive regard is a practice that was introduced by Carl Rogers. This practice allows a person to heal and explore emotions without fear of judgment or hesitation. Unconditional positive regard is rooted in openness. No matter who a person is, where they come from, or what they have done, the listener holds them with genuine understanding, deep respect, and with absolute positive regard. It means that whatever that person brings to you in this space you will accept it with compassion and support. This is often where we have to put our bias and opinions to the side in order to accept someone fully without hesitation.
5. Assess the space you are holding for yourself.
One of my favorite sayings has always been “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and there couldn’t be a truer statement. I like to think of our space in terms of the things that fill it. Much of your space may be filled with work, family, relationships, physical health, nutrition, etc. The list could go on and on, however, how much of that space is filled with just you? How much of your time do you spend tending to yourself or showing up for yourself on the days you need it most? When it comes to holding space, sometimes it is easier for us to hold space for others. Dealing with their misfortunes or bad days seems like a simpler task than dealing with our own. If you spend all of your time making sure everyone else feels held and taken care of, where does that leave you? In order to show up for others as the best version of yourself and hold space for them you must hold space for yourself first.
Holding space for others opens the door to immense healing and self-discovery. As stated before the idea of holding space seems simple but it does require practice and self-awareness. Make sure as you show up and hold space for others that you are also doing the same for yourself. We are all spending each day trying to figure things out and carve our own paths in this world, be empathetic and keep these tips in mind.
Brooke is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients dealing with difficult life transitions, symptoms of anxiety or depression, and LGBTQ+-related issues. She practices a collective and modern approach to mental health counseling, which is rooted in genuineness and vulnerability.
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