What Does it Mean to Hold Space For Someone?
I’m grateful to have come across this post over the weekend about holding space, because I think many of us, myself included, use that phrase with an assumption that everyone knows what it means, and how to do it, but that’s an assumption we probably shouldn’t make. So, in their words first, why are we “holding space” anyway?
Without others holding space for us, it’s difficult to process hard feelings fully. “People’s openness and willingness to explore their emotions are influenced by how comfortable and safe they feel in the space they are expressing themselves,” Robin explains. So if you feel judged, questioned, or belittled among certain people, then you’re less likely to share with them authentically.
On the other hand, Robin says that when someone holds space for another person, they feel safe to be vulnerable, imperfect, and express their raw emotions.
For me, I’ve always viewed holding space in terms of that word, safe. When I hold space for someone I’m not solving their problem, or questioning them. I’m simply letting them be. Whatever that might look like at that moment, and I’m making sure that they are safe. It means making sure that being in my presence, either in person or virtually, is a place where they are free to cry, vent, question, or whatever form of expression is needed to help at that moment. It means being the person who is simply there, listening, offering support, but above all else, keeping them safe, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.
I also recognize how difficult that really is to do. Many of us weren’t raised to “hold space”, but to fix things. We see someone crying and our instinct is to fix, to do something to get them to stop crying, instead of simply giving them space to cry. Or we want to run out and correct instead of simply allowing people the space to tell their story safe from the worry of the person hearing it will overreact. This is so hard for us, we want to correct injustice, to fight for the people we care about, but sometimes by doing so, we eliminate their safe space to simply tell their story and stop listening to what they want from us. That is the opposite of holding space.
The article I linked above gives some really good, practical advice on how to hold space for others.
But, the other thing I love about this article is this reminder:
Holding space for yourself is also possible. “This looks like being open, accepting, and non-judgmental about your own thoughts, feelings, and experience,” Robin says. “Acknowledging that you are human, and with that comes flaws, imperfections, and not always knowing the answer. It’s being real with yourself about what your experience is instead of being defensive or avoiding the tough stuff.”
We can, and should, absolutely hold space for our own emotions too. We should absolutely accept what we are feeling, and that maybe we’ve made mistakes, in a safe environment, free of judgment. Oh, how few of us really take time to do that instead of rushing to judgment of ourselves. This is something I know I need to be better at, I’m willing to bet many of you are as well.
How do you hold space for others, and for yourself?