To “hold space” for someone means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they are on without judging them, scolding them or otherwise making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact their outcome. Holding space for another means quite simply that we are opening our hearts to them, offering unconditional positive regard, letting go of judgment, and resisting the urge to take control. We cannot truly support people in their unique, growth, or transformative process by taking their power away (e.g: trying to fix their problems), shaming them (implying thy “know better”; “should know better”), or overwhelming them (piling on more information than their brains can conceivably process at that moment). Holding space for another means to be prepared to step aside and allow for others to make choices that fit for them (not you, and not someone else who experienced a similar problem). Holding space offers unconditional love and support, gentle guidance when appropriate, and makes the other person feel safe even when they make mistakes.
How can you hold space for someone?
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. If people take the time to *feel* what is right for them, they can avoid making knee-jerk decisions that end up creating feelings of regret and disappointment.
2. Give people the amount of information they can handle. When people are in crisis access to the rational, logical part of their brain is impeded (the pre-frontal cortex). Overloading people with information will simply “not compute” for them during times of distress. Furthermore, it can contribute to feelings of incompetency, fueling feelings of low self-worth (ugh).
3. Do not take one’s power away. Allow others a sense of choice (*unless in dire circumstances such as suicidality, intoxication, psychosis, et cetera).
4. Keep your ego out of it. This can happen when we relate another’s success or failure as something pertaining to us (think: parent-child or intimate partner relationships). Sure, as parents/partners we wish for our loved one to be successful. But the reality is, character and resiliency is cultivated in times of challenge, not in continual successes.
5. Make the other feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning and evolving, mistakes are inevitable. When we, as their space-holders, are able to bestow unconditional positive regard, we are cultivating resiliency by offering another the opportunity to reach inside of themselves and feel supported to find the courage to take risks. Sharing with the other that failure is simply a part of the journey, and not the end of the world, they can spend less time in debilitating self-judgment, and spend more time practice resiliency-enhancing self-compassion (for more on self-compassion: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/03/mindfulness-self-compassion/)
6. Giving guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. Resist offering guidance if it will make the other feel foolish or inadequate. People will often let you know when they are seeking guidance (listen with intent and use your intuition to determine what is helpful). If a person appears totally lost, an offer of guidance can help uphold the other’s sense of power and dignity. If the other person refuses guidance, resist sharing your thoughts, it probably is not welcomed at that time.
7. Practice connecting to your own emotional and mental wellbeing. Being present in holding space for another can bring rise to emotions that may have been previously contained. We cannot genuinely and compassionately hold space for others if we chronically numb and suppress our own uncomfortable emotions. Holding space for others starts with being able to hold space for ourselves. We must learn to be comfortable getting in touch with our Shadow Selves (for more information see: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/04/our-shadow-selves/). Expression of emotions is healthy; we are meant to experience the whole array of them. When we suppress or numb our uncomfortable emotions, we also numb emotions such as joy and awe. Learn to play witness to your own emotions without judgment – this is called mindfulness, and is evidenced to decrease depression and anxiety!
8. Allow others to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. There is rarely a right/wrong approach to life. What is meaningful to one, may not be to another. Try to resist thing of things in absolutes – “black and white” terms. Appreciate that there are many “colours” that people can ascribe to.
9. Be mindful of human developmental processes. We are continually growing and evolving. Certain developmental phases (e.g: adolescence) or hormonal disruptions (e.g: pregnancy-brain; menopause) come with increased struggles that increase emotionality or impede optimal logical brain functioning. Be sensitive that these increased challenges may be going on for another (for more information on adolescent brain processes see: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/04/tips-for-parenting-teens/)
10. Practice empathy. What individuals find upsetting can greatly differ, but it doesn’t make one person’s experiences less or more important than another’s – this can hold especially true between parents and children. Pain is pain. A child experiencing exclusion amongst peers is painful – try to tap into your own experiences of exclusion to hold space for that hurting child. Try not to dismiss another’s current pain simply because you yourself have not experienced it, or you have successfully moved through something similar.
For a great example of the difference between Empathy and Sympathy, check out: Brené Brown on Empathy