What Does It Mean to ‘Hold Space” For Others and How Can It Serve Your Relationships and Your World?

Allow me to begin by sharing a story from a book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” by K. McBride. The story goes:

“This child’s next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry!”
Wow, just wow. What an emotionally profound moment.
What does it mean to hold space? The authors named below define “holding space” as being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone…putting your focus on someone to support them as they feel their feelings. Read on to learn more on why this is paramount and how to hold space.
I might define ‘holding space’ similarly — listening empathically while someone shares with you their authentic experience, helping them get their feelings out while feeling heard and seen. Some people process best as they talk through their feelings out loud, uninterrupted and simply supported. I am one of these people.  My words may not make logical sense until I talk them through, hear myself out loud, most powerfully in the presence of a caring friend who helps encourage me to keep going…a friend who doesn’t try to fix me or fix the issue for me because they know I’ll get there on my own. Incidentally, holding space for oneself is also critical! Holding space is about the supportive ear, the nonjudgmental presence of someone who accepts your feelings as they show up — how often are you that someone to yourself? When you hold space, you don’t try to change the other person, fix them, or offer advice, perspective, or solutions. You listen, and you reassure them to continue on, letting them know you care to understand and listen to their experience and that their feelings matter to you. This is a powerful type of listening.   (Sorry, I realize grammatically I keep switching from singular to plural forms of pronouns but I felt it would get too awkwardly to keep throwing in him/her/them so please forgive me). 
The blog post “What ‘Holding Space’ Means + 5 Tips To Practice” offers great information and tips on holding space. I’ve listed the tips below and welcome you to read the article for more on how to do these more intentionally and effectively. Our world would be a truly more beautiful place if we all did these consistently in life.
Tips For Holding Space
1) Refocus Your Listening – Practice active listening – when they’re done, repeat back what they’ve said so you both can ensure you understood.
2) Don’t Jump Into Problem-Solving Mode – Simply be there and listen without judgment.
3) Don’t Center Yourself –  Resist the urge to insert yourself in the situation.
4) Reassure Them That You Believe Them – explicitly express that you believe them, and you believe in them.
5) Be Open To Whatever Emotions Come Up  – People often “at least” you in wanting to make your negative feelings go away, but this only serves to invalidate the other person’s feelings as Brene Brown has demonstrated. I feel so strongly about not “at leasting” people that I included this in my book Don’t Be A Stranger, chapter on Emotional Intelligence. In stead, let them be sad and sit in that with them. You won’t be stuck there forever, I promise. The most powerful presence is the one who can sit in all of your feelings with you without needing you or your feelings to be different. Sometimes I just want to be sad and I want you to be ok sitting with me when I’m sad…without needing to give me perspective or advice or reassurance or reasons why it’ll be ok…I simply want to feel it, let it in, and go through it to the other side. How about you?
Read more on how to do these and more thoughtfully and effectively show up for the people in your life at the article here.
The authors of this blog all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). Learn more about them here.
Join me in creating a kinder world, one memorable moment at a time!
– Don’t Be A Stranger!
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