Sometimes the best thing we can do is to hold the space. What does it mean to "hold space"? I love how coach and facilitator Heather Plett describes it. She says, "It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."
We might be holding the space for love, for understanding, for compassion, for empathy, for forgiveness, for light, for miracles, for suffering, for faith, for peace, for joy, for connection, for listening, for learning, for growth, for strength and ultimately for healing. Sometimes the best thing to do, the wisest thing to do, is to just hold the space. To be a space holder for whatever is truly needed. Sometimes in doing what seems like nothing, we do everything.
When you hold the space for someone you are allowing them to feel safe. Safe to feel, safe to explore, safe to listen to their own internal guidance system. It's an opportunity for self-exploration. It's not always easy, we have a natural human tendency to want to fix people, to give them advice, or to judge them. You are giving them the gift of your presence, your complete undivided attention and without judgment, you are opening up your heart and allowing another to have whatever experience they are having without trying to control the outcome.
Holding space is truly about allowing experiences and emotions to arise and pass away. It's about making a safe space so people can actually feel their emotions and see their thoughts. It's trusting that as they allow themselves to fully express what's happening, deeper healing is already at work.
Holding space for someone can be easy and yet so hard, simplistic and yet powerful. I believe that holding space is an intentional practice and a spiritual practice. Like so many other practices, the more you practice it, the better you will become at doing it. I am working hard to practice holding space for others, sometimes I do okay and sometimes I mess it up.
Heather Plett further explains, "To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes."
Heather offers the following helpful tips for how to hold space for others:
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. This our own internal guidance system.
2. Give people only as much information as they can handle. Too much information can leave someone feeling incompetent and unworthy.
3. Don’t take their power away. When we take decision-making power out of people’s hands, we leave them feeling useless and incompetent. There may be times when we need to step in and make hard decisions for other people (ie. when they’re dealing with an addiction and an intervention feels like the only thing that will save them), but in almost every other case, people need the autonomy to make their own choices (even our children).
4. Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one. We all get caught in that trap now and then – when we begin to believe that someone else’s success is dependent on our intervention, or when we think that their failure reflects poorly on us, or when we’re convinced that whatever emotions they choose to unload on us are about us instead of them. But that doesn’t serve anyone – not even me. To truly support their growth, I need to keep my ego out of it and create the space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.
5. Make them feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning, growing, or going through grief or transition, they are bound to make some mistakes along the way. When we, as their space holders, withhold judgement and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they fail. When we let them know that failure is simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up for it and more time learning from their mistakes.
6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance (ie. when it makes a person feel foolish and inadequate) and when to offer it gently (ie. when a person asks for it or is too lost to know what to ask for). This is a careful dance that we all must do when we hold space for other people. Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and incapable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility.
7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. When people feel that they are held in a deeper way than they are used to, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that might normally remain hidden. Someone who is practiced at holding space knows that this can happen and will be prepared to hold it in a gentle, supportive, and nonjudgmental way.
The space becomes a circle where people feel safe enough to fall apart without fearing that this will leave them permanently broken or that they will be shamed by others in the room. Someone is always there to offer strength and courage. This is not easy work, and it is work. We cannot do it if we are overly emotional ourselves, if we haven’t done the hard work of looking into our own shadow, or if we don’t trust the people we are holding space for.
8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognizing that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Sometimes, for example, they make choices based on cultural norms that we can’t understand from within our own experience. When we hold space, we release control and we honor differences.