The statement to hold space for someone is becoming more popular. But what does this mean? I have thought about this concept more and more as I continue to support survivors and even as I support loved ones through hard times. There is great importance in holding space and understanding how to do this. It is human nature, especially in western culture, to want to fix the problems of people we care for and the people we are trying to support. Yet, holding space for someone, instead of trying to solve their problem for them, can be especially helpful for someone who has experienced trauma.
To hold space for someone else is to stand alongside them without judgement, without attempting to save or fix them, or making them feel inadequate. We do this by not trying to change anything about their situation. When we try to fix one’s problem instead of supporting them in their own growth, we take their power away. Holding space is supporting someone in their healing journey by walking their journey with them and allowing them to lead. It is important not to shame someone by implying they need to do more to fix their situation or overwhelm them by loading them with more information then they are ready for.
When we are holding space we are standing alongside them while they make their own choices, offering gentle guidance when it is needed, and helping them to feel safe when they make mistakes. Holding space is an important practice to apply when we consider supporting a survivor. When we hold space for another person, we offer unconditional support and let go of all judgements and control. We are creating a safe space for this person to feel their feelings. We are practicing simply sitting with them through the hard stuff.
How do we hold space for someone?
We hold space when we practice deep listening. When we do this, we listen not only to hear, but to understand, empathize, and connect. We can practice deep listening by staying present and being aware of how a conversation is affecting us. We may offer summaries of what the person has said to ensure we are hearing them correctly and showing them we are listening. Summaries may look like, “It sounds like you are feeling pretty overwhelmed with ___ right now, is that right?
”We hold space when we practice unconditional, non-judgemental support. This is done when we support someone based on the premise that no matter what the person has done or who the person is, the listener holds them in positive regard and deep respect. Simply sitting with someone and being present with the person is the essence of holding space.
We hold space when we resist making it our own. Many people have a desire to relate to someone when we are trying to support them. This can happen for a number of reasons; listening to another person’s pain can bring up our own and we may feel an urge to show the person we are supporting we understand their pain. Holding space means resisting this urge. We want to resist making this time about our own pain and experiences. This practice requires us to remember that although we are sitting in the trenches with this person, we are only there to hold their hand through it (figuratively, unless you have consent!).
We hold space when we stay present with ourselves first. Holding space for someone through a difficult situation can be challenging on our own spirit and emotions. Thus, we need to ensure that we are staying present with ourselves. If you are unable to check-in with your own emotions, it will be very difficult to be present with another through theirs. We need to stay grounded in these sessions; when we aren’t, it can be difficult for one to feel safe in the space and build trust with you.
Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You are not alone.” Brene Brown