Monday, May 9, 2016

“Holding the Space” For Others - True Support

As we walk through life, there are certainly times when we are face to face with situations that are very difficult to navigate or times when someone we love is navigating those choppy waters. Many times people draw back when someone they care about is dealing with a raw situation as they don’t know what to say, what to do, how to respond.  Or if people don’t draw back, they may kick into action with words trying to support the best they know how.  This may come about because they feel like they have to say something.  So they begin with advice-giving or problem-solving with lots of information and ideas, or may even imply the person should know better in handling the situation. 
Advice giving, although maybe meant well, is focused on fixing and tends to take away the person’s power, implying the person doesn’t know or can’t fix his/her life. Too much information through problem-solving may feel overwhelming, uninvited and doesn’t help the person feel supported or validated, nor does the person feel validated when there is an implication that he/she should know better. That tends to be shaming.

What you can do when someone you care about is struggling, is “hold the space” for him.  Holding the space is about creating the space that will make it safe for the person to be with you as you walk the fire with him. In that walk, you allow him to be exactly where he is (no advice giving) and be who he is by allowing him to feel the way he feels. You validate him (understanding his feelings), giving gentle guidance if and when it fits, letting him navigate the path (not pushing for your outcome).  You hold the space by taking on the humble honor of paying witness to the journey as you walk alongside him.  Really it may be that you knock on his door and you sit with him, not saying much, but being with him.  No expectations from him. Just sitting with him. Not filling in the silence.  Maybe if you say something, you will be honest that you really don’t know what to say; you just want to be there for him.  And then you just sit with him. 

In that gesture, you don’t do or say things that will contribute to him feeling inadequate nor do you push towards a specific outcome.  You just become the neutral witness, supporting lovingly, nonjudgmentally and unconditionally. I like to think about it as if you are just sitting with the person, maybe handing him a cup of tea, stoking the fire and keeping the blanket handy in case he gets chilled. That isn’t to say you will really do this.  But symbolically, you will do this with his heart. You surround him with your loving attention, energy, and care.  He feels cloaked in the warmth and love and support by you holding the space for his wounded heart.

Heather Plett talks about 8 lessons she has learned from holding the space for others and from people who have held the space for her. These tips might help make it clearer. The lessons are as follows:
  •        Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  •        Give people only as much information as they can handle.
  •        Don’t take their power away. (Don’t take over the decision-making.)
  •         Keep your own ego out of it.  (Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that someone else’ success is dependent upon our intervention).
  •        Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  •        Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
  •        Create a container for emotions.  (Make it safe enough for someone to share their emotions without feeling broken or shamed.)
  •        Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. (Release control and honor the differences.)  (Plett, 2015)
Although it may seem that “holding the space” for someone is a rather passive role, it is actually the opposite.  You have to be strong, grounded and centered as you sit with a person who is struggling and raw. You have to be secure enough in yourself and your own emotions so that you can allow the other person to be secure in his own space. You have to be able to let him lead his own life, make his own decisions and pick himself up when he make mistakes and you help brush him off.  The gift is that you support the person in his time of struggle as you sit with that person.  You witness his journey, lovingly holding the space as he feels the support and care you extend to him as he tries to find and regain his footing from a very difficult time.  The gift to you is that you are able to extend support to someone you care about in a very healing way. When we give, we are also the receiver. But we want to be giving in a way that is a gift for the other person.

Works Cited

Plett, H. (2015, March 11). What it means to "hold space" for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well. Retrieved from

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