Holding space can be a difficult practice because it’s very intimate, yet requires a minimum amount of distance, respect (and space) to let the other person be themselves, grow, and develop emotionally.
I remember the first time I had an anxiety attack in front of my partner. I was standing at the kitchen counter and (seemingly) out of nowhere, it hit me. Instantly, my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and I found it so hard to catch my breath. My mind couldn’t slow down and, at the same time, it was like no logical thoughts could form.
It was within those moments, crumpled on the kitchen floor, that the power of holding space became so apparent to me and my partner. How pure awareness, listening, and unconditional love and support can truly make people feel safe and secure. How learning how to be there for people who need you most, without judgment or pretense, is truly the most powerful action you can take for the ones you love.
See, as a recovering people pleaser, I am no stranger to anxiety. Despite my best efforts – organic CBD oil, breathing techniques, increased mindfulness and awareness of my emotions, essential oils – sometimes the anxiety still takes over and an attack is triggered.
What does holding space mean?
The act of holding space is quite simple, in theory.
I like to think of this practice as the person doing the holding for another person is a container of love and hope. The person doing the holding creates an environment to encourage healing, growth, or transformation of another human – all without pretense or ego attached. They’re a support system, in the deepest, truest, human form and recognize this process is not about them, rather the person they’re holding this loving space for. Personally, I think that’s the hardest part of holding space – recognizing that this process is not about you (the person doing the holding), but rather about the person needing support.
When we’re in a position of support, it’s so easy and almost second nature to get wrapped up in the idea that we have to give advice or offer suggestions in order to make an impact. While practicing holding space, that’s actually not the case. To effectively hold space for another, you must be able to check your ego at the door, so to speak, and recognize that your needs – to give advice, to feel important, to fix things, to have the last word – are not the most important matter at the moment.
Holding space as a people pleaser
Although it seems like supporting people could be a natural progression of people-pleasing, holding space is actually the ultimate test if you identify as someone who is constantly giving too much.
Like I mentioned above, to truly hold space for someone, you must be able to remove yourself from the situation and resist the urge to fix what the other person is going through. As a highly empathetic person, it can be so hard to take a step back and remember that although you can feel everything the other person is going through, it is not your responsibility to fix it. The emotions the other person is experiencing are also not yours to absorb and take to heart.
You are a boundaried healer and a container of hope and compassion in this moment.
Imagine how healing this experience could be if you, someone who gives too much, could open up and feel secure enough to let it all go and be there for someone else with no pretense, no expectation, no plan. And on the flip side of things, what a beautiful experience for the person receiving your unconditional love and support, even if you’re just sitting there in silence.
The next time you’re presented an opportunity to listen to someone express their emotions or problems, think about the concept of holding space and practice the art of truly listening. It could feel awkward and challenging at first, but that’s okay. Keep practicing anyway.
Is someone holding space for you? How can you tell?
It’s possible that there’s someone in your life that’s already holding space for you. Someone that is your greatest support system and listens with pure awareness. This might be a parent or your best friend, or even someone at work that you don’t know too well. Maybe it’s your life coach or your therapist. Close your eyes and imagine the last time you were working through something difficult and turned to a friend or someone you love. At that moment, you might not have been necessarily seeking advice, but rather seeking a trusted ally that is capable of sharing their strength with you in the form of holding space.
It’s possible they didn’t offer any sort of advice or constructive criticism, rather they sat and listened without judgment while you got everything off of your chest or simply sat in silence. You might have felt secure and protected, and left the moment feeling much stronger and more at peace than when you first entered that vulnerable time.
How holding space relates to self-care
Holding space is a beautiful practice of self-care, I believe, because of two main reasons:
- You have to be aware of your own personal crap and
- You must have strong boundaries in place
Being aware of what is going on in your own personal life is a major part of a strong self-care practice. When we acknowledge and communicate our emotions – how we’re feeling and what we’re needing – we are actively taking care of ourselves in an emotional way. This practice allows us to understand where we’re coming from, what we’re needing, and how we can make adjustments within our lives to make us the happiest version of ourselves.
Also, when practicing holding space for others, it is imperative that we have strong boundaries in place so we do not lose our precious energy when being of service to others. As recovering people pleasers, holding space could actually exhaust you of your loving and giving ways, so having boundaries in place will help to protect your energy as an empath.
Steps to holding space for others
If you are not sure how to hold space of others, or even to have space held for you, these are the four steps I suggest to ensuring you’re approaching this practice in a supportive and loving way.
- Recognize when someone needs loving support
- Open your heart, without judgment or pretense
- Allow the other person to experience whatever they need to experience
- Be the light but with strong boundaries in place
Do you have experience with holding space? Or curious to learn about how to support others? Comment below!