We hear “holding space” a lot, but many people aren’t familiar with what it means or how to do it. This phrase is often used in a clinical environment, but I’ll just be explaining it and giving tips on how to hold space for a friend or family member.
“Holding space” means being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. It means putting your focus on them to support them and allowing them to feel their feelings.
I’ve gained insight on how to hold space for another due to my experiences of friends not being able to hold space for me. They focused more on what they wanted to say to me rather than listening and understanding me, would try to give me unsolicited advice when I just wanted to vent or be heard, and they would try to minimize my problems by comparing my problems to theirs. I’m thankful for these experiences as it has strengthen my ability to be present with others.
Here are 5 ways to hold space for someone:
1. TRULY LISTEN
Sounds easy, but most of the time we only listen enough to what the other person is saying only to prepare for what we want to say next. Practice active listening without judgement. Fully listen to what the other person is saying and repeat back to them what you heard in your own words. This will help the other person feel like they’re being heard and understood.
2. DON’T GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE
When we hear a friend or family member going through something difficult, our first instinct is to give advice or help resolve it for them. This is a sensitive area and ties in with the first tip. If the person didn’t ask for your input, don’t offer them your advice as they can get offended or misunderstood, which may prevent them from going to you in the future. I remember when I went to a friend about an issue and they would try to give advice. I found myself being defensive and feeling worse than I did prior to going to them. Giving advice when not being asked can feel invasive because by doing this, you’re trying to get the other person to change rather than trying to understand them and their situation.
3. DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU
I agree that it’s easier to understand something when you can relate it to your own experiences, but don’t center the situation around yourself. There is a time for you to talk about your experiences, but not when you’re holding space for someone else as it can feel like you’re usurping their pain. Needless to say, this is definitely not the way to hold space for someone. Allow them to talk about their feelings without it seeming like you’re trying to steal their hardship or making it into a competition.
4. HAVE COMPASSION & EMPATHY
Compassion and empathy is an important part of holding space as it is acting out of love for another person. Part of having compassion is accepting the other person fully. It doesn’t mean that you agree with them - it just means that you accept that they have a different opinion and perspective than yours.
5. BE OPEN TO WHATEVER EMOTIONS COME UP
You’ll never know what will come up when you give someone space to be vulnerable, so It’s important to allow the person to feel what they’re feeling. Emotions are complicated and confusing as it is, so reassure the other person that it’s ok to let it all out. Reiterate that you’re there for them and will listen to whatever they feel or want to express without judgement.
Holding space for someone isn’t something that can be mastered overnight, so be easy with yourself and be sure to hold space for yourself as well since you can’t be present for others if you can’t be present with yourself! I’ll share ways to hold space for yourself in the next post!
Love + Light,