There is a concept I was never fully aware of how to define or put words to until about 12 months ago when I heard two of my beautiful friends use this particular phrase. The use of this term intrigued me and caused me to do my own reflection and research into what it meant and what it actually looked like.
Through this reflection process I saw ‘it’ in a few of those who were there to comfort me during times of great loss. In times of private grief I saw ‘it’ in myself. And in other moments of heartache and pain I saw ‘it’ in those close to me and others who hardly even knew me. But they all held something in common. They were there for me in one way or another, with a kind of strength that ‘held me’ through the turbulence of the emotional storms I experienced along my journey.
I’ve discovered it’s quite difficult to define this concept without actually using the same words to describe it. Which is possibly why I was never quite able to articulate ‘it’ with the precision I had always longed to. So here ‘it’ is….
I want to share this not-so-traditional beginning-of-year topic with you, rather than just another ‘goal-setting’ blog about how to set your 2019 up for greater success.
I’m passionate about helping people understand HOW and WHY this concept of ‘HOLDING SPACE’ is a practice that will help set you up for the rest of your life – toward understanding yourself and those around you more fully and deeply.
There are a few people in my world who have taught me much about ‘holding space’ in one way or another….and now that I have words to put to what they actually did for me in those moments, it helps me to understand and actually see how incredibly important it is to know HOW to do this…for myself and others in my world, and secondly to know WHY!
Over the last year I encountered numerous occasions when my daughter arrived home from school in a state of intense sadness and devastation. Everything in me as her mother wanted to jump in and fix it all for her (and on some occasions probably got very close to doing so). However, I intuitively knew that I wouldn’t actually be helping her unless I could somehow just ‘be’ with her….listen to her intently…not try and fix her…not judge her…just HOLD SPACE with her.
Being able to be fully present with my daughter in those moments and just loving her without judgement…all the while allowing her to feel the rawness of her emotions – the sadness, the pain of her reality in those moments – to cry, be angry, to open herself up to those feelings and simply just BE where she was in that moment.
There are many other moments in my life where I can recognise how people have ‘held space’ for me….when I have been frustrated, angry, sad, down, hopeless and depressed. One other such time I feel to share here is a time in my life 17 years ago when I received a devastating diagnosis that left me in an incredibly vulnerable state physically, mentally and emotionally. I thank God that I had a precious tribe of people who were there for me in so many different ways – emotionally, spiritually, financially, practically, and relationally. There was one friend in particular who I can say undoubtedly was my ROCK during that time (when I was near and far geographically). I knew without a doubt that she was not judging me, trying to fix me or manipulate me in any way, shape or form.
Brene’ Brown says it like this:
“When we’re looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, able to bend and most of all, embrace us for our strengths and struggles.”
Those compassionate, rooted people in our life are invaluable to help us weather the storms and stand tall again. But what do we do when that ‘someone’ isn’t available to us in those moments?
Holding Space doesn’t actually have to mean that anyone else is physically there with us or listening directly to us. It is actually possible to hold space for ourselves. When we’re facing something big (or small) we can hold space for ourselves by tapping into self-compassion.
Self-compassion involves being gentle with ourselves when we encounter a painful experience, rather than ignoring our pain, or punishing ourselves with self-criticism. It’s reminding ourselves that challenge and suffering is part of the shared human experience. Allowing us to feel less isolated and more connected with that space. And finally, it’s taking a balanced approach to our challenging emotions without suppressing or exaggerating them, but becoming more mindful, more aware of our inner experience as it happens.
It’s impossible to ignore our pain and feel compassion at the same time. Which really means that the more we can learn to ‘hold space’ for ourselves, the more we will have the capacity to ‘hold space’ for others. It’s in that space that we learn something of what it means to feel ‘unconditional love’.
Essentially, ‘holding space’ means that we’re willing to walk alongside of someone in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. We ‘hold space’ for others when we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.
It is only possible to genuinely support and encourage others in their times of grief and personal growth, not by fixing their problems for them (which is essentially taking their power away); implying they should know more than they do (which is actually shaming them); or giving them more information than they’re ready for and overwhelming them. It’s important we know how to step aside and allow others to make their own choices, to offer them unconditional love and support in that process, and gentle guidance where needed, all the while allowing them to feel safe even when they mess up in one way or another.
Back to my gorgeous friend for a moment! During that very vulnerable season of my life with an uncertain future, I felt undeniably, unconditionally loved and accepted by my friend when others around me misunderstood and judged me. My friend had (and still has) roots that run incredibly deep, enabling her to ‘hold space’ for many in her world. She has been a constant example to me of how to ‘hold space’ for others….and then in turn for myself (even before I knew about the term defining this concept!)
My relatively new-found understanding/awareness of ‘holding space’ and its application in my life has caused me to be so much more mindful of how I respond in any given situation….to others, but first and most importantly to myself!
How are you going at ‘holding space’ for YOURSELF?
Take time to notice WHO in your world does well at ‘holding space’ for others.
Allow yourself to learn more and grow in your understanding and application of this and I can guarantee that your inner-world will take a turn for the better in 2019!
With you on this journey,