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The Gift Of Holding Space

Couple looking away

I read somewhere that Holding Space is the act of donating your eyes and ears to someone without wanting anything back.  In other words, having empathy and compassion as people feel whatever it is they are experiencing.

Most often we are called to show up when someone we love or care about is having feelings related to sadness, anger or fear.  What others often need most in those moments is just to have those loving eyes and ears show up to bear witness to the unfolding of some sort of pain or memory.  

This can actually be more challenging than you might imagine. So often, we hear someone hurting or angry and we want to change that.  We want to fix it. We will engage in a manner that asks them to move through their feelings quickly or change them as soon as humanly possible.  We have collectively given off the message to those we care about that they need to button it up…snap out of it… We say things like “it will be ok,” or “ don’t be sad,” or “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”  We say these things hoping they are true, but not really knowing if that’s the case. 

Why do we try to push people to snap out of natural human feelings as soon as possible? 

We do this because often when someone is having strong feelings it can trigger an unconscious feeling or memory within us that has not been touched but sits with all the nerve endings exposed.  We often bury our own sadness, fears, loneliness and anger and when we see someone else expressing theirs we often unconsciously feel our own bubbling up from the depths of where we inadvertently planted them. The emotional nervous system sends a high alert to shut down the trigger so we can keep that pain buried.  The longer it goes on, the more likely it is we will find ourselves immersed in some other form of feeling that we don’t understand.  

If we know that this is a possibility when someone we care about is suffering, we can expect some of these feelings to come to the surface and we can recognize that discomfort and offer loving awareness that this is what it is. 

Six steps for holding space efficiently: 

  1. Notice that someone you care about is having a hard moment.  Acknowledge with words “You seem sad.”  Or “you seem angry.” This is simply the mirror they need to understand what they are processing.  

  2. Allow yourself to engage with them with an open heart and compassion. Imagine a bubble of light wrapped around the two of you together holding the container.  There is NOTHING for you to do here but hold a container of love and allow them to express themselves. 

  3. You DO NOT need to know what to say.  Just stay present, avoiding distractions. 

  4. Remind yourself that emotions move through us when we allow that…and this expression of emotional energy will also end (and faster if you just hold space). 

  5. Be aware of your own feelings of bubbling up with an equal amount of compassion AND remind yourself that this energy is just showing up to remind you of your own similar wounds.  It doesn’t need to be processed at that moment.  

  6. Finally, thank the person you care about for allowing you to be there for them.  

When we learn and practice the art of holding space for our loved ones, we dive deeper into loving connection and this deepening of connection will stay between us always.


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