What is Holding Space?

It takes courage to hold space for another.

A few days ago I wrote about the courage it takes to listen without judgement. Today I want to shout out to those courageous women and men who hold space for others every day.

What does it mean to hold space? How does it differ from listening without judgement?

Holding space is consciously being present with another. It is creating a safe space and walking with someone through whatever they are feeling. Holding space means showing up without expectation for where a person should be or where they should go, and being a witness to their pain. It means surrounding them with security and protection so they are free to be vulnerable and to express whatever they need to in order to move through their suffering. It’s providing comfort and compassion no matter what they are going through.

Holding space requires courage because it requires us to check our ego at the door but we do not leave our own pain at the door. To hold space requires us to sit with our own experiences while we witness another’s.

Holding space also requires courage because we set aside any need to control the situation, the conversation or the other person. It requires acceptance of the person we hold space for just as they are in that moment, without desire to change them.

Simply being a loving presence and showing compassion, a genuine openness to the pain of another and a desire for their suffering to be relieved, can be the most healing and soothing thing we can do for someone who is suffering.

When you hold space for someone you don’t try to fix what can’t be fixed. You don’t try to explain the unexplainable. You don’t try to control the uncontrollable.

The problem with holding space, however, is that it can feel a lot like doing nothing. And for those, like me, who feel they need to do something to help, holding space can feel like an impossible task.

So for this reason, I simply want to acknowledge and show respect for those who do this vital work every single day. To those who hold space for me and for kids and for others who suffer. You are heroes to me, though I suspect many of you do not consider yourselves to be heroes.

I read a beautiful quote by Tanya Markul, from her book The She Book. In it she talks about what holding space really looks like.

I can’t imagine anything more courageous than this.

So to those who hold space, thank you. And may I have the courage to be a little bit more like you.


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