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What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone

By Heather Plett on Sunday May 8th, 2016

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How to be there for the people who need you most

When my Mom was dying, my siblings and I gathered to be with her in her final days. None of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition out of this life into the next, but we were pretty sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.

While we supported Mom, we were, in turn, supported by a gifted palliative care nurse, Ann, who came every few days to care for Mom and to talk to us about what we could expect in the coming days. She taught us how to inject Mom with morphine when she became restless, she offered to do the difficult tasks (like giving Mom a bath), and she gave us only as much information as we needed about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit had passed.

Alt text hereThe author with her mother

“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you’re ready. Gather the people who will want to say their final farewells. Sit with your mom as long as you need to. When you’re ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”

Ann gave us an incredible gift in those final days. Though it was an excruciating week, we knew that we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.

In the two years since then, I’ve often thought about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. She was much more than what can fit in the title of “palliative care nurse”. She was facilitator, coach, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.

The work that Ann did can be defined by a term that’s become common in some of the circles in which I work. She was holding space for us.

Alt text hereLearning to hold space for others

What does it mean to “hold space” for someone else?

It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

Alt text hereUnderstanding the essence of holding space for others

In my own roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that Ann modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.

Alt text hereEvery day is an opportunity to hold space for the people around us

8 Tips to Help You Hold Space for Others

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.

1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.

2. Give people only as much information as they can handle. Ann gave us some simple instructions and left us with a few handouts, but did not overwhelm us with far more than we could process in our tender time of grief. Too much information would have left us feeling incompetent and unworthy.

Alt text hereKnowing how much information to give people in times of grief

3. Don’t take their power away. When we take decision-making power out of people’s hands, we leave them feeling useless and incompetent. There may be some times when we need to step in and make hard decisions for other people (ie. when they’re dealing with an addiction and an intervention feels like the only thing that will save them), but in almost every other case, people need the autonomy to make their own choices (even our children). Ann knew that we needed to feel empowered in making decisions on our Mom’s behalf, and so she offered support but never tried to direct or control us.

4. Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one. We all get caught in that trap now and then – when we begin to believe that someone else’s success is dependent on our intervention, or when we think that their failure reflects poorly on us, or when we’re convinced that whatever emotions they choose to unload on us are about us instead of them. It’s a trap I’ve occasionally found myself slipping into when I teach. I can become more concerned about my own success (Do the students like me? Do their marks reflect on my ability to teach? Etc.) than about the success of my students. But that doesn’t serve anyone – not even me. To truly support their growth, I need to keep my ego out of it and create the space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.

Alt text hereKeep your own ego out of it

5. Make them feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning, growing, or going through grief or transition, they are bound to make some mistakes along the way. When we, as their space holders, withhold judgement and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they fail. When we let them know that failure is simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up for it and more time learning from their mistakes.

6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance (ie. when it makes a person feel foolish and inadequate) and when to offer it gently (ie. when a person asks for it or is too lost to know what to ask for). Though Ann did not take our power or autonomy away, she did offer to come and give Mom baths and do some of the more challenging parts of caregiving. This was a relief to us, as we had no practice at it and didn’t want to place Mom in a position that might make her feel shame (ie. having her children see her naked). This is a careful dance that we all must do when we hold space for other people. Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and incapable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility.

Alt text hereA wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance and when to offer it gently

7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. When people feel that they are held in a deeper way than they are used to, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that might normally remain hidden. Someone who is practiced at holding space knows that this can happen and will be prepared to hold it in a gentle, supportive, and nonjudgmental way. In The Circle Way, we talk about “holding the rim” for people.

The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart without fearing that this will leave them permanently broken or that they will be shamed by others in the room. Someone is always there to offer strength and courage. This is not easy work, and it is work that I continue to learn about as I host increasingly more challenging conversations. We cannot do it if we are overly emotional ourselves, if we haven’t done the hard work of looking into our own shadow, or if we don’t trust the people we are holding space for. In Ann’s case, she did this by showing up with tenderness, compassion, and confidence. If she had shown up in a way that didn’t offer us assurance that she could handle difficult situations or that she was afraid of death, we wouldn’t have been able to trust her as we did.

Alt text hereThe circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart

8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognising that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Sometimes, for example, they make choices based on cultural norms that we can’t understand from within our own experience. When we hold space, we release control and we honour differences. This showed up, for example, in the way that Ann supported us in making decisions about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit was no longer housed there. If there had been some ritual that we felt we needed to conduct before releasing her body, we were free to do that in the privacy of Mom’s home.

Holding space is not something that we can master overnight, or that can be adequately addressed in a list of tips like the ones I’ve just offered. It’s a complex practice that evolves as we practice it, and it is unique to each person and each situation.

 

Find out more about how to Hold Space for a Woman here.

Feature Image: Excerpt from an artwork by uneflaneuse

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Words By Heather Plett

Originally posted on Wakeup World

 

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comments

  • P.

    Wow this is alien to me. I’ve never had that… Friends I’ve had walked away from me.

  • Elizabeth Bishop

    Beautiful article, Heather! Thank you!

  • Randie

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve never had such an eloquent description for what I do. Much to think about

  • Kristen Ronning

    thank you for clarifying this so wonderfully

  • Gaberaxx

    Thank you. I will try to adhere to the steps you have outlined going forward when “holding space” for others.

  • Elisabeth Isabelle

    Thank You! Please, can you say me the name of the artist that made the first painting? (the blue/green one)

  • Sylvia

    I am “holding space” for someone with Lewy Body Dementia so he has little understanding of anything that’s going on but some of the concepts are very helpful, especially meeting people where they are. With dementia, that is at the top of the list.

  • shirley fleming

    I especially liked the part about ‘holding’ space for incidental strangers. Great article; all true!

  • Helena Holrick

    Thank you, this is so eloquent and such a great description and set of instructions for those who may not ever have thought of it. As I read through, I was struck by how much of a space holder I am. It’s a term I’ve been using for a while and in fact in my coaching many people use the term to describe what I do for them. Giving people the space to discover who they are is one of the greatest gifts I think we can all give.

    • Awesome, Helena! I’m refreshed knowing folks like you are out there doing that! Keep spreading the gift!

  • IguanaLover

    My husband has ALS and I am his primary caregiver. Now I understand that I am “holding space” for him. This article had me in tears and gave me strength at the same time.

  • RubyMax650

    Great article but I found it a week too late. My sister is having some major marital problems and she’s come to me to vent and I have done everything wrong. I have done everything that this article says not to. Now she feels, and rightly so, that she can’t talk to me about it at all.

    • Lisa Carini Turecek

      Share this article with her, and let her know that it has helped you to see that you may have made some errors in your behavior… Maybe she will appreciate the gesture and come around? Just a thought, from a stranger. I hope that things get better between the two of you.

    • #5. Make yourself feel safe enough to fail. See that she did come to you, sister to sister, and that relationship is (somewhat?) unique for her; that she has already broached the (taboo?) subject of her mental health with you, which will allow you, when the time is right (#1. Trust your own intuition), to bring it up again. (#8. Having owned up to the failure of prior attempts, allow yourself the freedom to proceed differently).

  • Tamara Annunaki Kotz

    Wow im so glad ive stumbled across this website.. its absolutely amazing all articles.. its amazing when you investigate a site and find it resonates with your soul.. thankyou to the wonderful brains spirits who have put this site together.. its my new favorite site definately book marked..

  • Dr. Cory Annis

    Thank you for holding this space for me to stumble into. You helped.

  • I really appreciate this article & discussion! After the death of my mother, I returned to town and received lots of prayers, condolences, sympathy cards, etc. But the most meaningful gesture was a friend who said nothing, simply pressing her cheek against mine and giving me a reassuring squeeze. In a phrase, she held space for me. It meant SO much! <3

  • Cis

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read. Helpful. Informative. BEAUTIFUL art work to match the words. NICE JOB!

  • Karen Millard

    Very empathetic article, and explained simply a lot of what, I think, most of us do naturally. The point regarding the keeping your own ego out of it is something that I have struggled with, and continue to, but I will rely more on those that are keeping space for me to understand and support me while I adjust and let things go. Having lost my mother recently and gone through a lot of what was mentioned, I appreciate the acknowledgement and information to continue to keep space for those I love and are important to me.

  • Coco Kola

    After reading the whole story, I came to the conclusion that I need to learn more for the sake of enjoying life to the fullest for my children, mother and most importantly, myself.

  • Jean Priice

    An articulate and compassionate view into a life and the loss that came in to it! Grief isn’t a choice, it happens. The choice is to grieve in heathy ways or to deny the loss and the pain and the feelings and start down a slippery slope that ends in more pain! It is difficult to support those who are hurting or grieving because we tend to want them to feel better…so we will feel better and okay about them and ourselves! And that is insidiously abusive, really. When we allow the truth that we can never really walk in someone else’s shoes, but we can walk along side them, not abandon them, and allow them to be the expert in their own lives and their own grief, something beautiful and enduring happens. We share a sacred time and space and we are gifted by them in this sharing. We are taught right and wrong early in our lives, yet we aren’t taught that sometimes what is right for one will be wrong for others! Allowing the truth of this can also help us support people in times of hardship and grief. The best we can offer is to hold up a mirror so they can see what they need to do and clarify what is important to them. And they can find their own hope instead of us trying to lay it all out for them! A wonderful article that so many could benefit from reading. Life is full of changes and each change bring loss…even the changes we often celebrate and want can bring losses, just by the nature of change. With these losses come feelings and pain…and it takes time and support to process these feelings and integrate the losses into our new reality, our new world view. Articles like this help us see that there is also a beauty in sharing our losses for the benefit of others. And the loss becomes a gift to both the giver and to us receivers. Thank you for this part of your life you’ve offered us. It’s sacred and special and much appreciated!

    • Lois Wilmes

      Beautifully stated!

      • Jean Priice

        Thanks, Lois! I’m very passionate about this and how much we need to learn about change, loss, and grief to live more fully, more in tune with others, and with joy. This article is an exceptional glimpse of good support and what it meant to have it! I hope to see more!

  • Jean Priice

    Just one more thought…people with life limiting, daily pain need someone to hold space for them, and this article gives some great tips on how to do just this! If you know someone who lives with pain, please know they are struggling now especially with all the negative mindset and restrictions on care that are happening. They would welcome compassionate support!

  • Goodness…I am beyond words….{very small voice}

  • Stacy Doney
    • Dominique Payne

      Thanik you for this.

  • Levonne Padilla

    Beautiful article. Really made my heart warm. I would also love to know where to get or who to contact to get a copy of the first picture. It’s amazing!

    Levonne Padilla

  • Sanne Claudine Born

    Impressive article. Holding space is so important, and sometimes i’ts not concrete or measurable but the context of holding space, to be is enough.

  • JimmySwagger

    Beautifully written. Thank you for this.

  • David M

    I really appreciated reading this. It has been a struggle learning how to be there for myself, and know that I have enough to be there for someone else.

  • Cecile

    this is so deeply nourishing. As a business owner who will hold space for many mothers I am still learning and eager to assist mothers find their own healing voice.

  • Clearsea Moon

    Love this reminder. I used to do this all the time and somehow lost my way.

  • Two years ago, almost to this day, my Dad came to stay with my wife and I for what I’m sure he knew would be his final few weeks. He did not want to end his days in a hospital or a hospice (as his darling wife (Mum) had) and it seems that he chose us to be with in his final few weeks. The palliative care Doctor and nurses who guided us through that transition and coached us in how to “hold space” for Dad were truly wonderful – just as Anne was in this story. We were complete novices in the technique of what was required but with their beautiful hearts and gentle guidance and our love for Dad, what could have been a very traumatic experience, turned into one that was beautiful, serene and above all (for Dad) dignified. We were blessed by these earthly angels who were there to “hold space” for us.

  • slywlf

    While I had many of the right instincts working for me while my late husband went through his final years, I wish I’d had this information to clarify it for me. Thank you!

  • Gingerken

    What wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing this

  • Christina Lemmo

    This was a great article and aptly describes what a “social worker” does. With any luck, soon I will be a hospice social worker. On the other hand, I have Friends in my faith community who also “hold a space for me while I learn to do it for myself.

  • Sarah Biklen

    Wonderful article, thanks so much!

  • Linda A. Curtis

    Thank you, Heather. As a mentor for Honorable Closure and skillful endings, I especially appreciated recommendation #5 about giving people a safe place to fail. Failure gets a bad rap in our culture and we simply can’t learn without falling down sometimes. As a woman who held my husbands hand through a terminal illness and death, and who now supports people in all manner of personal and professional transitions, I see first hand the value of holding regrets with tenderness and compassion.

  • Becca

    This is an incredible reminder of our capacity to support others lovingly….
    leadingacolourfullife.blogspot.ca

  • Thanks for this clear instruction, so valuable. The photograph of mother and daughter is so beautiful, supporting the depths of experience that produced this excellent guidance.

  • MHarris

    This piece has spoken to me in a profoundly powerful way. It is gentle, elegant and righteous. In many ways this writing has compelled me to consider my own journey through life and the unconscious forces that have informed my “choices” in living and relating to others. This piece is about so much more than end of life matters or crisis interventions. It is about how to give to others and how we go about letting others know what it is that we want and need. Thank you for putting into words some very tricky but essential stuff about living………

  • Ashbro Whalen

    Please, keep writing and sharing. This is one of the most simple and also thurough articles I have ever read on existential humility and humanity. I do believe that this article will lend a huge hand to some people, not only that but to some of those who seek a hand in times of need.

    You are a beautiful person, im glad to know you are among us. Thankyou

  • irene harvey

    These are fabulous pointers for every relationship!
    Very helpful, thank you ❤

  • Leslie Kain

    Although these eight ‘tips’ are good, there’s another one (or perhaps a sub-point to #4, Keep your own ego out of it) that should be mentioned: Resist the urge to share your own (supposedly same/similar/related) experiences in a way that suggests you understand what the person is going through, and that if you got through it, so can the person for whom you’re holding space. Instead, honor the fact that a given situation vs how it is experienced differs greatly among different people, and you cannot possibly really KNOW what that person is feeling.

    • KhalilaRedBird

      How very true — and very important! Thank you, Leslie. I must continually remind myself of this one.

    • Aisya Azham

      Thanks Leslie! That’s so true. Mostly we tend to share our own experiences to let the person know that she and us in the same shoes and we understand their feelings. Yup! DON’T next time. 😀 Thanks a lot. Somehow the sharing might affected the person’s feeling with us knowing right. Every people faces and takes challenges differently and level of acceptance and strenght not similar to ‘us’.

    • LeanneB

      Very good point, Leslie and well explained I might add. I think many of us can do that, (share a same/similar/related experience) and do it as human nature and perhaps without thinking. We need to be mindful of this, as you said, we all experience things differently and one cannot POSSIBLY know what the other person is feeling. Thanks for sharing this important insight.

      • Sabine

        Is my heartbreak really so different from yours? In an interesting turn, to me, that almost sounds more egotistical, implying: “You can’t POSSIBLY know anything about loss because you haven’t been through what I’ve been through.” Yes, the details differ but sharing these felt experiences is what, I believe, allows us empathy, compassion, and connection. I, for one, find it very helpful to hear how people handled similar situations. I may not necessarily use their approach, but I feel it broadens my own view of the situation and I can possibly learn from them. Plus, it is often helpful to be reminded I’m not the only one — that this (whatever the emotion) is part of the human condition and not something I brought on myself. I’ve had friends NOT share their own experiences because they’ve read well-intentioned articles telling them not to and later, when I find out, it feels like they were withholding: I could have learned about options from your experience and you didn’t share it!

        • LeanneB

          I had to re-read all this as I realized your response was to me and when you said it almost sounded “egotistical”. That, I can assure you is not who I am. I actually AGREE with all you wrote, I was commenting on the person’s point/ insight. Perhaps I did not explain myself as I intended. We’re all in this life together, sharing and kindness can go a long way!

        • AMS

          No one is saying ”don’t share your experiences because you can’t possibly put yourself in my shoes”, what they’re saying is don’t share them in a patronizing kind of way. Share them simply for just sharing them, without any expectations, judgements, comparisons etc.

        • Cauthon

          It is alleged that Einstein said “Die alten Chinesen haben Recht gehabt, man darf uberhaupt nichts machen” – The old Chinese had it right, one should entirely do nothing. OTOH, all those Americans who did not have to invade Japan’s home islands the way we had been doing, all the way across the Pacific, probably were happy that he did something. We hear a lot in the news about people who demand to be protected against hearing anything that might disturb them, but life disturbs us all the time and there is no place to hide. If we communicate with each other maybe we can make some progress together. In everything else, whether we are inventing some new medicine or overthrowing a tyrannical government or whatever, we do better with communication than if each person goes ahead on their own. We have to decide as we go along whether to play it safe and say nothing or try to do something worthwhile. The other person has to decide whether to be offended. We humans are much more complicated and difficult than the inanimate world around us. And as for those “well-intentioned articles”, doesn’t the old saying tell us that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the results may not be as good as the intentions? I will go one step farther, aren’t the people who write those articles doing just what they warn us against – substituting their judgment for ours? Napoleon said when a general obeys orders from his minister or his sovereign, who is not there with him, and loses the battle, he has to accept the responsibility for the loss.

    • Sabine

      I find it very helpful when people share their similar experiences (not side-tracking the conversation but rather sharing a mutual point of reference). I don’t feel the need to “reinvent the wheel” and love learning how another person thought about or got through something similar — it can help launch me out of fear-induced tunnel vision, for example. At other times people sharing their related experience has helped me feel very “understood.” Yes, everyone’s individual story has nuance and unique details, but we do all know what, for example, heartbreak feels like.

      • Jacquie Hayes

        I agree. And I guess I would add, that maybe at certain times it’s helpful to hear their experiences, and when it isn’t helpful. I think those closest to us that are holding space can tell when to be silent or when to speak about their experiences. But I to think as a human being I can relate to heartbreak. I have children, and yet I can imagine the total heartbreak it would cause me to loose one of them. I guess I can’t Fully understand, but it doesn’t mean I’m clueless.

      • Cloggie

        I agree this can be helpful but it can take a level of finesse and really knowing your audience.

        For one thing, you can’t be comparing apples to oranges or it may feel like you’re unloading on the grieving person instead of helping. Two, no matter how bad things are they could always be worse. We all know this. So emphasizing how other situations that you or another have been through were “worse” can make the grieving person feel like you’re minimizing their pain. Three, this cannot come from simply being uncomfortable with someone’s pain and deciding to “fix” it.

      • Julie Boyce

        Beautiful response I think mutual sharing uplifts ….it would be a rare case when the support person is chanelling themselves thoughtlessly

    • Theresa Hoglund Mueller

      It is not in not sharing or in sharing your own personal experience. It is in intuitively discerning when it is helpful and when it is not.

    • siochain

      I gave thought to what you said and didn’t agree fully , as I so often don’t lol so I thought it was just me until I read the responses . I am not much of a sharer because of the way I grew up my storys were very different in the world . But I later found a peace threw the sharing of another person because it address a secreat part of me that I was a shamed of . When working with people I will share if it shows me humaness .People often feel vulnerable at difficult times and it is at these times I share about my own difficultys that I have face and how much I admire them in there determination to be there for there loved on or they way they handle/manage situations . Its often a sharing to bring it around to the strenth I see in the person . That is not good or bad its just they way I am comfortable being in the world . Holding space is having respect for the other person .Living with respect is something I have practiced threw the years .

  • Lisa Wright

    This is an amazing article. While it’s primarily focused on caregiving professions and situations, this exactly sums up the type of person I would like to be. I struggle with wanting to fix people and things, which 1) I’m not capable of, 2) it’s draining, and 3) it leads to resentment and judgment (from me). This wonderful summary of “holding space” is exactly what I needed to switch my brain from the more ego-driven, “I know what’s best for you” mindset to actual compassion. I could never quite put my finger on what I could be doing differently but you’ve totally cleared my mind.

    Thank you so much for writing this… I know this will be a concept I will remind myself of many times in the future!!

    • Sultan

      You seem to be such a kind person with clear mind. And what I like most about you is your way of writing.
      Please contact me on WhatsApp.
      This is my phone number +967777056247

  • Sandra
  • Regina Preciado

    Beautifully written – I love how you weave your personal experiences into the universal truths. You manage to hold space for us even as you give us just enough information with tenderness, compassion, and confidence. 🙂

  • Kalpana Mulchandani

    So agree

  • Kalpana Mulchandani

    I could connect with so much

  • Such beauty and depth. Something to ponder.

  • James Leonard Park

    “Managing dying” might be more specific
    in some cases than “holding space”.
    When we know that someone is dying,
    we can end all of the medical efforts to prevent death
    and begin the most reasonable methods
    of making this dying process less painful
    and more meaningful for everyone:
    http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/MMMD.html.

  • Roberta miller

    This was an excellent article. I gained a lot of wisdom about how to help my family deal with my chronic”fatal” illness. Fatal is in quotes because I am doing very well at the moment, and don’t take life for granted. I’m going to share this on my Facebook page because some good friends just lost their Dad, and it might help them. Thank you for writing this article!????

  • Carol A McClenin

    In our lives, one of the most difficult is sharing the end of life. Terrific article.

  • Emma Smith

    Brilliant, I will add tho it was the people who held space for me that really helped me deal with a longtime serious opiate addiction. Much more than intervention and judgement. That influenced my current life as a carer. All people are different but people shouldn’t be afraid to try it with addiction.

  • Don Prosser

    Brilliant, wondrous article that speaks to our humanity…

  • Chris Krakowski

    Mind blown. I have a long way to go as a spouse and partner.

    • Christopher Hook

      The truth is, we all do.

  • Miriama

    Beautiful story…thank you. I can relate to the holding space as well as the being there during a time of someone you love passing. My family have their challenges when they are together and it is difficult for me to stay neutral and allow whatever happens unfold. My personal challenge is to remember to hold space and not get caught up in judgement of the story or who is right or who is wrong.
    Also knowing what is better for someone if they did it instead of what they are doing. If they only realised what I was thinking and did it, their life would be wonderful and I wouldnt have to be unhappy with them. These are the thoughts I have when Im uncomfortable with someones way of living. My love is conditional & I become intolerant. It takes me to be vulnerable and feel my love for that person for me to move into being there for them and not for me. It definitely is an interesting experience.

  • Alison Braid

    Thank you for your clear article it is a great reminder that this is our natural way of being trusting our own inner wisdom and being there for each other. ‘Holding the space’ to me means seeing others as masters of their own destiny each of us on a different part of our unfolding back to our true being. We can naturally hold each other including ourselves.

  • Robbi Santore

    I have been told that I was born a mother-hen! It is a natural tendancy for me to “hold space” for others! The con is allowing others to “hold space” for me! Thoughts?!

  • UpNorthof203

    I struggle with “praying” for people. A product of my issue with the Catholic Church. Holding space, to me, means I am here. I can be with you, hold you, listen, many of the mentioned items. In my own way, I guess it is a deeper spiritual connection without all the trappings of the CC. Friends have been there for me in the same way. It works in my world.

  • Morag Donald

    Great piece. My Mum has Alzheimer’s and once I gave up the struggle of trying to keep her here I realised my role is to bear witness to the life she has left. This really is holding space and although on the outside it can look like you’re doing nothing, it’s really sacred work.

  • Christopher Hook

    I wonder what the community here thinks about holding space for those who do not hold space for us. I am currently struggling with a situation where a friend is not proving to be the friend I thought she is. I know she is struggling with emotions stemming from Orlando, and is unable to hold space for me. I understand that. But she is also being disrespectful, dismissive, and rude. I wonder, what should I do in this case?

  • TheDimView

    The art for his article is lovely. Good wisdom here. SGH

  • Bev Haut

    Thank you for this. I’ve been holding space for people for years without knowing what to call it, or even how to describe it. And others have been, and are now, holding space for me. You’ve given me an effective tool to assist the women I mentor, too. My highest regards.

  • Lukovszki Béla

    illuminati sign free masons symbols…

  • Nor Ah

    Does anyone know by any chance how “to hold the space for someone” and “holding the space (for someone)” is accurately translated into German ? thanks a million !

  • Kelvin Chin

    All terrific guidance and advice. I also have found in 30 years working with death and dying issues that “understanding the 4 Main Beliefs about death” (nonreligious beliefs) helps the Caregiver hold space more effortlessly. It allows the caregiver to more easily embrace the beliefs – whatever they may be – of the patient or loved one, no matter how different the belief may be from theirs. I talk about this in my lectures – you can see free videos at http://www.OvercomingTheFearOfDeath.org and in my book on the subject. Warmly, Kelvin Chin

  • Marlene

    Love this article

  • Silent Entry

    Wondering if you can hold space for a loved one who is alcoholic. To not judge. To not control. To allow them the dignity of their choice when you know it is killing them. To just be there for them. I see a lot of points in this article that are applicable.

    • Renee Bartovics

      in this case, for you. some extra work and information is available- first of all, attend Alanon meetings if at all possible and read the literature- get a sponsor. Secondly, set limits and boundaries in your own space so that the toxicity of their addiction has minimal effect on your life and those around you. Thirdly, know when and if it is time to “walk away”- what ever that means to you. Number 4- you are not this person’s savior- get your ego or need to fix things out of the picture. Number 5, let go of blame you may be carrying. That is a good start….keep on…

      • Silent Entry

        Thank you very much for your guidance. I attended Al-Anon for years and it helped. I am at peace in my life for the most part–the demons of blame you mention pop up occasionally, but I work on that. Otherwise, I feel I’ve progressed in focusing on my own life, so that the love I can give is pure and not polluted with anger and resentment. I do love them intensely while praying for acceptance of where they are in their journey.

    • Selah Helas

      I was listening to a recent episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross that included an interview with journalist Maia Szalavitz, author of the book Unbroken Brain. Szalavitz contends that substance abuse rehab programs should eliminate 12-step program (such as AA, NA, etc.) components and focus only on treatments that are specific to the rehab program (things like cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, etc.). Her explanation is much more eloquent than my summary, but the purpose behind my sharing this information is rooted in her explanation that addiction is the only diagnosed medical condition that is viewed through a moral lens. It is the only condition in which treatment suggests that the addict should apologize for his/her actions – “confess his/her sins”. I found this argument compelling; how easy would it be for us to heal from any condition when we are asked to constantly re-encounter the trauma and aftermath? (Note: EMDR is a method that works with past trauma, but it is done so in a way that the practitioner “holds space” for the patient and, in fact, teaches the patient to hold space for him/herself by creating “containers” for things experienced during the session.) I shared the above information simply because I find it interesting to consider.
      From a more personal perspective, several years ago I met a young woman who was proud to celebrate 2 years of sobriety from heroin and meth. She went on to demonstrate her leadership skills and academic fortitude by becoming a full-time volunteer and receiving scholarships to return to school. I imagine a struggle for all addicts is to learn boundaries and limits because life tends to be an all-or-nothing challenge when under the influence; it was at least true for this young woman despite repetitious encouragement and warning to “not take too much on at one time.” Ultimately, she relapsed under the pressure of trying to be the perfect “addict in recovery,” and it took several long, painfully hard falls before she met her new rock bottom. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy being part of her process – I heard and saw so many painful things and knew I could not control or change any of it – I think that I did my best to hold space for her as necessary, while at the same time making certain that I was holding space for myself. I’m not as eloquently clever as the author of this article – she put into words some very complex but universal concepts – but I hope to be clear.
      1) This person stole a significant amount of money from the organization I worked for by way of abusing a fuel credit line she was privy to. After being discovered we decided not to press charges, but expected full repayment (and created a clear plan). (Holding space for her.)
      2) She later came to me (likely under the influence of something) and asked if I could help her by hosting a rummage sale and directing all proceeds to her repayment. While I took the time to explore the idea and the significance behind the idea, ultimately I told her I was not in the position to do so (holding space for myself).
      3) She became a victim of domestic violence and received assistance to move to a new, confidential residence. Unfortunately she struggled to let go of past company, and the company followed her to her new home. Eventually she was evicted and decided to move back to the city where she grew up. She asked if I would be willing to store some of her personal things for a period because she couldn’t transport all of them. I agreed to pick them up from her place and store them at my place until she could retrieve them. (I held space for her by agreeing; I held space for myself by not disclosing where I lived.)
      4) When she returned with a moving van she asked to pick up her things. I suggested that I could meet her somewhere with the items. (Holding space for me)
      5) A week after this contact I received a phone call or letter from her letting me know that she was in jail and wondered if I might come visit. (She was supposed to have travelled back to her hometown after retrieving items from me, but she didn’t.) I visited and listened to her story (holding space for her), but did not offer to reach out to her legal counsel,etc. as she might have hoped (holding space for me). I visited several times and tried to encourage her progress (her physical appearance and attitude changed dramatically between my first and second visits, undoubtedly because someone else had recognized her potential), but did not offer extra support outside of those visits.

      I’m sure there were other instances, but I think that the most poignant part of this story – for me, anyway – is that she entered treatment after going to jail, from where she wrote me update letters. After she left treatment, she visited me at work with her grandfather before they departed back to her hometown. And once she moved into an Oxford House in her new environment she wrote me another update letter.

      While I don’t know that I offered a perfect space for this dear heart, I think that I was able to offer what I did because others have been gracious and graceful by offering such space to me. I do think it’s possible to hold space for addicts, and I think that might be the answer for longer-lasting recoveries. The key for me to remember every time my friend and I connected was that she was responding to something painful – that her life hurt and she was trying to ease the pain. I have learned that despite my stoic, generally strong personality, I am also quite sensitive, and I could feel her pain. Maybe it is because I could feel her pain that I knew I couldn’t take it away – similar to how nobody else could take what I felt away from me – but I could hold it with her.

      This was a long response, but I hope that you are able to hold space for your loved one and yourself. It won’t be easy all the time, and you’ll likely hurt more than the other person will ever realize, but it is possible.
      Peace to you, and your friend.

      • Silent Entry

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience, strength and hope (recovery terms, but useful ones!). I have had quite a bit of substance abuse in my family, and I tend to waver between choosing the “tough love” path vs the path of just being there and loving them.. while trying to maintain my own space and boundaries. I’ve learned control is futile, but unconditional love is always possible, but always a work in progress.

  • LaPortaMA

    Good start.

  • PFL1982

    thanks for this. My wife has been going through some emotional upheaval and I’ve been trying to figure out how to support her without crowding her. This is very helpful.

  • Michele Renée

    The image used in this article of the hands holding the Mother and Baby in the water is used without consent or credit. It is titled “Cradle of Love” and is the artwork of Nancy Bright.

  • icpacific

    Very helpful article and thoughtfully written. Thank you.

  • Prem Lulla

    Thank you a lot dear Heather Plett, I have now much clarity on the subject of Holding space for someone. If each of us can play a part in holding space for someone, world will become a much place to live.

  • hope

    Thats a great article. SO many truths in it. Wish I could have been there for my mum when she passed away, will forever carrying the guilt of not being there for her. People who can do this for others have a **gift**. Not sure I’ve come across any, except my husband, but I know they are out there.

  • Ange Edwards

    i’d like the source information on the title picture (this should be more openly available) i really only read the article because i like the immage.

  • Lea

    I can think of no better way than this to spend my days, ? Holding space for each other. Thank you for this beautiful article. ?

  • Cheryl Kalson

    This article is profoundly helpful, and I thank you for it. I have a very close friend who was diagnosed with leukemia last October. Knowing that there were plenty of people available to supply casseroles, do chores, and drive him to his chemo appointments, I asked him straight out, “What can I do?” His response: Take care of Ron (his partner and husband for many years.) So I began to do this, check in with Ron daily, sometimes having a laugh, other times feeling my way through painfully sensitive territory, choosing my words–and when to say them–carefully, but without losing authenticity, and giving him a safe space to be his authentic self too. It hasn’t been easy, sometimes it’s terrifying. I’m afraid to make a mistake, say the “wrong thing” at any time. But I haven’t made that mistake, so far. I’ve been having these conversations with Michael as well, giving him the space to express how he’s feeling at any given time. As I’ve said to them–tell me whatever you want–I can take it.

    And I can.

  • susan-jillian smith

    Excellent article.

  • Bernie

    Very beautiful article and a great help to me; it is very much needed in a world where people seem filled with anger and have lost the ability to deal gently and compassionately. As I read the article I was reminded of the parable of the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke, where the father showed support and restoration for his younger son by welcoming him back into his home without qualifications or expectations despite the mistakes he’d made.

  • Ganges Sharma

    I loved this article. It touched me deeply. Spectre of Death…Being connected to Self…
    Before connecting with others

  • Julie Boyce

    I thoroughly enjoyed this important article…if only these skills were taught to us as children so much more love would be the normal experience….we learn some by trial and fumble the hard way…. these skills are beautiful thank you for the share

  • helentroy4

    This is a wonderful article. My mother died of cancer that spread to her brain but did not affect her cognitive abilities. I am still ashamed at my behavior at the time of her illness. It happened over thirty years ago but I can still feel the shame of being such an intolerable and intolerant daughter.

    Fast forward to today. My husband has lung cancer that has metastasized to his brain. Everything I learned about how NOT to care for a terminally ill mother I have taken to heart and am, I think, doing a much better job this time around. I’ve learned as I get older, that my younger self was not always a very nice person. This article confirmed the steps I have taken to be a different person. Thank you.

  • truth
  • Nathaniel Faasse

    This article is nothing short of beautiful. I am a certified professional coach and I work at a mental health facility and in both my personal and professional experience this article is absolutely beautiful.
    One thing I would add: Detachment From Outcome- Don’t be in a hurry to reach resolution! When there is a felt sense that healing has occurred, ask if they like to hear suggestions or comments, or space and time to digest. It is crucial to not push people toward solutions, that would be a reward focused approach and is often dangerously counterproductive to helping them develop autonomous health!
    ❤❤❤

  • Bonnie Jacobus

    “Holding Space” great phrase – may help some understand how compassion and empathy can be displayed through support. If you truly don’t want to take their power away, I don’t think you should decide what information they can handle as you can create much unnecessary, ongoing grief and distrust when they sense something is wrong.

  • Roz Power

    Holding space for ourselves is also very important and often overlooked for me it has been a life saver.

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