How to Hold Space for Yourself

By Azriel ReShel on Friday August 5th, 2016

The Importance of 'Being There' for Yourself

Most people would say they are good at supporting their friends and family, but why are we so bad at being there for ourselves?

When my second eldest daughter was a few months old, she developed colic. She would wake every night, crying for several hours, utterly inconsolable. Nothing I did helped her, not breastfeeding, holding her, rocking her, or my attempts to soothe her. Sometimes her cries pierced me so deeply I felt like giving up and leaving her alone. I felt so powerless.

Though it was difficult, my daughter taught me something vital and precious. As I watched her healing journey, I realised I cannot take away someone else’s pain or rescue them. I cannot change what they are feeling, patch it up and move along. All I could do was witness, be there and be present for her. Yes I got frustrated, angry, and distraught that I couldn’t do more, but eventually I found a place of calm as I sang mantras and focussed on staying peaceful in my own body. In learning to hold space for her, I learned to hold space for myself. In fact, I couldn’t be present for her, without being present for myself. Her pain triggered my own deep pain, and I had to allow myself to move through it if I was going to help her.

In learning to hold space for her, I learned to hold space for myself.In learning to hold space for her, I learned to hold space for myself.

It took the crumbling of a 13 year relationship to make me see how much of my energy goes into holding space for others; my four children, ex-partner, and those I work with in my teaching and healing practice. While I can hold space well for others, am sensitive and empathic, I recently realised again that there was a ceiling to this ability. In order to expand my capacity to be there for others, I needed to truly learn how to be there for myself. I was so focussed outwards, that I was neglecting the very thing that makes me solid and potent as a healing force for others: My own wellbeing.

I have a daily requirement to centre, ground and remain in my own core, otherwise I’m knocked off into other people’s solar systems and wander around in a lost galaxy for a while before finding my way home. We all need to hold space for ourselves if we are going to be able to live life in a healthy and balanced way.

In order to expand my capacity to be there for others, I needed to truly learn how to be there for myself.To expand my capacity to be there for others, I needed to truly learn how to be there for myself.

What exactly does it mean to “hold space” for yourself?

We seem to do it naturally for others, but what does it mean to do it for ourselves? For me, holding space means becoming the container to experience myself; to grow, to feel, to express, to test out, to live. It is being present, treating yourself with care, consideration, kindness, compassion and love. Hearing the needs of your body and mind, feeling your emotions, and listening to the yearning of your soul. It’s a way of being, a lifestyle, a profound choice and a stand you take. It’s not a belief system, but is rather a way of being with yourself and meeting your own needs.This can be lifesaving in intimate relationships, where we can ruin a good thing by trying to make the other meet all our needs.We spend every minute of the day with ourselves. How much of it is good, supportive, and kind?

Holding space is like a great pilgrimage home to your own soul. A key to holding space for yourself is to see yourself with all your faults and without judgement and criticism. To see yourself with kindness and love, just as you would a friend. It’s making friends with your fear, inviting Cousin Self-Doubt, Mrs Perfectionist, Brother Criticism, and Sister Putdown, in for a cup of tea around the fireplace.

Treat yourself with care, consideration, kindness, compassion and love.Treat yourself with care, consideration, kindness, compassion and love.

“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.” Nathaniel Brand

Holding space for yourself gives you a place to check your direction, to see who or what is in the driver seat of your life, and to adjust your course when you need to. It brings space and awareness into your life, ensuring your life reflects your soul and your longings, so you don’t have to wake up at age 45 and realise you don’t like who you’ve become.

If you truly want to help others, and make a positive impact on the world, then learning to hold space for yourself, to befriend and love yourself, is the greatest impact you could make on the planet. You can’t hold space for someone else if you can’t be with your own pain and hold space for yourself.  If there’s no room for you in your life, there isn’t really any room for others. When you’re kind to yourself you impact the lives of others by being less reactive, more responsive, more available, empathic, compassionate, kind, present, balanced and at peace.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Jack Kornfield

But how do we hold space for ourselves? Here are some simple steps to ensure there is room in your life for you.

 If there’s no room for you in your life, there isn’t really any room for others. If there’s no room for you in your life, there isn’t really any room for others.

9 Vital keys to holding space for yourself

1. Embracing your imperfection

Your “imperfections” are what make you unique and can often be the gateway to your greatest gifts. If you try and be like everyone else, you rob the world of your special talents and the rare contribution that only you can make. The more you can accept and learn to love your individuality, the more you will express it and the happier you will be. Some of the world’s most uncompromisingly brazen individuals have made enormous impacts. Who would have ever thought a monobrow could be cool, yet Frida Kahlo made it so! Self-acceptance is key to holding space for yourself. The more you accept and love yourself, the more you will look after yourself and value your own needs.

2. Saying no

When you say ‘no’ to others, you very often say ‘yes’ to yourself. If you’re doing something for others at the expense of yourself, it is not beneficial for anyone. Through years of pleasing others, my new mantra to live by has become: ‘if something feels right in my heart then it will serve others too’.

Honouring yourself always works out well. It’s unkind to put yourself last, and agreeing to do things through obligation always breeds resentment. This is not to say you shouldn’t do things for others (of course you should!), but there’s a way to do it that also supports your own wellbeing. When you say ‘no’ to others, you strengthen your self-esteem, you show yourself that you are important and valuable. And you give others permission to do the same.

Who would have ever thought a monobrow could be cool, yet Frida Kahlo made it so! Who would have ever thought a monobrow could be cool, yet Frida Kahlo made it so!

3. Developing boundaries.

When you have good boundaries, are assertive and can say ‘no’ without feeling guilty, then obligatory relationships end and you can enter the realm of the undefended heart – a place where you are able to love freely and generously. Much of loving is defended loving. When you know you have the strength to stand up for yourself and stand in your own corner, you can actually love more freely. Boundaries don’t need to shut out, they can actually strengthen bonds.

4. Communing with yourself

Making time to truly connect with yourself supports your overall health and wellbeing. I have a practice each morning and evening where I place my hands over my heart, and drop into my inner world, to visit my deepest self. I tune in to my heart and feel where I’m at, observing how my body is feeling, and noticing my emotions and thoughts. I recall all those fragments of myself, the energy that has been scattered between situations, people and places, and put myself back together like a puzzle. I also take this time to connect with my spiritual nature, to remember I am spirit, and to pray for guidance and support. However, you can do this in whatever way feels right for you. Creative practices like music, art, journalling, or just being in nature, are deeply healing for the spirit that has been left out in the cold.

Making time to truly connect with yourself supports your overall health and wellbeing.Making time to truly connect with yourself supports your overall health and wellbeing.

5. Listening

In stillness we get to know who we are. Taking time to be still, alone, to simply be, supports you in getting to know yourself and your dreams, and gives you space to correct your course if you have lost your way. It helps you to shine a light onto negative cycles and habitual patterns. Simply noticing what you ‘do’ is the first step to healing. Observing with kindness, acceptance and humour is key to disrupting the cycle, as criticism keeps us locked into these negative patterns.

6. Reaching for support

In order to hold space for yourself, you must be able to reach out for support when you need it. This strengthens your ability to be there for yourself. Knowing your own limits and knowing you can get support if you need it, makes your power to be there for yourself grounded and deeper.

In order to hold space for yourself, you must be able to reach out for support when you need it.In order to hold space for yourself, you must be able to reach out for support when you need it.

7. Being authentic

This is you! You know the truth. You know who you are. Don’t hide it from yourself. Have the courage to see all of you; your gifts and your less than perfect bits. When you see yourself with kindness and compassion, you have the power to change aspects of your self or your life that you dislike.

8. Being a good parent to yourself

A creative parent holds space for a child to explore, be creative, test boundaries, let their imagination run wild, experience different personalities, ideas and roles. A great parent doesn’t control or shut down. This is the same when dealing with your inner-child. Allow yourself explore and experience life, empower yourself to make the right choices and live life in your own way. Be an innovative parent to your inner child: loving yourself when you’re sick, being encouraging when you fall over, and always cheering yourself on.

9. Developing supportive rituals

Take a stand for yourself. Do at least one nurturing thing for yourself every day and make a promise to yourself that you will check in with you every day. Just as you would invest time in a friendship, making time to call your friend and find out how she’s doing, or give extra love and support during a rough time, you can do the same with yourself. Truly, you are your own best friend. My thing is warm baths, with flower essences, epsom salts and essential oils. This is my Humpty Dumpty cure, and it works every time!

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection” –  Buddha

Feature Image: Artwork by Regina Lord.

Read more about What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Azriel ReShel

Writer, Editor, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator




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40 Responses to How to Hold Space for Yourself

  1. So you only just felt the need to learn how to be there for yourself so you could expand your capacity to be there for others.

    Why not just be there for yourself just for you.

    Take better care off yourself because of you..out of selflove.

    Starting any lesson.. here the lesson to take better care off yourself because…should be done just for yourself because you deserve it.
    But starting the lesson so you can take better care off others doesn’t sound like you are doing it out of selflove..But only so people can ask more off you.

    Maybe it’s the way it’s written.. But I believe you can only share love after you truly and completely love yourself and do the things you do for yourself. It’s not selfish to put yourself first.

  2. This article is so timely – right now all the spiritual “leaders” are talking about self-love and self-care as time speeds up we have to be our #1 priority, saying NO and not being overwhelmed, parenting ourselves – being who we needed when we were young. YOU and YOU alone are the MOST IMPORTANT person in the world – take care of yourself, so you do have some left over to share. Love and light to all!

  3. I usually find it difficult to say no to helping others even when I’m tired. Now I know I have to spend more time with myself.

  4. Read RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by TARA BRACH. with a cup a tea then read this Holding Space and journal.
    Enlightening and thank you.

  5. Great article, except I have hit 45 and don’t like who I am and my behaviours towards others. Very self aware, struggle to put in place clear boundaries and to give love to others. I have to do the inner work first.

    • Every moment is a chance for you to make a new choice, walk into a new vibration of love, healing, compassion for YOURSELF. Loving yourself first and foremost and letting all the other go and transmute is what is happening now with the energy on earth. Ask for help if you need it, find a mentor, follow some wonderful people. Lee Harris Energy is my favorite. Also follow Higher Frequencies, Ask-Angels.com with Melanie Beckler – all on FB – there are many more. Also looking to see positive uplifting thoughts and articles on my feed. Best of everything to you.

  6. I will try to remember to practice self love everyday! And to carry peace in my heart, be kind and will work soo much harder in holding judgement.. even if just in my thoughts. Loved the advice.

  7. Great article. Puts the biblical script Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and love thy neighbour as thyself into great perspective.

  8. It was a very good read. It’s a shame she wrote such a judgmental comment about Frida Kahlo. “Who would have thought…?” Why not? Who says that what is natural for a person is uncool? Why does she allude to that? Where is her acceptance of the other? Good article tainted by an unkind comment.

  9. Not sure what all to say, as this hits many issues. I took care of my mom for six years, ( got my maximum caregiver cert three days after she passed so that did not work) and saved her life 3 times. Dived in the river and saved 3 others, spent all I have for medical cost on several others, and now stating over at 64. I help with the community as all are elderly, I have worked on special technology, but when it comes time to be there, you need to be there to help. This is the difference. So, this article is great, as it makes this point

    All the Best TO Everyone.

  10. Great article….. one place where I felt a bit resistant was with your comment about Frida Kahlo. Studying her work and life at art school gave me immeasurable appreciation for her courage and gifts. I felt your words about her were somehow superficial; that the blazing spirit of this amazing woman and artist who had survived seemingly unendurable pain in her accident, as well as living in a culture and times of male machismo had been misrepresented. Frida was far from being ‘cool’ – her passion to live and fulfil her artistic gifts still blazes and flares for those who love her art.

  11. Very timely although it’s after the fact. Going through a situation where I gave everything and could actually feel the life being sucked out of me by the very person I gave all my time and effort.

  12. Thank you for this beutaiful article. But why should one realize all these things before the age of 45?! 😀 It’s completely possible, very satisfying and fun to start understanding and paying attention to these kinds of wonderful things – and getting a happy, rich and self respecting life – after that, too 🙂

  13. #8 is the one i try my best but hope&wish child absorb in the right&good anger. I also like the last #9 encourage me and indeed that you are your own best friend. And good the wrap up last sentense.

  14. I’ve heard this message in various forms, but this presentation has captured my imagination. I am compelled to take stock of my own self-care and make some changes and enhancements. Thank you.

  15. GREAT article! I’m going to save and re read daily for awhile. Very helpful and calming- the best on this topic I’ve ever read. Thank you so much for this.

  16. I have struggled for years to understand prayer in a more authentic way, not an external beseeching of a deity to grant my wishes, but connecting with that great mystery of life. This has me on the road to creating such a reality in my life. Thank you.

  17. Hello, I would like to know who created the image of the lady watering the flowers growing out of her back. I would like to get permission to use the image. Please in box me at Diana Simpson-Hinds.

    • if one wakes up at 45, best to assume you will wake up at 75 or even 95… maybe more. considering that I’m the only person that will always be with me, I best get focused on being one who gives me joy, respect, humor., and being outlandish at times. Otherwise there would likely be little or no pleasure in life. “Aging well” is a gift that can only comes from within.

  18. Thank you for sharing this. I tend to put myself last, become resentful and unhappy. It’s like there is nothing left for me. Hopefully, this will help!

  19. Am I the only one who find this article leading to other 9 “How to” things?
    The 9 points is somewhat confusing in practical.

    • If you are doing mindfulness based stress reduction practice, you will leaen how to apply this. I do this with my clients over 8 weeks and only then give them this powerful confirmation of this article

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