What it Means to Hold Space for Someone

By Heather Plett on Saturday August 17th, 2019

Image: Smallville

The Transformative Effect of 'Being There' for Others

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.

“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 hereThe author with her mother.

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.

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.

Alt text hereLearning to hold space for others. Image: Aarón Blanco Tejedor

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.

What I Learned about Holding Space for Others

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

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.

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.

Don’t take their power away–empower them instead. 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.

Try to 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.

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.

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. Image: Justin Follis

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 the 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.

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.

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




My Water Fasting Experience




Bless the Space Between Us

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322 Responses to What it Means to Hold Space for Someone

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that Rebai. Yes, it certainly does take practice, but it’s great that you are aware and something I’ve discovered about holding space is, it can be as simple as listening to someone without interrupting them or even offering advice. Wishing you all the best moving forward 💗

      Team UPLIFT

  6. 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.

  7. I really dont know how hospice nurses do it. They are Angels. They patiently guide us through the unknown… Its awful. Yet they tell us frankly but kindly what we need to know.. No one wants to know these things or declare them to someone else! Yet they do it day after day & I’m certain they’re not paid enough.
    I flat out called my husbands hospice nurse a lying bitch when she told me he probably wouldn’t be here for an appt scheduled 2 days from then.. He was gone to Our Father the next morning. I’m greatful to her that I could prepare. She prayed over his body… I’m greatful to her. Thank you for holding space Victoria! You are an Angel😇

    • Thank you for this very real and honest share Mary. Grief is huge and affects us all in different ways, which is why holding space for each other is so important. So we can feel loved, accepted and safe, no matter what we are feeling.

      My deepest sympathy for the loss of your husband. I hope your heart is healing.
      Much love and thanks for reading <3

      Team UPLIFT

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  15. Loved this article! I have been learning to hold space for some time, but I know it struggle with certain people, ususally those closet to me who I have more attachment to. This article is brilliant and so very helpful! Thank you so much! Clearly, many people are benefiting from it. Much love,

  16. Thank you so much for this inspiring article, dear Heather. I translated the first para under “What Does it Mean to ‘Hold Space’ for Someone Else?” into German and put it into my newsletter (my readers are therapists and coaches in the area of Energy Psychology) and put a link to the original text. I am very much touched by the picture of you and your mother. Thank you so much for sharing such an intimate moment. With kind regards from Cologne, Germany.

  17. You continue to impress me more and more with your knowledge, creativity and engaging coursework. Some people brighten up the room with their presence–you are one of them and even manage to do so even from a distance. Thank you for your guidance, wisdom and compassion as I continue this doctoral journey; you aren’t just helping me learn, you make me a better person.

  18. 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.

    • I can totally relate Walid – it’s definitely not easy! But it’s truly wonderful that you keep trying… all we can do is our best 🙂

      Much love,
      Team UPLIFT

  19. I have someone who needs this “holding of space” so badly and as a “fixer” I have been very cautious not to take over. This article helps immensely; only I wish I had a step by step plan as I am so concerned about my abilities. I told her I cannot take her pain away but she may ‘dump it at my feet’ whenever she needs to. I am a good listener. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt comment, we’re sending love and healing to your friend, and strength to you. Remember to take care of yourself too.

      Team UPLIFT <3

  20. Our friends our relatives need us at some moment of life, it’s our duty that we hold that space and do not disappoint them, this article explores all those moments with wonderful description, what a way to describe the relationship, hats off to Upliftconnect, lots of respect from

  21. Holding space is like willing to stay along with your friend or the person you know in whatever journey they are in without asking a question, it’s like just be with them make them feel special. What an article this is thank you for this awesome piece of work

  22. 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.

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  28. Sorry for your loss it must be hell for you and your family. Holding space for another person is incredibly profound. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presentation to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go.Best Free Dating Apps is dating app created for me so that people can share love.

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  30. Genuinely holding space for someone in the way you described it is probably the greatest service you can provide for them as well as yourself. It can be challenging to just hold the space without trying to influence or fix any part of the situation. All you are trying to do is create a space of safety where the other person/people can fully experience the situation and learn whatever lessons are there for them. There is always so much learning and growth being offered in these situations to all parties.

  31. very interesting post,im on the process,i do relate,my hubby had failure in marriage since 2005,all just civil in the house,all knows what transpired,even my kidz,i worked it out since then,NOW,ive decided to have graceful exit wd him,and have talked ,i want to work for my own and to our youngest daughter…SPACE yeah i need SPACE wd him and to his siblings,WHY? its all nonsense humiliating my life…old days GOODBYES >new days ahead good luck wd my youngst daughter and its FINAL,thanks GOD…

  32. How do you grieve , your children who are still alive. My 14 year old taken by her father at 18 months I had a breakdown when my dad died and they took mine 23 month old daughter I was in a domestic violent relationship and they took my 8 month old son he is now 5 and so I can only see him twice a year now I feel my children it is like to have been kidnapped stolen or have day and big chunks of me have died fighting for them all for 12 years no family no friends no partner, last one, abused and assaulted bashed me in assaulted me great

    • You keep grieving as life goes on, because the only way out is through, through all the sadness, through all the darkness, through all the days away from your kids until you can hold them again… and until then, send them cards and letters every chance you get, and let them know that they are deeply loved by someone who didn’t have any other choice but is showing up anyway.

  33. This is all well and good, but i have a serious question. Why would you need someone to hold space with you if you are uplifted/enlightened/awakened?. One who is enlightened does not know sadness, life simply is as it is. It is often through hardship, suffering and harshness that people awaken. As one who awakened this way i have to ask, why shelter someone? if he cries he has yet to wake and if he is awake then he knows no sadness, why tiptoe around people if this will not help them?

    • One person ever was enlightened and he didn’t even claim enlightenment.
      Have you forgotten that you are human? How do the people close to you feel about that?

  34. This is so, so beautiful. Holding space can be so tough when you have your own triggers that rise to the surface.. Needed to read your article, thank you.

  35. Beautifully written and expressed with wisdom, courage, honesty, thoughtfulness, respect and great humility too. All the qualities needed to truly hold space for another. At reading this article for which I am grateful btw!, I realised my mother never really was able to hold space for me or even give a word of love, never touched me nor cuddled me and now that she is older, it’s extremely difficult to give her what she never gave. Layers after layers of forgiveness, when I manage to be totally connected into Oneness and Love I can become a facilitator for her (guides speaking though my hollow bone) but i personally don’t feel able to listen to her negativity rumbling into self created (ego) issues that are avoidable and would make her to constantly slip back into the ‘human drama’. I’ve honoured her progress along the years -well, being a healer herself gives extra response*ability, no?- forgiven her all the trauma induced and at the same time feeling that I am no longer willing to get my frequency constantly lowered and then I carry something that can hurt my son and has negative ripples effects.
    Holding the space is something Sacred and the person in front of you has to allow as well. Doing it for many other people including beloved son ever since he was born and we both went though a lot… Thank you for all the insights! Namaste.

  36. This article definitely resonates with me!
    It’s such an amazingly impactful opportunity to get to be “holding space” and to receive such consideration. Once individual power and pace are granted and honored; growth is inevitable! So beautiful.
    I found that specific part about not overwhelming loved ones with too much information, to be a lovely personal reminder.
    Thank you for the share. 1ove

  37. I like this article, but I wish there were more concrete examples. I seem to understand abstract ideas better via practical application. Thanks for writing this!

  38. Beautiful article…The reason this has come about is because many families don’t know how to do this. They don’t know how to be a family and be there for each other without competition but be a real supportive brother or sister no matter what. Parents need to model and talk about this. and so we begin to learn new ways like holding a space……Thank you

  39. Dude! Awesome stuff. Please keep writing more things like this. I really like the fact you went so in depth on this and really explored the topic as much as you did. I read a lot of blogs but usually, it’s pretty shallow content. Thanks for upping the game here!

  40. This gives me something to aspire to in dealing with the separation from my husband. Depression has a hold on him and he blames me and he moved out. We have a wonderful life that he can’t see. But I can hold space for him to get the help he needs and pray for positive outcomes. Thank you for an uplifting article!

  41. Simply surrendering to thy EGO and that’s not easy for me to do as only human so I fall back sometimes on minute by minute daily practice & prayer thou always I’m fulfilled by spirit when able to hold that sacred space for another! Namaste’

  42. In 2011 my wifes Father had a massive stroke. I was his primary caretaker at the time as he was living with us and I had just retired. The afternoon before he passed our 7 young grandaughters stood around his bed to say goodbye. The oldest, who was about 6 said a prayer for all the girls and ended it with “Grandpa we love you and its ok to go and be with grandma”. She said what all of the adults wanted to.

  43. I find this very difficult to take on board. I would go to the ends of the earth to help my dearest friend in either a practical or emotional way when I could see her struggling. It’s the worst betrayal leaving them to fend for themselves getting deeper and deeper entrenched whether it be hoarding, illness et al. Some things are then past help all too late. So sad.

  44. Thank you so much for writing this article!! I am a nurse in a doctors practice and was aware of what all the above meant and as you said, we all hold spaces for people but may not be aware of it but your guidance and advice has been wonderful to read. I am studying angelic healing and crystals etc and this article is of great benefit. I will share it on our practice nurse website in Ireland. Thank you again for you are a light for us all xx love and light

  45. I have pending death and I have been socially a defect I hope that I will carry this with me through The upcoming mission I saved it to refer back to it all of the steps are outstanding thank you so much

  46. Very powerful and healing thoughts in this article. It is such a new way of thinking, as our culture teaches us to be doers and fixers. At least that’s how I have functioned most of my life. Tryi g to learn a new way. This very helpful.

  47. Remembering that caring for others is a journey for both parties. If I move too quickly or my client moves too quickly, we run the risk of closing the space we have opened together. Thank you for the article and reminder that I am enough and I need to slow down so my client can move forward.

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

  49. “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.

  50. 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!

  51. 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.

    • I’m sorry for the loss of your mum back then and how you felt..I went through that with my sister as her carer, as she passed in April 17..I feel sadness of not being more like a sister, then trying to save her life in a panic, even though she was terminal..My heart is in pieces, as I wish we had that time again. We had no idea it was so quick..from Dec 2016 till April 2017 she was gone at 47.
      I’m sorry your gong through this now..My thoughts are with you..

  52. 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

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

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

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

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

    • 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…

      • 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.

      • Terrific advice,- for the most part. Al-Anon, however, is not evidence-based. For this and other various reasons, it is not effective for everyone.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  63. 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

  64. 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 !

  65. 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.

  66. 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?

    • I’m curious–you posted this quite awhile ago–did the situation you describe resolve in a helpful fashion for you? (I am hoping so.)

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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?!

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. 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!????

  74. “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:

  75. 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. 🙂

  76. 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!!

    • You seem to be such a kind person with clear mind. And what I like most about you is your way of writing.
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  77. 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.

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

    • 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’.

    • 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.

      • 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!

        • 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!

        • 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.

        • 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.

          • Ask for consent before relating. It’s that simple, yall. Ask, “mind if I share a story of a similar experience?” And then wait for a genuine response before you do. Don’t accept a half hearted shrug or nod as a yes. Ask again. Is that what they want? If not, just ask, “what do you need? If you need me to just hold space for you right now, I’m here for you.”

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

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

    • 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.

    • 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 .

  78. 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

  79. 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………

  80. 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.

  81. This is an incredible reminder of our capacity to support others lovingly….

  82. 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.

  83. 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.

  84. 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!

  85. 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.

  86. 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.

  87. 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.

  88. 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.

  89. 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

  90. 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!

  91. 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!

      • 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!

    • “…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,…”

      Thank you for sharing.your timeless, eloquent wisdom to complement this important piece.

  92. 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.

  93. 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.

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

  95. 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

  96. 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..

  97. 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.

    • 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).

  98. 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.

  99. 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.

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

  101. 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.

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

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

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

    • Like i said my heart has always been clean n true for you i cant even think how life is gona be with out you n how im gona live it with out you by my side

    • Hi, P. I don’t know you or what you’re going through. But I am holding the space for you. I’ve been feeling depressed the past few weeks. And loneliness comes hand in hand with depression. But in my lowest moments I would close my eyes and think of all the people out there who’s feeling what I’m feeling. We are not alone in our struggle. x

    • It takes practice for sure! Wish I were a pro right now as my kids face some truly traumatic times. 🙁

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