Holding Space for Outrage

By Heather Plett on Wednesday April 4th, 2018

Deepening Relationships with Presence and Acceptance

When my husband and I separated and he moved out of the house, my youngest daughter was 13, and she was, understandably, angry about a situation in which she had no agency to control the outcome. I tried to be present for her in as kind and compassionate a way as I knew how, while still wrestling with the healing work I also needed to do for myself. It was hard–for both of us. I made mistakes.

Finally, after weeks of very little communication between us, I said to her “I know you’re angry. You have every right to be. AND I want you to know that I am prepared to hold your anger. Go ahead–scream at me if you must. Do what you need to do, and know that I will not leave. And I will not throw the anger back at you. I will just hold it for you.”

In that situation, I had to recognize that, as the person with more agency and power, who had contributed to a situation that impacted her, I had to be prepared to receive what would come my way, even if I didn’t entirely deserve it. Even if it hurt. Even if it scared me.

I had to be prepared to hold it and NOT walk away.

The Art of Holding Space

This, too, is what it means to hold space–to create a container that is strong enough to hold rage, grief, fear, pain, etc. We receive what’s ours, heal it, make reparations, and let the rest go. And we don’t walk away (we take care of ourselves, but we don’t walk away.)

Holding spaceHolding space allows another to feel heard and accepted whilst expressing their emotions.

Let’s extrapolate that situation to other situations where there is an imbalance of power and agency. Take, for example, some of the conversations I’ve seen and been part of, both online and off, where there is understandable anger on the part of disenfranchised/marginalized people whose lives are being irrevocably altered by people with more power and agency. Online, I’ve seen it in response to a spiritual teacher who failed to listen when people challenged her to see her blindspots. Offline, I’ve heard it in response to the Colton Boushie and Tina Fontaine murder trials.

For those of us with more power and agency (whether given to us as a ‘birthright’ because of our skin colour, gender, etc., or because we’ve found ourselves in a hierarchically elevated position), can we hold this outrage and pain without walking away? Can we be strong enough to stay in the conversations even if it hurts, even if it scares us, even if we don’t entirely deserve it? Can we receive what’s ours, heal it, and let the rest go?

This, to me, is what reconciliation looks like. Holding space, owning what’s ours, listening deeply, making reparations, and not walking away.

(The good news is that my daughter and I weathered that storm and have a deeper relationship now because of it.)




What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone


How to Release Anger through Mindfulness


Transforming Anger into Compassion

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One Response to Holding Space for Outrage

  1. I understand what it means to hold sacred space for others. I see it as a compassionate witnessing and gentle loving presence to s difficult human experience. I fully agree with the writers ideas of accepting and processing what is yours, but don’t agree it is helpful for the person holding space or the person throwing blame, to accept or take on what is not yours, as the writer says even if you don’t deserve it. Because taking on unwarranted guilt and shame just because the other wants you to only legitimizes inaccurate and misleading projections creating separation rather than intimacy, an us verses them, that feeds and perpetuates mistrust and misunderstanding. It feeds into the victim story and makes the other the perpetrator when they are not. For the person holding the space it is unhealthy to accept blame that is not yours, it blurs your role in holding space. It is allowing oneself to be victimized and loose integrity for the sake of the other to lash out in an unhealthy way that cannot be condoned.

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