8 Simple Ways to Help You Hold Space for Others
Here are the lessons I’ve learned from horses, animals (especially my cats and dogs) and other amazing people who have held space for me.
Patience is one of the BIG lessons I constantly grapple with and I say to you what I ask of myself all the time
breath, tread gently on yourself and be kind…..
- Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
When I am “holding space” for families at hospice supporting their loved ones in their final days, they have no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, they each knew what was needed for themselves and the other members of their families. Each family has their own innate knowing of what is required and energetically took up their role in supporting the transition. In a very gentle way, I want each person to trust that there is no right way, that they don’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – rather simply to trust their own intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years they had loved that person leaving.
- Give people only as much information as they can handle.
When I did my first trauma class, Maria, the facilitator 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.
Knowing how much information to give people in times of grief
- 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). Offer support but never try to direct or control anyone in their own process of letting go.
- Be willing to be wrong and keep the ego out of it.
Would you be willing to be wrong and free or right and defending your point of view? What if there is no right or wrong, just choice?
This is a big one. We all get caught in that “fix it my way” 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.
Keep your own ego out of it
- 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). Honoring how the interface between the carers and the one being cared for may feel – a mindful 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.
A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance and when to offer it gently
- 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 “Going with the Flow through the Compass Directions” and the “5 elements feeding cycle” home study I talk often 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.
Show up with tenderness, compassion, and confidence.
The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart
- Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognizing 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.
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.
I believe when we heal the parts of our own psyche through the work like the “Pathways to Purpose – Coming home to your True Nature” 8 week intensive – http://accessurtruenature.com/product/pathways-to-purpose/
only then can we trust that we are the living experience of death and rebirth. That there is a season for all things and it begins and ends with you.