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The Art of Holding Space for Others

26 April 2015

For those on a spiritual path of awakening, it can be hard sometimes to really just be there for friends; particularly when they are not in a good place.

When others are stuck or depressed it can be hard to stay with them energetically, as we may fear getting sucked into their feelings. Yet these are the times when they need us the most.

The most beneficial and authentic way we can still be there for them, even if on different continents, is by actively "holding space" for them. And we need to do this in an empathetic way.

That is, by being there for them, empathising with whatever they are feeling and not trying to fix them. By that I mean, we let them know we can hear they are struggling, that we are willing to try and understand their pain. We may reflect back to them when they tell us how stuck or difficult things feel and we acknowledge their suffering.

We may also, if it feels appropriate, ask one or two gentle questions about what they are feeling, for example: "What are you feeling right now?""How does that make you feel?" But even these need to be kept to a minimum.

Remember: Holding Space is not a therapy session. And yet if we do it well it can be enormously beneficial and healing for others.

We can feel frustrated and the urge to fix can kick in when we see a friend struggling or stuck; it is always so tempting to say what has worked for you, etc. But this response tends to create a tension between you, due to the pressure felt by the other to "hurry" them through their feelings or period of stuckness.

And, crucially, it takes away the gold within their struggle. By that I mean, our struggle, our stuckness, our depression or fear, all hold valuable gifts for us. There is always light within them: lessons to be learned and healing taking place. It certainly doesn't feel that way at the time, but it is happening as part of that individual's unique path to growth. So when we view it in this way, we can see it is actually quite harmful to try to fix someone else.

Holding Space is an art form and one that does require practice. It does come to some more easily than others, but everyone can learn the skills involved in doing this and regularly practise them.

Some of the key elements of this practice include:

  • Viewing ALL emotions as information including the so-called "difficult" ones, e.g. anger, rage, fear, grief
  • Being able to sit in uncomfortable emotions - our own and others - without trying to suppress, ignore or fix them
  • Being sensitive to others' personal boundaries and not overstepping these by offering solutions and fixes.

Holding a "psychological container of support" in this way, is a fully-engaged form of patience with others and much like what the horses continually do for us.

I often think to myself: "be like the horse" when I am with someone who is in some intense emotions. Horses don't try to fix, they just stay there, breathing deeply and allow the person themselves to find their own answers; their own truth.

By giving people time and space to do this, they find the courage to dive more deeply into their intense feelings, emotions or stuckness; thereby finding their own gold. And finding their own way back out. Now that is empowering...

Believe me, they will thank you for it and probably offer you the same in return when they are feeling stronger. Conversely, if you try to fix too often, you'll probably find yourself with a steadily declining pool of friends or clients...

© Angela Dunning, 26 April 2015

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