The following is excerpted from an article by Heather Plett, “What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone,” and explains how to be present for someone we observe to be in a difficult situation. What better way to show God we love him, and thank him for designing us to live in close communion with others, than to care for others in times of need?
What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
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, 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 care for Mom, offered to do the difficult tasks, and gave us only as much information as we needed. 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. Since then, I’ve often thought about how Ann 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. Ann was holding space for us.
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.
To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (e.g. trying to fix their problems) or overwhelming them (e.g. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so 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.
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. Every day is an opportunity to hold space for the people around us.
8 Tips to Help You Hold Space for Others
Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
2. Give people only as much information as they can handle.
3. Don’t take their power away.
4. Keep your own ego out of it.
5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
Holding space is not something 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.
The article in its entirety, including explanations of each of the tips listed above, may be found at http://upliftconnect.com/hold-space, and there are hard copies available outside of Elsa’s office.