I recently came across a wonderful article about holding space and felt it worthy of sharing. The author, Heather Plett, recounts her mother’s last days, how she and her siblings support their mother, and how their palliative care nurse, in turn, supported them. In Heather’s words, the palliative care nurse “was much more than what can fit in the title of ‘palliative care nurse.’ She was facilitator, coach, and guide.”
What the palliative care nurse was doing was holding space for Heather and her family. What does this mean, to “hold space”? In a nutshell, it means being willing to journey with a person without judgment, without trying to fix them, and without trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for others, our hearts are open, our support unconditional. When we hold space for others, we let go of judgment and control. We step aside so that they can make their own choices, while we help them feel safe, even when they make mistakes.
Oftentimes, we can hold space for someone, while another holds space for us. Holding space is something we can all do for each other – our partners, family, neighbors, even strangers! Here are eight tips to holding space for others. I think they are all beautiful.
- Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
Often, we intuitively know what needs to be done in a difficult situation. When holding space for another, let their intuition and accumulated wisdom guide them through their process.
- Give people only as much information as they can handle.
There is often no need to present the entire “elephant” at once, even if you know what it all looks like. Share whatever part of the “elephant” they are ready to address so that they are not overwhelmed (or, at least not more overwhelmed than they probably already are).
- Don’t take their power away.
This can leave them feeling useless and incompetent. As someone holding space, our job is not to take over, but rather to offer support and help them feel empowered in making the decisions that are best for them.
- Keep your own ego out of it.
This may be the most difficult to follow, and yet, it is so important. To truly support someone and hold space for them, we need to keep our own ego out of the way and create space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.
- Make them feel safe enough to fail.
By withholding judgment and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage they need to take risks, as well as the resilience to keep going even when they fail.
- Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
As Heather says, “a wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance and when to offer it gently.” Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility. It is a careful dance that we all must navigate when holding space for other people.
- Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
Help the person for whom you are holding space feel that they are being held in a deeper way than they are used to, so that they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions surface that might normally remain hidden.
- 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 result in them making choice we would not make. When we hold space, we release control and we honor differences.
To read Heather Plett’s full article: Holding Space