Holding space for someone is a concept relatively new to me. I’ve done some version of this for many years with being a support group leader in the pregnancy and infant loss community as well as the leader of The Beautiful Scar Project.
Confession#1: this is not something that comes naturally to me.
Hear me out before you judge.
Confession #2: I’m a fixer.
When someone comes to me with a problem/irritation/annoyance/frustration etc I simply want to fix it and make it better. I want to give you ALL the advice. Tell you ALL the things. I’m very wordy (hello, super long blog posts – sorry, y’all) and as I’m listening to whomever is in front of me telling me about whatever is vexing them, I go into FIX IT MODE. I’m like that show, Fixer Upper, but I want to demo the problems, give you all the solutions to make it pretty, reveal the gorgeousness I’ve helped create and walk away feeling accomplished with the work.
Problem is, that’s super annoying and can almost be insulting as if I’m insinuating that the person I’m speaking with isn’t wise enough to do the heavy lifting of mending themselves. Sometimes people just need you to hold space for them – meaning they just need you to sit with them, in the messiness and without judgement and to just listen. Actively listen. They need you to donate your ears and your heart without wanting anything back in return. They need you to give them the gift of your presence, filled with empathy and compassion, and allow them to pour out their pain in a safe environment.
How in the actual do you put this into practice? I’ve been learning about this for a little while now so allow me to bring you into my journey.
I’ve been a grieving parent for almost 11 years now and throughout my grief journey I’ve learned some things. Things that worked for me, things that didn’t. Things that were helpful and things that weren’t. I’ve collected stories from other Grief Warriors, memories of my own battered journey, things I’ve clung to for survival and ways I began to thrive again. When people reach out to me about grief (remember, I’m the Grief Girl as I’ve affectionally began to call myself) I often catch myself wanting to verbally vomit all of the things I’ve learned and experienced in an effort to provide a path for the newly bereaved to begin their journey. It comes from a good place, I promise, but over the years I’ve come to learn that it simply isn’t helpful. What the person typically in front of me, on the phone with me, or on the internet is truly needing is to have space held for them – to have a container in which to pour out their pain. When learning about this concept I began digging further into it and found a phenomenal quote that helped me begin to grapple with what it means to truly hold space for another: “holding space – it’s like creating a metaphorical bucket for someone to emotionally and verbally vomit into.” – Connor Beaton
This visual, while visceral in nature, gave me the perfect starting point with which to practice holding space for others. I got a call from a sweet mama on the way to the hospital to delivery her beloved baby who no longer had a heartbeat. The cracking in her voice, the rawness of her guttural sobs as she went about the task of asking me how to find a service provider to take care of her baby sent me into panic mode. Make sure to tell her this, I wanted to remind myself while she was baring her broken heart and telling me her story. I wasn’t trying to not listen to her, I simply wanted to remember all of the things I wanted to tell her. I caught myself being distracted and stopped myself mid thought to return to present and actually hear what she was saying to me. When I did this, I had to fight every urge my brain had to start compiling anecdotes, resources, and advice and lean into the words she was saying to me about the horror she had found herself in mere hours ago. I had to step back, close my mouth, listen with my heart and my ears and create a safe space over the phone where I wasn’t trying to fix anything or influence the outcome. I had to learn to stop making it about me and make it about her and her experience.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to work through a series of about holding space for yourself, your partner as well as anyone else that may be in your orbit that craves space be held for them. We’ll talk about tangible ways to hold space, lessons learned from blowing it and how to put this delicate concept into practice. In no way am I an expert in this – I’m simply learning and challenging myself to do better. One of my oldest friends called me this morning about a friend of hers who had lost a baby today and I found myself sliding backwards on this holding space journey and doing more talking than listening. My dear, sweet, funny, wise, beautiful friend held true to what she believed was right for her friend despite my best efforts to commandeer the conversation and once again I found myself feeling like I had blown it.
We’re all just trying to know better so we can do better, friends. Let’s tackle this together; no judgement, just grace upon grace. We can learn new things; we can do hard things. We can figure this out together.