What does it mean to “hold space” for someone?

We hear the term “hold space” a lot these days. I use it myself all the time. MindBodyGreen.com defines “holding space” as being present with someone without judgement. This definition is certainly true, but when I use the term in Redefining Love, I’m applying the principles of boundaries, accountability, and grace to it as well.

Holding space with boundaries

In Redefining Love, I define boundaries as determining the space we take up in the world. In order to do this, we must “hold space” for ourselves first. This allows us to create healthy boundaries so we can offer the most effective and healthy support to others who are hurting.

If we try “holding space” for others without first determining our own space (a.k.a. boundaries), then we run the risk of being consumed by the other person’s grief or becoming co-dependent, unable to honor and recognize our needs in the midst of caring for others. Essentially, without first holding space for ourselves, we get lost in the other person.

Holding space with accountability

As with all the Redefining Love principles, when holding space with accountability, we must look inward towards ourselves as well as outward towards others. This means looking inside ourselves and asking some hard questions:

How does this situation feel in my body? Does this person’s struggle trigger my own trauma response?

Am I emotionally equipped to help carry the weight of this struggle?

What do I need to hold onto for my own sake in the midst of supporting this other person? How much space do I have for this other person without sacrificing my own mental health?

And – if the person we are supporting is someone we are in close relationship with – we must also ask if we have contributed to their struggle. This is a hard exploration, but necessary for our own healing, as well as our ability to show up in a healthy way for the other person.

Are you able to maintain healthy boundaries and hold the space you need for yourself while supporting this person through their struggle?

Once you’ve determined that you are ready to hold space for someone else, we also need to stay balanced with the space that we hold for them.

There’s a temptation when supporting others through pain and anguish to make allowances for behaviors we may otherwise not accept. We cannot give into this temptation.

Just because someone is hurting doesn’t give them a right to behave hurtfully towards others. We aren’t offering healthy support if we are making exceptions of our own boundaries and needs.

Holding space with grace

This is perhaps the “classic” type of holding space. We allow people to process all the big, hard feelings without judgement.

This seems like a simple concept, but if you haven’t done the internal work with boundaries and accountability, it can be very difficult.

Have you ever gone through something really hard, and somehow you end up comforting other people even though you are the one who has suffered the loss or heartbreak?

Suddenly, your grief and struggle feels like a burden, and you feel guilty every time you bring it up. Somehow, the other person is in tears and you’re reassuring them, “It’s okay,” when inside you don’t feel okay at all.

This happens when well-intentioned people offer support, but they haven’t done the work of holding space for themselves. They aren’t aware of what space they need, what their boundaries are, or how your loss is triggering their own issues. And suddenly, without meaning to, they have burdened another person with their own unresolved trauma.

In order to truly hold space with grace, we must first establish what space we take up in the world – which is boundaries – and hold ourselves and the other person accountable. This establishes balance – your trauma is yours, theirs is theirs. Now you can show up and hold space in a meaningful way.

And when we do this, we are not only giving grace to the other person, but also to ourselves. Which in turn allows us to do what is best for ourselves. Sometimes, that looks like sitting with someone in their grief. But sometimes not…

“Holding space” isn’t just about listening to someone’s story.

During the accountability process, if you discover that you simply do not have the bandwidth or the emotional distance to sit with the person in their grief, it doesn’t mean you can’t hold space for them.

Perhaps there are other ways you can offer support, such as helping them find a counselor or offering to watch their kids while they take some time for themselves. Maybe it means preparing meals for them, or sending them affirmations texts every day. Grief, sadness, and heartache can feel very lonely. Sometimes just knowing someone is thinking of us makes all the difference.

Holding space the Redefining Love way gives us permission to care for ourselves in the midst of other people’s struggles. It relieves the pressure to be all things to all people. And ultimately, when we do that, we are able to help more people in more meaningful, powerful ways.

Learn more

To learn more about the Redefining Love Way, I encourage you to browse the site. Have questions? Feel free to email me at sara@sarabethwald.com, or schedule a free discovery call. 

For more information on how to join the Redefining Love Community, please visit redefine-love.com/coaching.

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