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There was probably never a time I needed strong friend support more than when I was going through my divorce.
To say I was emotionally explosive and angry at my life is an understatement.
When I needed emotional support, it seemed I would get two responses:
1. Crickets. Friends seemed to disappear when I wanted to talk.
2. Those who were around looked visibly uncomfortable with my emotions. They wanted to fix it or convince me to look at the positive.
Although I know that my friends loved me, I realized they just didn’t know how to be with these uncomfortable emotions—let alone be with someone else who is experiencing them—which is why we hide this until we get to therapy.
The impact was that outside of therapy, I felt more isolated and alone. I felt like my feelings were either unacceptable or too much for others.
I realized that I had always done the same things with friends too. It was awful to think that I had offered support that might have been more damaging. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to be a better friend too, so I started asking myself, “What is offering good support or holding space?”
It’s actually amazingly easier than I ever thought. I was making it harder and scarier than it needed to be. Maybe you are too.
Holding space isn’t about changing anything for the other person. It’s about offering them space to be heard and seen. Allowing them the permission to fall into their authenticity and work through their emotions.
Holding Space is simply staying grounded enough to allow someone else to have the dignity of their own process—whatever that is.
Here are some easy-peasy tips to keep handy.
Usually, your words aren’t required. Holding space is about listening. It may not seem complicated, but there are a whole lot of things we do that aren’t listening. Keep reading.
Suspending our judgment can be tricky, but holding space isn’t about judgment or offering opinions or advice. Adding judgment to their already overwhelmed emotional state can shut them down rather than open them up so they can let go of the emotion.
Protect your emotional body.
This was hard for me at first because I thought I was being a good friend by going down their emotional roller coaster with them. Solid support witnesses the ride but doesn’t actually go with them. See a bubble of protection or armor to keep yourself from falling down the emotional hole yourself.
This is as much for them as it is for you. We can feel when someone is caving in to our emotional state and it can feel unsafe—or that they now have to caretake us.
Do not try to fix anything.
Our egos can easily think, “Oh I have the answer for this.” You don’t. Even if you do, offering the answer doesn’t allow them their process. If they want something fixed, they can ask for something specific. Let them ask rather than assume.
Do not try to change their state.
This is a big oops from me. When things got tense, I used to tell jokes. I wanted to lighten the mood or change the person’s emotional state. While it can make us more comfortable, it doesn’t hold space for the other person in a good way. We need to allow them to have feelings so they don’t stuff them.
Ask them, “What can I do to support you right now?”
If they know, they’ll probably tell you. If they don’t, hold the space. Just asking lets them know that you are available and willing. Often, there just isn’t anything we can do except go through it.
Do not relate (unless they want you to).
#MeToo was a great movement, but holding space isn’t about sharing stories. It can feel like we are usurping their pain and emotions just to talk about ourselves. We all know how that feels. Of course, if they ask about your experience, you can share it.
Remember to breathe deeply.
Not only will it help you stay more grounded in your own state, but breathing deeply will also encourage the person you are holding space for to breathe too. Deep breaths can help us get more centered and keep the other person more centered as well.
I also highly suggest that you do something to clear your emotional energy when you are done. You can use your hands to brush off the energy, take a bath, or do whatever it is that you do to keep your energy clear.
It’s important we learn how to hold space so that we can support people in good ways that allow them to have their process and have their feelings validated.
The good news is that you aren’t required to fix or change anything. This is a relief. It lowers your responsibilities and opens you up to really being with them.
You are simply there to hold the observer energy in that sacred space of being authentically human.