Holding space with someone is one of the most important gifts we can give to the people we love and care about when they are experiencing profound loss, pain, or suffering.
And yet, so many times we fail to do this.
We turn to our inner fixers. We try to jump in and “save” the person in our efforts to comfort them while offering up our lackluster solutions.
What I am learning through the work I do with my coaching clients is that people just want a safe space to unravel, to reveal what scares them, and to share what gets in their way. Simply meeting them right where they are at, with no effort to try to fix or change their situation, is the most supportive thing we can do.
I have experienced this first hand within my friendships as well.
I can think of a recent time in my life where I felt fear over a health situation that presented itself with many unknowns. I really wanted to talk to a friend about it.
The friend I chose to share it with was someone I have always felt immense safety to be vulnerable. She is somebody who truly listens and offers an empathetic, warm and trusting space to be me, even when my emotions are messy and are all over the place.
Think about it. You are not going to share your fears, your pain, your soul, with someone who does not really listen. If you find yourself repeating the thing that is already very hard to discuss, or find that your vulnerability is met with unwanted solutions,
Oftentimes when someone jumps in to their inner fixer mode, it is usually because they themselves are feeling very uncomfortable. Naturally, the desire to take away the pain triggers them into fixing mode. However, for people who hold space, they understand that while the moment is uncomfortable, it is real, and it deserves to be let out.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone is vulnerably coming to you, remember these essential steps in holding space:
1. Notice their vulnerability as a sign of their trust with you. Celebrate this fact in your mind for a moment, and really take stock of how important it is that you show up right now in this moment fully for your friend.
2. Remember this is not about you. As uncomfortable as it might be that someone you love and care about is completely unraveling before you, remember step #1. By them coming to, it is a sign of their trust in you. They need some major love and compassion right now. Be there for them.
3. Offer your comforting ear and really listen. Hear their pains. Hear that worries. Hear their sadness. Whatever is coming up through their physical state or words, just simply notice it. Be in the space with your friend.
4. When they are completely done speaking, say things like:
- “I hate that you are going through this right now.”
- “You are loved more than you know.”
- “I am here with you.”
- Nothing at all. (Yep, sometimes just being there, offering a hug, and sitting through the silence is absolutely everything.)
5. Ask how you can help. Do not do this until the very end of holding space. Remember, holding space is about really being with your friend in the moment they are needing you most where you are the listener and they are free to be. Sometimes we resort to the statement “let me know what you need” when we find out someone is going through a tough time. We can do better than that. Ask your friend specifically what you can do or how you can support them. And more likely than not, the safe space you provide with your friend will be the very thing they want and need most from you.