If you’re not yet familiar with the term “holding space,” it means to support someone as they move through an emotionally challenging experience—ideally, allowing them to have their full experience without interrupting them.
One of the things I see happen over and over again, between friends, family, or even coaching relationships, is the behavior of one person doing a lot of ‘helping’ or advice-giving to the other.
People like this usually mean well. They love you. They see you in distress and they want to problem solve so that you’re no longer feeling ‘bad.’ Most are coming from a place of sincere kind-heartedness. Others simply enjoy hearing themselves give advice because it strokes their own ego. 😉
I imagine you’ve probably encountered someone like this, or maybe you notice that you do those behaviors yourself sometimes? I know I’ve certainly done both! I think most of us have. It’s okay. We have good intentions.
I want to propose a somewhat radical, different way of approaching a loved one in distress.
Don’t do anything.
Just sit and listen, and listen wholeheartedly. Be a loving container for them to process whatever they’re going through without you interfering in that process. Even if you have the ‘perfect’ solution for their problem, and you know that “if they would just listen to you then their life would be so much better…” Nope. None of that. You just sit there and you hold space for them to experience whatever they are experiencing.
When you do this, you honor their process. You honor whatever time it takes for them to figure it out. You honor their tears. You honor their darkness. Love them so fiercely, so compassionately, so lovingly that they know you are a safe space for them to be themselves, and that whatever they are experiencing is welcomed. Remind them that they are going to be able to move through it, because they have all the answers they need within.
If you’re like me, you may find this incredibly hard to do! After all, you can see so clearly what they should do. How many times have we all said, “Gosh, If they would just ________, then everything would be great.” It’s often perceived that we can easily solve other people’s problems. And it is true that you aren’t in the emotional place they are in, and you’re not as close to the issue, so you naturally have more calmness and perspective…
There is a very important reason to shut the heck up and just hold space for your loved ones—when you tell someone what to do, you are actually taking some of their power away. I know. I know. You think you’re empowering them with your new, genius information that will immediately solve all their woes… But the truth is, they are now relying on you rather than on themselves. This may help momentarily, but not in the long run. The most helpful thing you can do for someone is to remind them that they have all of the answers they need inside of themselves, and that they are resourceful and capable. When you believe in them, they begin to believe in themselves, and when they believe in themselves, their energy shifts and their own answers come forth from within them. Now, that is empowering! They are solving their own problems. They came up with the solution. They are the ones making the decisions for their own lives. This is the moment when you get to see them truly rise in their own power.
You held space for them to work it out themselves. You honored their process (no matter how messy). You believed in them, and helped them believe in themselves. There is no greater gift.