It’s a term I probably only really became familiar with a couple of years ago, and one I’m proud to say I’m pretty damn good at.
What does it mean? Put simply just honouring where someone is – giving them a space to truly be themselves and to say and be exactly what they need to.
Now I’m a counsellor, so of course holding space is a big part of the work that I do; the very foundation of my counselling is about giving clients a safe space that is completely theirs to do and talk about whatever they need without judgment.
It sounds like a simple thing I know, but the power and the healing that comes from someone simply listening to you – and from giving yourself the space and the time to be heard too – is pretty damned impressive. Throw in there the other aspects of counselling, coaching and Soul Support (coming soon!) and you’ll find that something pretty special starts to happen, and some bloody big positive changes tend to come about as a result. (Small sales plug – if you’d like to find out for yourself then head to the “work with me” page and get in touch!).
But that space holding is something that doesn’t just happen in my work life… and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for you too.
Because I pride myself on holding space personally too; listening when a friend needs someone, remembering the important details for the next time they come up; stepping back and giving people time to do their own thing and being there to support no matter where that leads. I know I’m not alone in that.
Holding space is something we all do at one time or another for the people we care about – hell, it’s an important part of what turns a connection between two people into the kind of deep bond we all treasure and really need in our lives if we’re going to grow and heal and move forwards.
Those deep connections and beautiful spaces are something we all crave, so it’s no wonder at all that so many of us are so willing to give that connection and that space to others too. Which is wonderful – beautiful even.
But what about when holding space becomes too much?
Last week a friend who works with expectant mothers talked to me about the subject of holding space and how, like me, she not only prides herself on her ability to do that well within her job; but is also passionate about doing that in her personal life too, and giving the people she comes in contact with a safe space to be.
“The problem with that,” she said, “Is that sometimes I need space for me too, and since I only have so much space it can get a little squashed in there until eventually I have to retreat.”
Never a truer word!
Because while I LOVE my job, it does mean there are times in my personal life that I just can't hold that space as much as I'd like to... otherwise time with the people I love becomes a bit of a busman's holiday I guess you could say!
But it's not just counsellors, supporters and professional space holders that counts for; that safe, free and protected space is something we all need from time to time. And while it’s incredibly valuable to have someone hold that space for you, and it’s super important to allow other people to do that for you (the insights that come up when you give the space holding and the protection to another person, leaving you free to concentrate on your own healing and journey for a while can be bloody huge), as with anything when it comes to witnessing and healing, the most important person you can ever hold space for is yourself.
Like so much of self care, it starts by setting heavy boundaries. In this case that’s tough because it doesn’t just mean putting your phone in another room for a few hours; sometimes it means actively telling people in your life that you care about them but can’t be there for them in that moment, even when they’re going through the really tough stuff. That’s not because you don’t care about them or their problems, but because you need to keep yourself strong and well and safe amidst to stay grounded amidst not only their tornado but yours too.
It also means honouring how you really feel in that moment – even if that’s about changing plans or not getting quite so much done in a day that you’d wanted to or felt like you should. Because although holding space for ourselves give us the opportunity to work; that’s not necessarily the kind of work we expected to do or feel like we should be doing…. But that doesn’t make it any less important. (Actually sometimes it’s more important. Because really, delving into and breaking down unfulfilling patterns of behaviour? Way more important than washing dishes. As my kitchen sink will sometimes attest to!).
Holding space for yourself means not distracting yourself or catching up on something the world has told you is important, but really tuning in, quietening your mind and listening to yourself. Because while our society will tell us things like journaling, meditating and walking in nature are a waste of your time (why I oughta…..), it’s in those times where you truly have space to tune into the things you’re not saying that you’ll find the deepest healing and the most powerful pieces of magic.
And it means respecting yourself through each step of your journey – from the hard bits when all you want to do is cry to the celebrations where you want to high five everyone you meet and do a little celebratory dance for yourself for the realisations you’ve come to and progress you’ve made.
You know me, I’m all about boundaries and taking time out for the odd hour or evening or day when you need it; but this act of holding space is about more than that. It’s about putting your own journey front and centre of your mind for a little while and supporting yourself in whatever you find there.
From time to time you will let other people into that space. Hell, there will be times on the journey you open a door to that space and offer someone else a whole room, or at least a corner there. But it’s important to remember that there will also be times when that space needs to be your own. And that’s OK.
Actually it’s more than OK.
Because what you’ll find along the way is that the more you start to hold space for yourself and your own journey, the bigger the space available for you will become. Until eventually on the times you do step outside and open those doors to other people, the tent-sized space you once held for them becomes more like a castle with more room to spare...