Over the last few months, this concept has popped up numerous times in both my professional and personal life. It’s not as straightforward as traditional psychological terms and approaches, but I wanted to speak on my view of it since most of us will be in this situation at some point.
There will be moments where you simply won’t know what to say to a person. Perhaps they just lost someone, or are ranting madly because they’ve been wronged in some way. There’s really nothing you can do to help the situation. So, what do you do?
As a therapist, I’ve had these moments. I’ve had to be the solid pillar while someone’s life was falling apart. I’ve had to break seemingly bad news to parents about their child. I’ve had to sit with a teenager while her brother lay in a hospital, dying. In all of these situations, I had to realize that nothing I say is going to make the situation go away. I can’t remove the pain. The other thing I realized was that I could not bring myself to give some kind of rote response. “You’ll be okay” or “Everything happens for a reason” won’t cut it here.
Here is where the concept of holding space comes in. You simply make that space a container. In these moments, people often just need to express. There is no pressure to think up a solution for the person. They already know that you can’t do anything about it. They sometimes already know that they’ll get through it. In that moment, though, they need to process. They need somewhere safe to vocalize their frustrations, sorrow, confusion, and occasionally socially unacceptable thoughts.
Of course, this is easier said than done. In the therapy field, we are almost programmed to think up solutions, and we may think up some right at these difficult moments. A lot of times, though, that’s not what people need. They need to feel a sense of peace, to know that at their most vulnerable moment, you are making them feel safe. I have been on the flip side of this, where I expected a place to be able to express myself, and instead was reduced to tears by someone who felt that I needed a “reality check” at that moment. No, I didn’t. I needed to process my feelings, and I was demeaned for it. After that, I never trusted that person as a confidant again, and I learned how not to be with regards to future clients.
You don’t have to be a therapist to do this. Sometimes friends and family just need to talk, and maybe sit in silence for a bit. We are often so afraid of silence, when it can be an amazing gift. Silence allows processing, and it allows Spirit to enter the picture. To me, this is holding space: creating a safe, peaceful environment to allow another to process and express…and to allow Spirit to enter and help heal.