What “Holding Space” means and how to use it

Over this past weekend, I went for a long stroll around The Great Lawn in Central Park with someone very dear to me. It was a beautiful Fall morning and the air was crisp. During our walk, we each shared what had been happening in our lives and I noticed that my friend skirted around some of her recent challenges. At that moment, I realized it wasn’t easy for her to share these adversities on a deeper level. It’s easy for me to be vocal about my challenges and once my flood gates open, my feelings flow effortlessly, so sometimes it’s easy to forget how it can be a hard feat for others.

My friend needed to be heard, so I used a support tool called “holding space.” It quite literally means to hold someone emotionally. This is an open invitation to allow the other party to step into a safe space where they can share their feelings, move their energy, and feel secure in doing so. When we hold space for the sharer, there is no judgment, no opinions, nor inputting our own personal emotions. The best part of this exercise is that nobody is “burdening” the other; the listener is not emotionally invested, and the sharer can just let their emotional tap flow. We often feel like we can’t express or share our inner feelings because it would be seen as “dumping” or emotional burdening, but if we looked at it as “sharing”, we would be able to gain more internal peace. There is consent, a bucket load of empathy, and internal strength in the practice of holding space. Perhaps we can even look at sharing our emotions as a gift to the listener. When we practice holding space for someone, we are supporting them through our ears and heart without asking for anything in return.

I find this tool to be very powerful, especially for those who seek to be heard. I used to believe that giving advice, bouncing back with relatable stories, and ultimately “fixing” the sharer’s issues was the way to go about supporting somebody. More often than not, that approach can have quite the opposite effect. We just want to be heard, share, and sit in the pain and neither of those things requires advice or “fixing.” We just want to “be.”

Having our emotions held can be healing and cathartic for the sharer because we are quite literally disposing of the pent up negative energy, the feelings that go with it, and the memories that keep looping in our minds. For the person offering to hold space, it’s also a very powerful moment of personal growth. It’s not always easy listening to someone else’s stories, but being able to separate ourselves from their feelings and just being a set of ears can help build emotional strength.

Some great ways to facilitate holding space for another is by using these three tools:

  • Ask “is there more?” when the sharer has seemingly finished speaking. More often than not, there are still feelings that need to be expressed. This is a great way to encourage them to let it all out.
  • Affirm the sharer’s feelings. This sounds simple and a total no-brainer, but the healing power of validation is often forgotten. When the sharer has stopped sharing, it’s a great time to show our empathy and say things like “that must be really hard”, “I hear you” etc.
  • Ask “what can I do to support you?”. The key isn’t to “fix” the sharer but to quite literally support them. This question shows the sharer that they have been heard, they are cared about, and most importantly, their feelings are valid.

I really enjoy holding space for those around me because there’s a big sense of security and trust that go with it. It feels so amazing to be able to provide this kind of connection to someone you care about and vice versa. I invite you to use any one of these tools the next time a person would like to share their feelings or even when you are looking to share yours. Here’s to creating strong bonds, moving energy, and generating more empathy.





Image by Tim Mossholder

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