Have you ever had someone be there for you when you were struggling without trying to “fix” you or make you feel better? This person listened without judgment, allowed you to feel whatever you needed to feel, and held space for your experience. Holding space for others is a powerful act of compassion that can facilitate healing. Read on to understand what it means to hold space and 5 tips for doing it effectively.
What Does “Holding Space” Really Mean?
Holding space refers to being fully present for another person and their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without trying to change, fix, or make them feel differently. It’s being willing to walk alongside another person in their journey without judgment, agenda or the need to control outcomes.
Heather Plett beautifully describes holding space as “being prepared to sit with a person in pain, without trying to take their pain away.” It means allowing someone to feel whatever they need to feel and trust that they have their own inner wisdom to process through it.
Holding space is not about giving advice, trying to change their situation, or making others feel better. It’s about deeply listening, understanding, and validating their emotional experience.
Can you hold space for yourself?
Absolutely – learning to hold space for yourself is just as important, if not more so, than holding space for others. Often, we spend so much energy supporting, uplifting, and being present for the people we care about that we neglect our own needs. Or we judge and criticize ourselves far more harshly than anyone else going through the same struggles.
Make space for self-care through boundaries and prioritizing replenishment. Do activities that nourish you. Accept comfort and empathy from trusted supporters.
The more you compassionately hold space for your inner experiences, the more fully you can be present to hold space for others. But nurture your needs first before giving to others. Honoring your whole self allows you to show up for those you care about.
Why Is Holding Space Important?
There are several key reasons why the practice of holding space is so valuable:
- It helps the other person feel safe and secure enough to discuss difficulties. Knowing they have someone’s full presence and attention can allow them to be vulnerable.
- It validates the other person’s emotions and perspectives. Holding space conveys that all of their thoughts and feelings are understandable and acceptable.
- It creates an environment of openness where new insights and growth can emerge. Without needing to fix or problem-solve, the other person is free to untangle their inner wisdom.
- It cultivates greater understanding and connection between two people. Truly being seen and heard for who we are bonds us more deeply to those who hold space for us.
- It enables release, surrender, and inner peace. A non-judgmental presence allows the other person to let go of whatever they hold onto.
In a world where many of us often feel isolated and afraid to show our full selves, the gift of holding space should not be underestimated. It’s a powerful act of love when done with sincerity, presence, and compassion.
5 Tips for Holding Space for Others More Effectively
Holding space for someone may seem simple in theory, but it can be challenging to put into practice. Here are some tips for effectively holding space:
1. Be fully present and engaged
Minimize any physical distractions in your environment before your conversation. Turn off screens and devices and shut doors to reduce external noise. Clear your schedule so you can give the person your undivided mental focus without watching the clock or thinking about other obligations.
Maintain an open and relaxed body posture, facing the person directly without crossed arms. Make consistent eye contact to show your interest and care, nodding along or giving verbal affirmations like “I hear you” or “I’m listening.”
2. Practice active listening
Ask open-ended questions that allow the person to elaborate, such as “Could you tell me more about that?” Paraphrase what you hear them express to check your understanding. For example, “It sounds like you’re saying you felt really frustrated when…”
Allow natural silences and pauses without immediately filling them. Give the person space to gather their thoughts and feelings at their own pace. Avoid interrupting or redirecting the conversation back to yourself.
3. Offer unconditional positive regard
Recognize that the person’s emotions and experiences are valid, even if you would feel or react differently. Do not minimize or cast doubt on their perspective. Offer simple acknowledgments like “I understand this is really tough” or “You have every right to feel that way.”
Reassure them that you are there to provide a caring, noncritical presence. Remind them that they are in control of what they feel comfortable sharing. Do not pressure them to view things more positively or optimistically if they are not ready.
4. Create a safe space
Agree to keep the conversation confidential before you begin so they can open up without fear of consequences or others finding out. Never use anything they share against them later, even inadvertently.
Remain calm and grounded in yourself so they feel free to express difficult emotions without worrying about triggering a strong reaction in you. Do not take anything personally or make assumptions. Allow them to share at their own pace while reminding them they are in control.
5. Practice self-care afterward
Schedule time afterward to restore your own emotional balance through self-reflection and renewal. Write a journal about your experience to process any lingering feelings. Do grounding activities like meditation or spending time in nature. Speak with a counselor or trusted mentor if you need additional support in order to avoid burnout over time.
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Holding space—being fully present and creating a non-judgmental environment for someone to feel, process, and open up—is a quiet yet powerful act of love. It promotes healing, connection, and growth. While it is a skill we can all develop, it also requires setting boundaries around our own capacity. Be gentle with yourself as you learn. When done with an open heart, holding space for others also transforms our lives.
If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed and needs additional support, the compassionate DEI consultants at The Norfus Firm is here to help. Our data-driven, people-focused approach aims to foster belonging, equity, and human connection. Visit The Norfus Firm at https://thenorfusfirm.com/ to learn more about partnering with us. The Norfus Firm – we solve people’s problems.