In my personal and professional life, the one characteristic I find consistently is the inability of others to hold space for someone to experience what they are experiencing. By way of definition, holding space to me means that I am creating a sense of safety for the person to explore, discover, grief, hurt or question without judgement or advice. I’m not there to answer questions for them, after all, I’m not an expert in their lives, they are. I am simply there to act as a container so they have the freedom to explore themselves and not be alone in the process. It is a beautiful experience but difficult.
Why is it difficult? Again, my experience would suggest that to hold that kind of space for another often results in my own emotional discomfort. We want to heal, fix or repair. We don’t want the other to be in pain or their experience reminds us of our own pain. So we move quickly to a solution rather than just sitting with the emotional energy attached. As a result, the one we are trying to help feels invalidated, unheard and typically more frustrated and hurt than when they started.
If you want to learn how to be the container for someone, learn to let go of your “expert voice” and just sit with them in whatever they are experiencing. Be aware of your desire to talk and fix but choose not to do that. Sit in silence if need by and follow their lead. You will have given them a rare gift if you are able to do this for them.
And to be honest, if you can’t do this for whatever reason, be honest with people about that. Don’t sell yourself as a safe person who can hold space for someone if you’re not able to let go of the expert voice or act on the impulse of talking or correcting or fixing. You’ll do more damage than you know.