One of my favorite things about going to therapy is having someone sit across from me and unconditionally hold space for my stories and my emotions. It’s truly a gift I wish everyone could experience. And the reality is, everyone could have this experience, if we all took time to learn how to hold space for each other.
This, of course, doesn’t mean we all need to become therapists. However, it does mean we can and should develop the ability to make others feel seen and heard. So, how do you hold space for the people in your life?
Of course, showing up sounds obvious, but you can’t really be present with someone if you’re absent or distracted. Even if you can’t be together in person (hello, global pandemic), you can still show up for someone by reaching out and giving them your full attention. Put away your phone, turn off the TV, close your laptop and try to minimize other potential interruptions so you can devote yourself to the person in front of you.
Acknowledge The Human
Acknowledging the human is different than showing up. What I really mean here is acknowledge their humanity. Each one of us is a mixed bag of triumphs and failures. Each one of us experiences joy and grief and everything in between. We don’t always have as much control over our lives as we think, and our differences are usually just perceptions. Start there. Start with the idea that life is complicated and people are allowed to be complicated, too. This will allow you to hold space in a non-judgmental way.
Photo Credit: Debra Snell Photography
When holding space for someone, it’s important that you listen more than you talk. You’re not really holding space for someone else’s story if you’re filling that space with your own. Instead, try active listening by nodding to show you are following along, asking questions for clarification, and paraphrasing what you heard to show you understand.
It’s tempting to want to jump in with our opinions and solutions to other people’s problems, but sometimes – maybe even most of the time – people don’t want our fixes. They just want us to hear them. Take a note from therapy: a good therapist doesn’t try to “fix” their client by pushing their own agenda on the client. Rather, they help their client learn to trust themselves. Obviously, if someone directly asks for your advice, feel free to give it to the extent that you feel comfortable. Otherwise, a listening ear and a word of affirmation will do just fine.
While these four ideas may sound simple, they do take practice. If you have a habit of, let’s say, interrupting people or giving unsolicited advice, those aren’t habits you’ll break overnight. But with time and effort, you can become the kind of person who can hold space for the people in your life. And trust me, when you start to experience new depths in your relationships, you’ll see the effort was well worth it.
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