Holding Space: What is it?

Even if “holding space” was a common phrase, its meaning can involve various interpretations.  This confusion is less of an issue for those who are consistently clear about their needs and follow-through on them, but for empaths, confusion around what it means to “hold space" for someone is a bit riskier. 

Empaths are not only found in helping roles and professions—where we are frequently expressing the gift of "holding space"—but we also tend to put others needs before our own.  It’s only natural that we would learn to do this.  Because we can feel others' emotions within our own bodies, we’ve learned to avoid feeling others’ dense emotions by people-pleasing, soothing, and problem-solving—but this is where the confusion comes in. When we believe there is something we need to say, or do, to “hold space” (i.e. take responsibility for another), it can lead to overwhelm and exhaustion, and put us in a position of taking power away from the person having the experience (if they have not asked/given their permission for help).

To help minimize the confusion, I offer my two cents below on why "holding space" is important, what it is, what it’s not, and how you can do it while still caring for yourself. Please see if this resonates with you, and feel free to share your comments.

One way to get at the importance of "holding space" is to ask, “What if no one knew how to hold space for themselves and others?” 

The implication of NOT "holding space," is that people would:

  • Not feel safe to ask themselves what they need and desire. As a result, if needs are not being met, anger builds and can be directed toward self, or others.
  • Suppress emotions, which increases the likelihood of keeping the nervous system on alert and becoming triggered by their environment, relationships, and experiences—leading to patterns of contraction (tension), protection (including isolation, and coping mechanisms that are no longer serving them), and even dis-ease.  In addition, when one is focused on defense and protection, there’s less energy to heal, and create the life they want to live—full of fulfillment and joy.
  • Believe they are vulnerable to taking on the dense energy around them, and powerless to do anything about it except transmute it within their body—which is draining.
  • Feel powerless when their loved ones are suffering—which also feels overwhelming.

Why isn’t "holding space" given the attention it deserves?

With such an important skill, it seems odd that "holding space" wouldn’t be more widely taught and practiced, but allowing people to feel emotions tends to be seen as weak, and thus rejected, in a culture where power has been achieved through competition, and strength defined by force.

The truth is that a different kind of strength is needed to create the world we want to live in.  There needs to be the brave one—someone who can be with the discomfort of the dense energy—holding a state of unconditional love, until the density has dissipated.  When dense energy has dissipated, there’s no need for defense and protection, which frees us all up to heal, receive inspiration, and create something new.

What is "Holding Space?"

When I think of the best space-holders, I think of big dogs, stones and trees. I wonder what it would be like to be calm when the people around me are feeling anxious, or how to stay rooted when there’s a strong wind.

One way to know what it’s like to effectively hold space is to think about a time when you felt held. How did you know you were being held? 

When someone is holding (the) space, I not only feel seen and heard, but it feels safe to experience any emotions that may arise—and safety, to me, means without judgement.

When there’s judgement from another, it’s as if I can feel the fear underneath thoughts like “I should not be feeling (what I’m feeling)," or “I should be feeling (something different),” or “You’re wrong.” When I pick up that fear, my nervous system goes into defense, and I can’t access the state of connection that allows me to let go of what is no longer serving me. To complicate matters, when I feel another’s dense energy (e.g., fear), my protective parts show up to “take care of” the space-holder emotionally: If they don’t feel (the fear), then I won’t need to feel (the fear).

Judgement, and the related fear, can involve thoughts such as:

  • What is being released is bad, wrong, something to be concerned about, or needs to be different
  • If I feel the dense energy, I will take it on (Empaths tend to be like sponges, absorbing the energy around them, so thoughts around protection can be more fear-based than they need to be, as if the energy around them is more powerful than they are)
  • The person releasing the dense energy needs xyz (In identifying needs of the other, there is a risk of coming in with your own agenda, and projecting pity, or sympathy—which the one releasing does not need to take on).

Where is your essence?

A quick way to know if you’re in a position to hold a safe space is to notice where your essence is located. Are you in your body, or have you merged with the person you are "holding space" for?

Judgement is a natural response to experiencing something new, uncomfortable, or threatening.  The issue is not the judgement itself, but when one lacks awareness of it. Without awareness of judgmental and fearful thoughts (like those listed above), or other mind activities like worrying about the other person, your essence can pop out of your body and into your mind, or merge energetically with the other person (to assess their needs). When your essence leaves your body, this creates an opening in your field, making you vulnerable to taking on the energy (since you’re at vibration of fear) you’re being judgmental (or worrying) about. If this happens, it’s okay—just come back into your body with your breath, and notice your senses.

In summary, to “hold space” for another means open-hearted witnessing of another’s thoughts and emotions while being present for yourself.  When you allow the other person to feel what they are experiencing, it’s empowering. They are then able to feel their emotions and tune into their inner wisdom to learn what they need to care for themselves.  At the same time, when you apply this witnessing to yourself, you can remain in your body and at a frequency that is conducive to dissolving dense energy, and discerning what you need to do to care for yourself.

Holding Space is NOT about…

The confusion around "holding space" comes when space-holders feel responsible—to take care of, or protect, the other person emotionally.  This can look like saying, or doing, something to fix (including transmuting the dense energy), please, soothe—so that the person they are "holding space" for won’t feel the dense emotions.  This way, the space-holder won’t feel the density (which is uncomfortable), and transmute it within their own body (which can leave them feeling drained). 

When space-holders assume responsibility for another, however, they risk taking the other person’s power. Pleasing and problem-solving may mitigate their suffering in the moment, but when people don’t have access to their emotions, they do not have access to the guidance that their emotions and inner wisdom can offer them.  Even if they choose not to feel their emotions (and tune into their inner wisdom to learn what they need to care for themselves), by remaining grounded and present in your body, you bring them to choice—which keeps them in their power.

So how can you come back to yourself, so you can effectively hold space for yourself and others?

The key to "holding space" is to allow others to experience what they are thinking and feeling, while remaining present—noticing sensations, thoughts and emotions, so you can access your inner wisdom and care for yourself. 

That said, being around dense energy can still feel uncomfortable.

So how can you remain present when you can feel this discomfort?

Here are four ways to create an energetic container—the conditions for holding a safe space—so you can minimize the risk of matching the vibration of fear, taking that energy on, and feeling drained.

 1. Creating space:

    • Create, or go to, a safe space—one that cues safety (e.g, natural light, beauty…) to your nervous system so you can relax. This can include creating an altar with crystals and the elements of water (bowl), fire (candle), earth (stones, flowers, twigs, dirt), and air (incense, feathers). Choose to believe that the room is a safe space.
    • Set an intention to do your best to hold THE space (vs. a focus on saying/doing anything for the other person), and ask the universe/guides/ancestors/earth to hold THE space.  Choose to believe that you are powerfully protected.
    • Apply practices to keep your brain out of fear.  This can include gratitude, breathing at your low belly, and seeing yourself in your power.  Trust that you can take care of yourself no matter what shows up.
    • Notice any judgements (e.g. projecting pity, or sympathy).  Choose to see the other person in their strength, light, and wholeness.

2. Holding space: 

    • Notice the emotions you’re feeling. During sessions with my clients, I often feel emotion. Whether they are mine, or theirs, I can be with the energy until it dissipates. You can too. Choose to believe that it’s okay to feel dense thoughts and emotions.
    • Become your Observer & Curious Self: From an external perspective, notice the beauty in the space around you; From an internal perspective, get curious about what you’re feeling (sensations in your body, and emotions), and thinking. Keep noticing what is happening with you, while you are "holding space" with someone.
    • Bring your awareness to your breath so you can control your heart rate. The person you are with will then be able to entrain with your regulated nervous system.
    • Imagine yourself as a tree with roots, where any dense energy can make its way down your legs, out through your feet, and into the earth. Trust that, as a space-holder, you’re not taking on anything that others are releasing.

 3. Clearing space:  

    • When you create and hold safe space, lower frequency energy rises for release naturally. Trust that whatever the person is releasing is what was meant to be released (even if it brings up uncomfortable emotions like anger, betrayal, etc.).
    • If possible, prepare yourself before "holding space" by clearing the density in your own field. The more you can release what is no longer serving you, the more you clear triggers that lead to judgement and fear, and the more the light of who you really are can shine through.  When your nervous system is regulated in this way, you can be an unconditionally loving presence that can facilitate healing and transformation.  Note:  One way to do this is through a practice that I facilitate for clients called Tension Releasing Exercises (TRE).

4. Filling space:   

    • Remember that you, as the space-holder, and the person you are with, are sovereign beings. As you create an unconditionally loving presence, your expansive field is positioned to handle any discordant energies. There is more space to be accepting of whatever arises vs. becoming a vibrational match (from a state of contraction) to the dense energy, and taking it on like a sponge.
    • Radiate light from your heart. When someone is suffering, releasing dense energy, or just in a state of discomfort, it’s not uncommon to feel powerless. In some cases, friends and loved ones may not want your specific kind of help.  When this happens, you can imagine a light in your heart that grows as you breath and radiates out beyond you. For research on the positive effects of heart coherence, go to heartmath.org.

Can you imagine if everyone could effectively “hold space”—and the impact that would have on individuals, families, clients and colleagues, and your community?

The importance of "holding space" is even more pronounced when applied to more than one person. It’s why ceremonies with indigenous people include altars, and require those leading the ceremony to prepare themselves (i.e. regulate their nervous systems) through song and dance, then lead by example energetically. When these conditions are met, the space-holder can be an unconditionally loving presence, and participants can feel safe to be themselves, heal, and express their creativity.

 Does this resonate with you? Please feel free to respond to me at [email protected].


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