I recently came across an article titled A Man's Guide To "Holding Space", which was linked in an answer to this question. I had never heard the term before, but recognised some of my own patterns of behaviour, both in the original question, and in the article (especially the tendency to try and fix a problem I am told about).
What is holding space?
According to this article,
Holding space is not:
- Just Listening
- Trying to fix, solve or provide alternative points of views for your partner
- Disconnecting or diminishing your partners emotional experience
- A one way conversation
- Being disconnected from your own experience
It then goes on:
Think of it this way; when you hold space, you are creating a container for the other person’s emotions to come up, be seen without the interference of your own and be released.
Holding space is like creating a metaphorical bucket for someone to emotionally and verbally vomit into.
I understand the concept of holding space as being sympathetic, emotional support for someone when they have emotions which are troubling them and which they may not fully even understand themselves. I've certainly been there myself—wanting someone to "be there" for you.
Is this short summary roughly correct? The description above sounds an awful lot like "just listening" to me, which the article expressly states not to do. How can "holding space" best be described, without being self-contradictory?
How can I hold space?
When holding space for someone, the focus should (obviously) be on them. The article suggests what to do keep the focus on the other person,
- Give them permission to share, permission to trust their instincts/intuition and trust their internal wisdom;
- Create the space for them to make decisions or take actions that might be different than your own.
However it provides no guidance on how to do these things. I also don't necessarily agree that it is always a good idea to let someone do these things.
To give a personal example, the person might have extremely low self-esteem, and so their internal wisdom may tell them that they are to blame for a situation, or that they are fat, or stupid, or result in a number of other harmful conclusions. It is my instinct to try and nip these thoughts in the bud (e.g. "You're not stupid" or "It's not your fault"), but doing so invalidates the feeling the other person has.
Speaking of validation, the article makes it painfully obvious that validation is important,
Validation, validation, val-i-da-tion
What kinds of things can I say to someone that will achieve the multifaceted goal of keeping the focus on the person I am holding space for, and simultaneously validate their feelings, but without encouraging negative, self-deprecating thoughts?
What if they happen to have low self-esteem, does this change things?