Holding Space in Times of Unrest

Many have been at a loss in the last couple of weeks as to how to “show up,” move forward, or even just unfreeze during these times of unrest. The recent incidents of violence against black individuals have brought issues of systemic racism to the forefront amid a public health crisis. Just when we thought “murder hornets” would be the next obstacle on the course, issues of social justice called for our attention. Many have found themselves struggling to determine just what to do to receive and give support as they navigate the current cultural climate.

“Holding space” for someone means creating room for their grief, trauma, sense of loss, or other difficult emotions in a loving, kind, empathic, and nonjudgmental manner. Often times, when individuals are sharing their sadness, anger, frustration, or other struggles, it may feel intuitive to jump into problem-solving mode and attempt to “figure it out” with or for them. It may be difficult to resist this well-intended desire to help, and yet what we often find is that what individuals need is for someone to simply “be there” and be present with them.

Learning how to shift from problem-solving to creating or holding space for someone can take time and practice. The following are a few key ingredients to “holding space”:

  1. Press the breaks on judgement and maintain unconditional positive regard for the other person: For example, try to refrain from making statements about things being “good” or “bad” and allow the person to just be—assume others are doing the best they can with what they have and that they are doing so and with good intention.
  2. Deep, active listening: Paraphrase or reflect back what the other person is saying so that they feel heard. Consider using phrases such as, “What I hear you saying is…” Or “It sounds like you are experiencing this… is that right?”
  3. Stay grounded in the here-and-now: Activate your emotional regulation skills so that you can stay present and externally focused, offering a safe space for sharing, such as through mindfulness and deep breathing.
  4. Maintain another-person focus: It may feel natural to share ways in which you can relate through personal experience, but try to be intentional about keeping the focus on them – it’s about their struggle, hardship, and pain—not yours (in that moment).
  5. Resist the urge to fix or change: Make room for what is, rather than what you would hope or want it to be, for yourself or the other person. This will keep you with them as opposed to shifting into resolution mode as mentioned previously.

Although holding space for others, and allowing them to hold space for you, may be one stepping stone towards healing, it is a powerful first step when it comes to building (or rebuilding) connectedness and community. By holding space for others in times of pain, loss, and grief, you too may be better equipped to turn inward and ask: Who can I turn to or where can I go to hold space for me too?