4 Ways To 'Hold Space' For A Friend In Pain

Photo: weheartit
Get out of the way and let her heal.
Love, Self

It is a powerful experience to hold space for another on their journey.

Have you noticed most of your conversations following a similar path? Perhaps, like a movie playing the same scene over and over again, except it is your very own life footage? 

This was my experience when it came to relationships until I learned the art of holding space. Or so I thought.

So what does it mean to "hold space" for someone and how does it differ 

My previous "go to" pattern when a friend was verbalizing a painful experience or emotion was to provide advice or to quickly reassure them that it wasn't as bad as they thought and we could make it better. Little did I know that every time I rushed to my loved one's side to provide advice or platitudes, I was doing more harm than good.

I was subconsciously communicating that their pain was more than I could be fully present for. By allowing my ego to take the lead with a rescuer mindset, I was actually taking away their ability to release.  

Even after spending a year training on how to hold space in women's circles — where women gather together in a supportive space to be exactly who they are,void of masks worn out of protection and fashioning open hearts and minds in their place — I still found myself playing the role of rescuer in my personal life.  

I was placing bandages on wounds that needed more light than darkness in order to heal and found myself drained and wondering if I said or did the right thing. 

A few months back, while visiting a dear friend, I found myself in a very familiar climate, which made it that much easier to fall back into old patterns. Over the years, our friendship had changed and naturally so had we, but I still found the way we supported each other was much the same. 

My friend was sharing with me an occurrence in her life that had left her feeling completely helpless and emotionally broken. As you can probably relate, I was uncomfortable with my friends' suffering and therefore, wanted her to feel better. 

The key here is that I was uncomfortable with her suffering. I found myself automatically taking on an old role of providing platitudes from an outsider's perspective.

Somewhere in my history, I learned that when someone hurts in my presence, my role is to help them make it go away. So, naturally, I told her exactly what she needed to do to feel better and exactly what I thought about her situation. 

Following the conversation, I was overcome with awe at how I had so easily slipped back into a comfortable pattern and was filled with regret. I remember thinking, "Why am I able to hold space for my clients and yet when face-to-face with the people in my circle, the people who naturally trust me with their vulnerability, I put on my old mask and play my part?"

The frustration I felt was that while playing my part, I knew damn well that I was not showing up in a way that was truly helpful. I was afraid to hold space for her because subconsciously, I was afraid of what would be released and so I provided her with logic in a time where logic made no sense.

Most us are not looking to be fixed because, on a soul level, we understand that we are not broken, we simply need to processes and release. We all just want to be heard, acknowledged and loved. 

Together with the knowledge and experience gained in training, as well as a determined soul yearning to release old patterns, I learned the magic of being with someone as they release.

I am not saying that I will never return to those old patterns of playing the rescuer, but I have promised myself that I will show up as authentic as I can wholeheartedly be available for another whenever I can. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to step outside of the scene and see the bigger picture.  

Becoming aware of the madness, allowed me to consciously choose how to respond rather than fall comfortably into habitual patterns. Knowing what I know today, I would have said with or without words, "I love, see, and hear you."

I would hold space for her with my heart, not my ego.  

I would allow my acceptance for how she feels in this moment to be a channel of love surrounding her. I would give her the space to feel what she needed to feel without any expectation of her feeling better or the moment being anything more or less that it is.

People open their hearts in our presence in order to release what is hurting, not so we can put a bandage on their feelings. Allowing them to do his is how we help a friend going through a hard time.

So, the next time a friend opens their heart to you and you feel the urge to rescue them from their experience, try these 4 steps instead:

  1. Draw your attention to your breath and feel as though the breath is entering and exiting through the center of your heart.
  2. Soften your external casing and any clenching of the mind, eyes, and jaw.
  3. Repeat to yourself, "I see you, I hear you, I love you" and verbalize in your own words that you are interested in what they have to say and available to listen with an open heart and mind. 
  4. With 100 percent presence, gaze on as you listen and feel the center of your heart. Continue with that cycle until they have fully released.

Keep in mind that this will be as new to them as it is for you, so don’t be surprised if they are cautious or unsure if they can trust this new process.

All you have to say is the truth: you are creating a safe space and allowing them to release what they are holding, not so they don’t have to feel it anymore but so they can feel it.

When we allow ourselves to feel, we allow life to move through us, which begins the transformation from bound to unbound. It is only when we are unbound that we can truly move forward on our healing journey. 

Stacey Huard is a Wellness Coach and Creator and Co-owner of Santosha Yoga and Wellness Therapies. Visit her website to learn more.