5 Ways to Hold Space for Others, and Why It Should Matter To You

RAFT Team, September 19, 2022

Have you ever been present when someone is expressing grief, loss, overwhelm, or depression? You’ve probably noticed that person being either covered in love or being left completely alone. One of the most valuable things a person needs in times like these is a safe container in which to stay for a while. When you’re able to provide this, you "hold space" for this person. 

Holding space for someone is an act of deepest regard. It’s the intentional act of removing judgment, your own feelings and experiences, and an ingrained need to “fix it” from the equation. Holding space is removing everything from the moment.

Anyone can need someone to hold space for them. Trauma, grief, loss, pain… all these things can lead to a deep need to be heard. We can’t decide this for anyone else — it is up to them and their needs, not our perceptions or judgments. 

Sometime you’ll find you need to hold space for someone at work. Employees experiencing grief process higher levels of daily stress than normal. This can lead to poor decision making, substance misuse and increased risk of injury. Because of these issues, employers in the United States lost up to $75 billion annually

To Hold Space, You Must Remain Present

To hold space for someone, you must be able to remain present. Below are 3 ways to remain present in order to be able to hold space for someone.

Hold Space by Being Physically Present 

To create a safe container for someone, it’s most helpful to be physically present. Drop what you need to drop, send apologies to those you’ve made plans with, and get in the room with your person. You don’t have to hold their hand or sit knee to knee with them unless they request, but be in their space.

Be Mentally Present

Allow nothing to distract you. Turn off your phone, silence the television, close the laptop, and sit with your person. Set aside your to-do list, your grocery list, your weekend adventures, and let your focus be solely on what the person is going through. 

Remain Emotionally Present

Don’t let your mind wander to your own perspective. Don’t judge. And certainly don’t give advice. Remain emotionally present and what they are feeling and experiencing.

5 Ways to Practice Holding Space

Practice Deep Listening

When you listen deeply to someone, you not only hear what they’re saying but you’re understanding it from their perspective. You’re experiencing the layers as they share, and you’re solely focused on them.

Practice Compassion 

It may be easy to judge the situation. Instead, intentionally practice compassion. Whether something should or shouldn’t have happened, whether it was their fault or someone else’s, the bottom line is that they’re going through a very rough time and need love. Wish them happiness, health, and freedom from their pain.

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can ground you as you hold space for someone. This allows you to hold space more fully and connect more deeply. And it builds your resilience as you sit with them.

Be Open the Unexpected Emotions

Holding space for someone allows them to be vulnerable. You can’t predict what emotions will arise — they may sob, laugh, scream, or be silent. Don’t put expectations on your person about how they should act or what they should feel because of what they’re going through. Just provide them with the safe space to express those feelings.

Let Go of Need to Fix It

You may be tempted to look for solutions for the person, or find a way out. Of course you want their pain to stop! Let go of this desire. The next steps will come, but when you’re holding space, remain in the present moment and allow them to feel, be, do, and express what they need to. You may feel better by being the one who provides an answer or an explanation of why. Your job when holding space is to listen. And sometimes it takes all your strength to do this.

Holding space is an invaluable gift that many aren’t able or willing to give. But those who can will help pave the way for healing.

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