As human beings, we represent a lot of different things to a lot of different people over the course of our lives. Often, we’re a combination of parents or partners or spouses or co-workers or siblings or friends or children. Or, in some cases, all of the above. And in each of those very different roles, one of the greatest gifts we can give to any of those people is to hold space for them. You know, to just, in the purest and most profound way, be there for them. To listen without judgement. To do nothing but absorb what another person is sharing or telling or confiding in the most compassionate of ways.
And it’s beautiful. Both for that special person, as well as for ourselves.
So, I’m curious, when was the last time you held space for someone? The last time you gave another person the opportunity to open up to you and truly be heard. Authentically. The last time you really just sat and listened, without jumping to conclusions or offering feedback or criticism. And for no other reason than to simply receive whatever it was they needed to share?
Was it recently? Was it too long ago to remember? Was it ever?
I ask because, as someone who truly loves the human connection I share with most people, I’m always curious to know how other people take on that practice of offering themselves as a sounding board. Cause I tend to do it a lot. And while some people may see it as burdensome, I don’t. I see it as a true gift. Because at the end of the day, it’s the act of holding space for another human being that represents the ultimate gift of giving. It’s that expectation-less moment when we’re just taking in what someone else is offering, without rendering judgement, that’s one of the truest kinds of moments we can share with another person.
And as someone who pretty frequently has those encounters with the people in my life, I’m acutely aware that we all have a pretty diverse emotional infrastructure, which means we can’t hold space for everyone in the exact same way. In some cases, even, it means we have to suppress our instinct to jump in and fix a situation or a problem or a crisis and just take it all in so the person who’s experiencing the suffering can have the space to figure out how to help themselves. And for a Cancer like me who’s deeply sentimental and sympathetic and emotional, that’s a tough one. But it’s so worth the effort and commitment. Because there’s nothing quite like that feeling of gratitude you get from someone who feels like they’ve just been heard and supported and recognized for what they’re going through. It’s powerful stuff. And it’s worth the effort because, according to Wanderlust.com, holding space creates a chain reaction. It allows us to open ourselves to what another person might really need, and that, in turn, allows them to do the same for someone else when it’s their turn to show someone some compassion.
As a mom, I’ve taken that practice of being unconditionally present for people and consciously tried to apply it to my own family, specifically my girls. Because sometimes, as a mother, we need to be something different to our kids than just “mom,” especially once they’re older - like teens and college-age - and have more complex lives. I’ve realized that my girls just really need to know that I’m there to hear them or walk alongside them, but not intervene. And those are the hidden gems of parenthood. Those are the times when we can really be present for our kids with an open heart and an open mind and without trying to influence any outcomes. Because what I’ve learned is that they’re way more apt to let us hold space for them when they know that there’s zero expectation of us trying to be “The Fixer.”
And even though I sometimes believe that I know what’s best for my girls because I’ve got more accumulated life experience than they do, doesn’t mean I’m doing them any favors by swooping in and spoon-feeding them all the answers. Sometimes, it’s just the act of being there to listen and let them ruminate over something that’s the trigger they need to discover their own solutions.
So, if you’ve never held space for another person, that circle of trust is worth stepping into. It’s worth establishing that kind of human connection with the people around us because it’s through that basic act of showing up for someone that we can deepen our own sense of compassion and empathy and love.
If you have shown up like that for the people in your life, then you’re way ahead of the game in terms of understanding the depth of the human connection that we all have the capacity for if we really commit ourselves. And isn’t that what it’s all about at the end of the day?
I sure think it is.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of “How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be Ok with It — Real Tips & Strategies for Parents of Today’s Gen Z Kids,” “Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots — And How to Get Free,” and “LIFE: It Is What It Is,” available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and at select bookstores everywhere. Read and discuss all her columns and books at lisasugarman.com, or find them on GrownAndFlown.com, Hot Moms Club, LittleThings.com, MommingHubb.com, 50 Shades of Aging, More Content Now, Wickedlocal.com, This Mama Wines and Care.com.