What 'Holding Space' Actually Means

The prerequisite of ‘Space Holding’ is rooted in knowing how to not become the bearer of someone else’s wounds as they share them. For when we bear wounds, whether they’re ours or the wounds of another, we will react from these wounds until we learn how to respect them instead. Thus, the act of holding space is in itself an act of holding clear boundaries both within and outside our own healing. Whoever is holding the space needs to be aware of their triggers, and recognize that just because they have the knowledge of how to hold space it does not mean they always should. 

Neither the act of holding space nor the act of resting in a held space is better than the other. Both require commitments to healing. 

In this work, it is the safe space itself which extends out its palms to hold the grief, rage, and disparity, not the people. Within it, respect for the mind, body, and soul of the space and the humxns is essential. The few that I have met who do this well are the ones who remain stable and grounded solely because they know when and how to cap off the experience of space holding slowly. They understand what it means to extend a gentle, compassionate, invitation for pause near the end the space holding to provoke re-integration. They are conscious of when their feet, or the feet of the other, metaphorically begin to release from the ground and how that recognition necessitates healthy action versus a further normalization of the dissociation. They intimately know that healing is a long term responsibility and that wounds require new dressings each time that they are exposed. 

When we dissociate from the experience when we do not integrate ourselves post-sharing, our triggers take over and we never learn how to reclaim our ability to respond instead of reacting. It is this pause that the space holder creates that invites the one sharing to begin that same work in themselves. Which is why individual work often turns into community work. We need one another to mirror healing in order to create healing within ourselves. To begin the arduous task of becoming familiar with our manifestations of trauma, and begin recreating the external pause we learned with an internal one we can take with us into our solo work.

Pain demands to be felt, there is no way to escape it, but pain also needs to be felt with intention for it to not become chaotic. Space holding is not meant to be infinite. Space holders understand the embodiment and disembodiment of their pain, and they can articulate how it manifests for them. There is no point in our healing that is lesser than the other. This is simply a clear marker for anyone who is attempting to or wanting to hold space: Are you aware of how your pain manifests, and do you know what to do when it does? Comparison is addictive and self-harm is often soothing because they recreate our lived experience in a controlled fashion. We feel safer when we are the wound-er, not the wound-ed; whether or not our self-harm is conscious. We feel less demanded to do our own work when we can focus on someone else’s experience being worse off than our own. Being able to recognize where we are in your healing is not about self-harm, it is about sustainability and compassion. 

I feel her. I feel the little girl of me dying from abuse. I feel her screams of pain reverberating into my nervous system. I have learned what my embodiment and disembodiment of trauma manifests as. I am self-aware of my reclusiveness, cognizant of my trauma reactions, and accountable to the ways in which I have consciously and unconsciously allowed my pain to turn chaotic. This work will continue to become clearer over time. My body knows how to tap out. It knows how to say enough; to re-enter a healthy level of separation from my trauma and pause the destruction of the grief. My mind is less capable of this, but I am learning from my body and I am listening to them intently. This work doesn’t end just because I know how to hold the space for it inside my skin. How to extend an invitation for pause, and begin reintegrating after I listen to my wounds howl, is a daily practice of self-healing. I learned this work through privileged access to therapy, and I recognize the importance of noting that.

One of the best things that we can ask ourselves in healing is this: “Do you have the ability to hold space for me today?” If the answer to that question is “No,” we must respect that the answer to someone else should mirror that. We must learn how to speak to the parts of us demanding to feel our wounds with love, and give them a clear boundary of “Not right now, but I will return.” Our healing work transcends our internal work, and if we are attempting to run from our own pain to help others we are harming both them and ourselves. Autonomous healing is enmeshed with community work, relationship work, so being discerning of our own behaviour is a forever process. 

Your want to help is valid. The care you crave to extend is real. The pain your wounds demand you to feel is honest. Your trauma, and how you navigate it, is yours. Your body is the compass, and our healing communities and healing spaces deserve respect. 

Holding space for our own healing transfers over into creating awareness around anti-racism work as well. Holding space to hear other’s wounds, to be aware of privilege, without projecting our traumas unto them starts here. Culture and cultural healing has been erased and demonized by colonization. Cultural healing is vital to the reintegration of autonomy within displaced, marginalized, and oppressed communities. Listening to this, being aware of our part, and doing our own work to not subconsciously perpetuate it begins inside us.

Your healing is needed. 
Your healing is yours. 
Your healing is as real as your truth.

I believe the story that lives inside your veins, and I am standing beside you as you rewrite it.

This entire story can be read and shared via Medium: https://medium.com/…/what-holding-space-actually-means-7c7e…

Skyler Weinberg