You know who we are, the ones who hold space for you. The reliable ones. The ones you can go to in any state, and know that we will listen without judging, validate your experience and your inherent worth as a human being, help you make sense of the storm of confusing thoughts and feelings, and leave you feeling relieved, lighter, and more empowered.
No matter what is happening in our lives, we will show up for you as a haven of safety.
We are old and young, male and female, family and strangers. We see your need, and we come, willingly, to meet you in your pain. We are those special people who always make things better, just by being with you.
Here’s the thing you need to understand – we aren’t special.
This whole thing is no easier for us than it is for you.
We find life painful, confusing, and enraging, too. It takes a lot of effort for us to process our own emotional impacts, so that we can be clean and clear to hold space for yours.
We also go through times when it all seems too much, and we just want to go to someone and fall apart, and be held by them, the way we hold you.
The thing is, the only ones we can go to for this is others like ourselves.
So we make a special effort to be available for others like ourselves, because we know how damn hard it is to deal with one’s own shit well enough to be able to hold space for other people’s. We know how much it takes to push a space-holder to the brink where we really, genuinely need a chance to offload. And we know that if we let another space-holder fall, there will be one less person actively participating on the tiny team that is holding the entire world.
You see, it isn’t meant to be this way.
Adults are not meant to need this kind of selfless presence from outside, any more than they need their meals cooked or their shoes tied for them. Given the right experiences during childhood, we should develop the ability to hold space for ourselves. The ability to understand our own thoughts and feelings, without judgement. To validate our own experiences, and our worth as human beings. To make sense of the intense reactions that arise to the slings and arrows of life, and to move in the right direction.
When we are able to hold space for ourselves, we are also able to hold space for one another. Not because we would fall apart without it, but because it’s a nice thing to do for one another. Kind of like combing one another’s hair, or making food for one another. Sure, we can do those things for ourselves, but it is really nice to have someone do it for you.
Holding space is supposed to be like that. Something we can all do for ourselves, and enjoy doing for one another. Perhaps occasionally, we might be too unwell to do for ourselves, and need someone else to do it for us.
However, so few people have their emotional needs met during childhood that the vast majority of people in the world today are completely unable to hold space for themselves. Some fall apart, get put on medications, or fall into co-dependent relationships. Others learn to numb themselves, and navigate through life on logic and rationality as a coping strategy. Either way, their behaviour creates waves of distress in the people around them, and therefore even more need to have space held.
There is so much need for space-holding, and so few of us around providing it.
None of us had perfect childhoods, and all of us had to learn to hold space for ourselves, before we started holding space for you.
If you keep relying on us to hold space for you, you are, in effect, asking to remain a child, who always gets their food made for them, rather than becoming an adult who carries their fair share of the load.
We get tired when we have to hold space for ourselves, and for you. And then, when we get tired, we have to go to each other for support, and we have to hold space for each other. We are rare beings, and sometimes all of us in a particular city get overloaded at once, and some of us don’t get the support we need. And then we need to pull back from holding space for you, until we regain our strength.
We know that makes you feel abandoned, scared and angry.
How do we know that?
Because we feel abandoned, scared and lonely when we get that worn out, and we can’t find anyone to hold our stuff for us at the moment we really need it.
And in that worn-out state, when our emotional reactions are even stronger, we somehow have to find the strength to hold our own disappointment and frustration, to hold back from blaming our fellow space-holders who are too worn out to hold us right now, to kindly and firmly enforce boundaries against you, with your entitlement, frustration, disappointment, and confusion, without doing anything to add to your pain, and somehow, all alone, find a way to refill our tanks.
Knowing that by withdrawing, we have caused a storm that will need to be held the moment we re-engage with you, so we need to be well-resourced, not just barely resourced.
Knowing that by withdrawing, we are leaving the tiny team of space-holders even more under-powered than before.
Knowing that the human cost of us not being there to hold you can be measured in suicides, homicides, child abuse, broken relationships, abandoned community projects, failed businesses, lost jobs, and unfinished courses of study.
We know we are not to blame for what happens when people don’t get the support they need. However, we also know the value of what we provide, and we want to support you to succeed and thrive, even though it is not our responsibility to do that.
We hold space for you because we know you haven’t yet learned to do it for yourself. We hope and expect that being well held will give you what you need to learn how to hold space for yourself, because we simply cannot continue holding space for all the unheld children in this world for the rest of each one’s life. It is not humanly possible.
There are too few of us, and too many of you.
Until you learn how to hold space for yourself, you will need us to hold space for you. We understand that, and we are willing to do it.
Please understand that it costs us to do this, even though we offer, and we do it willingly.
It is incredibly hard work. It is just as difficult for us as it would be for you. We have worked through difficult, terrifying, and painful processes to learn how to do it for ourselves, and to do it for you. We don’t begrudge it in any way. We find it hugely fulfilling, and we make it look easy.
I am here to tell you that it is not easy. It never gets easy. Putting on a blank face and nodding approvingly is easy, but holding space is not that. We are in there with you, feeling what you are feeling, managing and processing those feelings for you, so that they clear and settle. It is very hard work, at times extremely challenging, but it is the work we are called to do.
It is very much unrecognised work, usually unpaid, or extremely underpaid. If we do as much as we are called to do, we are generally trying to survive on very low incomes, which also drains a lot of energy.
Maybe you are not in a position to give back to us that same kind of space-holding that we give you. That’s not a problem. We give that to one another, whenever we come across each other.
What you can do, though, is give back in ways that you do know how to do.
Make us a meal, offer us a massage, send us away for a weekend, offer us free accommodation, babysit our kids, mow our lawns, give us your professional expertise, help us find clients or jobs, clean our houses … whatever is in your capacity to give, that will lighten our load in other ways, will help us to keep going.
If you know more than one space-holder, please make sure we know one another, so we can support one another.
And, in the long-term, do the work to be able to hold space for yourself. We love being there for you, and we will show up for you even when you don’t desperately need us. In fact, we prefer holding space for people who can hold themselves, because it is far less draining, so you will probably get even more space-holding from others once you can do it for yourself than you do now.
Eventually, you may even find yourself holding space for others.
We’d love to have you on the team.
Image credits: pixabay, wikipedia
Some of Jenny’s other articles on relationships.