Holding Space – Making the dark small through compassion

Holding Space – Making the dark small through compassion

Priya Veeraraghavan

Psychotherapist, Writer, Trainer, Leadership/Life Coach; Co-Founder Punctuate Consulting

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“When I woke up and the dark wasn’t gone yet, and the dark seemed so big, then she sang soft and made the dark small again.” 

“That is the best of all things we can do for one another: Make the dark small.”― Dean Koontz, Brother Odd

There’s a scene in “Inside Out” — a children’s movie about a little girl named Riley and her emotions — where Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, is crying.

The first to try to help Bing Bong is ‘Joy’. She is the happy emotion. The way she tries to deal with Bing Bong’s sadness is the way most people respond to someone else’s sadness — by trying to make it go away.

People often make jokes, try to change the subject, try to bring up happy memories, feeling so uncomfortable being around someone else’s sadness. People will do anything to make the other person just stop feeling the sadness, as sadness is an emotion most people think is a bad emotion to feel.

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Joy’s attempt at changing Bing Bong’s sadness does not work.

Next to try is Sadness. As is evident, it is the sad emotion. Sadness does what she does best and actually acknowledges the fact that he is sad. She goes up to him, and confronts the sadness for what it is.

Instead of ignoring it, she validates his sadness by being sad with him. This is a heart-warming example of how someone ‘holds space’ for the most uncomfortable experiences and emotions that one encounters.

What is Holding Space?

The idea of ‘holding space’ is not a new one. It’s one of the most fundamental aspects in therapy and coaching. Now, with the challenges and turbulences thrown up during these difficult COVID-19 times, ‘holding space’ has surfaced as a critical need in our everyday life for everyone.

With social distancing, isolation, anxiety, incidents of sudden, inexplicable loss of loved ones, people yearn for a safe psychological space to tide through their difficult times. The comfort and solace of such a holding space can only be made available by an empathetic friend or family member, who can be there for them; and, offer their supportive presence as individuals process, experience and express the multitude of emotions that they are going through.

So, what does it mean to hold space for someone?

Nothing simpler than using the same words to explain it. For a more experiential description, I quote Heather Plett – “it means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

What are we really doing when we are ‘holding space’? Let’s see…

When your child narrates a difficult experience she had with her friends or her teachers, and you listen intently… you are holding space.

When your friend shares her struggles and anxieties over having lost her job or having to take a pay cut or talks about her inability to meet or physically be there and take care of her old parents who are miles away, and you hold her hands as she cries or give her a tight hug or simply affirm your presence by acknowledging her angst even if it’s a phone conversation…you are holding space.

When your partner vents about how hard his work is and how much he wishes he could do something more interesting and exciting instead, and you give him your full attention… you are holding space.

When your colleague is all excited about a new idea she is toying with; and, as she shares that with you and you give her an encouraging nod and a thumbs up…you are holding space.

When you can’t make up your mind and are losing your mind toying between one thing or another or all the things; and someone looks at you with complete understanding and acceptance and simply witnessing your distressing moment … that is holding space.

When your teammate makes a big blunder and looks at you helplessly and you say – ‘First, tell me how are you feeling?’ And you hear him out and then say – ‘You know what, it’s ok, you will be fine. How about you take a break now and come back tomorrow and let’s together see if we can salvage this’…you having his back is holding space.

When your friend or family member is going through any illness – physical or psychological and you simply say – ‘We are going to get through this’…your affirmation of support and rock-solid confidence is holding space for hope and possibilities in their darkest of times.

When we all acknowledge and accept what is currently going on, and optimistically await stepping into a safer reality… that is holding space for ourselves and the world.

 It is very much like holding the door open for someone to walk in, breathe easy, express, open up; and all the time, you walk along with the person and simply be with them, wherever they are. In doing so, we embody pure acceptance—of ourselves, of others, and of the moment.

As Brene Brown says, “When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, is able to bend and most of all, embraces us for our strengths and struggles.”

Such compassionate, rooted people in life are invaluable to help us weather the storm and let the sunshine in. Maybe it’s your turn; for holding space, to be that sunshine for someone and make the dark small.

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Priya Veeraraghavan found her calling for working with people, offering a space for reflection, exploration and growth for clients as a Trainer, Coach and a Psychotherapist.
Eclectic in her approach, she integrates several modalities such as Transactional Analysis, CBT, NLP and Gestalt techniques in her work. This year, in keeping with the need to cope with the pandemic situation, she has launched a comprehensive employee support program for organisations.
Read her complete profile here.

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Dr. Chaitanya SridharPriya Veeraraghavanmmuma NagarajanVani Sathya Recent comment authors
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Dr. Chaitanya Sridhar
Dr. Chaitanya Sridhar

Beautifully expressed and so very relational. Thank you Priya for this heart-centered piece.

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thanks doc 🙂

mm
Chitra Ravi

Well-written, profound and apt for today’s context.

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thanks Chitra!

Rema K Giridhar
Rema K Giridhar

Well written Priya ! Powerful writing on the need of the hour context. Written in simplistic language yet delivers the strength . Worthwhile read.

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thanks Rema!

Vani Sathya
Vani Sathya

Amazing Priya, good read 😍

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thanks Vani!

uma Nagarajan
uma Nagarajan

Good content. Very much apt now where people are in quarantine at hearts.

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thanks Uma!

mm
Mani Padmanabhan

Very good article. So full of empathy, care and genuine concern is holding out. If only all workplaces can imbibe this in true spirit

Priya Veeraraghavan
Priya Veeraraghavan

Thank you! And so agree Mani. Much needed in organisations!

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