As a mental health therapist, I am a professional space holder. I get paid to offer an environment that is free of judgment, built on trust, and serves as a safe container for deep thought and intense emotion. I consider it a profound honor to be a space holder, and so I maintain the intent, hour by hour, to see my clients, to hear them, to stay present with them, and to honor their experience. The goal is that within that held space, my clients find the courage to be vulnerable and connect with me, and together we work towards authentic change.
As a human-being, I know the power of held space. It’s the people, both paid and unpaid, that held space for me that most impacted my life. These people let me talk without self-consciousness, without fear of being criticized, and without threat. They offered me courage and empathy, and they held my hand as I faced life’s toughest challenges and then its greatest joys. It was within that held space that I transformed, healed, and grew.
While I find it natural to hold space at work, it takes a lot more intentionality in my day-to-day life. Still, the desire is there. I long to be a space holder for people. I want my life and my presence to be permission giving and life breathing. I want to offer grace always and be the kind of girl that makes people believe they are worthy of love. I want to see people with unconditional positive regard and earn the right to hear their stories fully, to know them fully.
I am acutely, almost painfully, aware that if I expect myself to offer held space to others, and then expect them to show up in it, I have to be willing to do it myself. In other words, I have to be willing to connect with the difficult parts of myself in order to connect with others. As my husband always says, “You can’t lead what you don’t live.” And that’s the hard part. I struggle holding space for myself. I self-analyze, judge, criticize, ridicule, and demean. I often lack the ability to tolerate feeling exposed, or naked, and I convince myself that vulnerability is too big of a risk. So I run, cover myself with the proverbial fig leaves, and slop on the shame.
Recently, I’ve felt God calling to me, “Where are you?” Calling me to show up. To allow myself to be fully seen. To feel, not selectively but abundantly. To love with my whole self. To believe. To embrace my own brokenness. To be thankful. To choose connection over caution.
To hold space.
It’s so very tempting to run and hide. I’ve got lots of white picket fences and red brick, pink toned lip-gloss and distressed jeans to hide behind. But hiding just promotes a life of shame, doubt, and numbness. So instead of shrinking back, I’ll hold space. And instead of running for cover, I’ll hold still.
I won’t pretend that you’ll agree with everything I have to say, and I welcome differing ideas. But, my hope is that you might be able to exhale with reassurance, even if just for a moment, that you won’t feel as alone in this life, and that you might find the courage to hold space for yourself and others too.
This is Holding Space Holding Still.