Holding Space for Others

Holding Space for Others


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pc: Andrew Neel

Truth bomb: I spent the last week in a heated argument with my boyfriend, talking in circles about some of the things we don’t see eye to eye on in our relationship. At the end of day five in our argument, he threw his hands in the air, exhausted, and declared, “You’re not listening to me, could you at least try to see things from my perspective?

Dealing with conflict in a positive, constructive way has never been my strong suit. I habitually go into fight or flight mode; I get defensive trying to protect myself and my position, because I’ve always interpreted disagreement and conflict as people personally attacking me.  Because of this, I don’t always regard whoever is on the other side of the conflict. It’s not that I’m deaf to other opinions, but I’m not always open or willing to accept them from a place of possibility or truth. I’ll be the first to admit this.  

The argument with my boyfriend is a good example of that. One of the reasons why it dragged on for so long is because I was holding strong to my own opinions, and refused to see our situation from a different perspective than what I believed was true.

Going into my habitual fight or flight mode, I put my guard up as a defense mechanism. This helped protect my own feelings and opinions, but closed me off from considering my boyfriend's perspective. When he called me out on this, I started thinking about how I could put my personal standpoint and judgments aside and what could happen if I held the space for him to share his view without letting my own thoughts and feelings get in the way.

I first learned about the act of holding space through my grandma (she is a wise, wise woman). She talks a lot about the importance of holding a safe, comfortable space for people to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions, without attaching our own personal opinions or feelings into their situation. This could look like active listening, or sharing empathy. The result is more loving and clear communication.

Holding space was something I was not doing in my situation, and I was interested to see how it might change if I tried to approach it this way.

One thing I knew I wasn’t doing well was listening to my boyfriend. I was so hung up on my opinions that I wasn’t open to what he had to say. I was also distracted, thinking about all the things I’d rather be doing rather than arguing with him; I had laundry to do, I was hungry, I was agitated and uncomfortable. 

This was the perfect opportunity to practice holding space.

I decided to listen – really listen – to what he had to say. I held the space for him to share his opinions, without interjecting my own opinions until he had shared everything he wanted to say. I also dedicated my undivided attention. This is something I realized was hugely important to him. At the end of the day, all he wanted was for his opinions to be valued and heard. This allowed me to approach our situation with more empathy, understanding, curiosity and inquiry rather than defensive, angry and protective. And, while we still don't see eye to eye on everything, this has definitely created more positive communication between us about these things.  




-Kailey Buchanan