The Power of Holding Space

Apr 24, 2020

When someone we love is in pain, we long to relieve their suffering. We have an impulse to jump in, fix the problem, cheer them up, get enraged over the injustice they’ve experienced, or offer up “everything happens for a reason” platitudes.

I can tell you as someone who has experienced deep grief that I understand, and am even grateful for these responses. The other person is vicariously experiencing the pain of my loss, and like me, feels helpless over their inability to make it go away. Like the person suffering, they want nothing more than for life to go back to what once was.

I can also tell you from experience that these responses are not ultimately helpful, even though they are well intentioned. After our son died we were showered with gracious care and support. But every now and then, the intensity of someone's attempt to make me feel better actually shut me down, and in a few cases caused resentment. Several times I felt like I was comforting them. In their desire to do something - anything - they missed the opportunity to just BE with me. Which is all I really needed.

As I’ve shared before, times of crisis require less doing (and achieving), and more being, and being WITH. This is especially true if you are walking along someone in pain.

I share two personal stories on today’s video. They are beautiful examples from two completely different settings - neighborhood friends as well as a top executive - where someone held space for me instead of trying to fix, cheer, or contain me. I am forever grateful for their responses, as well as for hundreds of other moments others gave us.

Take a deep breath as you watch this video. Experience what it feels like to settle in, just be present. That is the surest way to both feel and offer compassion (“suffer with” in Latin).


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