Holding The Space

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by Rihana, Feb 23, 2024.

  1. Rihana

    Rihana Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    "The people who help me find my courage are not the ones who swoop in to save the day. They're the ones who sit with me in the fear puddle and hold my hand while my knees shake. Here's to the hand-holders." - Nanea Hoffman​


    There are times when we are called upon to be there for someone who is going through a rough patch. If we are even a little successful at "holding the space" for them, it can be a priceless gift to that person and us.

    Holding space for someone is to listen to them without imposing your opinions and experiences. You validate their emotional state without trying to fix things or offering advice. Your attention is non-judgmental and unconditional.

    The two most important things to remember are:
    • Resist the urge to fix the problem.
    • Do not offer alternative points of view.

    Choosing your words with the above two things in mind can be half the journey covered. Though it is hard to withhold advice while we watch a loved one suffer, remember that doing something to fix the problem helps you feel better, not them.

    When you do say something, validate what the person says. You do not have to agree with what they are saying to validate it. It can be non-intuitive to validate without agreeing. It takes practice to get the hang of it. Try to put yourselves in their shoes, try to live their feelings and thoughts for a moment. Say, "I understand what you are saying." If you can, rephrase and summarize their thoughts and feelings back to them.

    Be aware of your own emotions and reactions to the person’s situation, but do not let those cloud the support and the listening ear that you are offering. Do not make their experience your own. Trust that after articulating their problem to you, they will be a step closer to finding a solution themselves. If not that, they will have gotten the strength to get through another hour, day or week.
    .
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2024
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  2. Rihana

    Rihana Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    Posted this in Education & Personal Growth because getting the hang of this "holding the space" thingie has felt like a personal growth. I won't call myself a pro : ) but I've gotten pretty decent. Funnily enough, I learned some of this skill by accident -- in conversations that I was only half-listening, scrolling in the side, and so not responding as much to the talker.

    Turns out, people often just want an acknowledgement of their struggles rather than solutions. It's tempting to jump in with our own stories, but I've learned that sometimes the best move is to resist the urge and simply listen. Of course, there are also times when we are called upon to provide solutions, but I think those are actually rarer than the times we need to mostly listen.
     
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  3. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra Finest Post Winner

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    @Rihana,

    I learned this too late in my life after I started volunteering in the Hospice. When I sit with the patients who have a few more hours or days to live, they like you to give them company but without interfering with their process of tansitioning. They know that I can't be of any help to them for fixing their problem. They neither seek an alternative view of whatever they are encountering in the transition process. They don't like philosophical lecture and some of them even don't like reading of Bible or recitation of hymns. They are controlled by the fear of unknown. There is no value for spoken words. A simple squeeze of the hand will suffice. They don't see the gender, color, creed or rays at that time and they simply see another soul physically present at the time of transitioning. They are in the process of disconnecting their attachments to the world, friends, and their family members. They are validating whether they led a good life being helpful to others or not. A simple expression of love gives them a lot of comfort than spoken words. I learned to apply the same rule, when someone is in an unchartered territory, a mere recognition and acknowledgement what they are encountering gives them more comfort than spoken words in the form of suggestions.

    It also reminded me of what Mother Teresa said about an incident she encountered when she picked up a leprosy patient off the street in Calcutta, cleaned her wounds, and fed her food and water. Mother Teresa said, "She smiled happily feeling loved and left her mortal coil in a trice bringing tears of joy to me".
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2024
  4. Anisu

    Anisu Platinum IL'ite

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    This is the most difficult thing to do. I would say from 0, i have now moved to 50 percent improvement. Giving a listening ear...and not mentioning our point of view are tough things and needs a lot of conscious effort.
     
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  5. shyamala1234

    shyamala1234 Platinum IL'ite

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    Dear Rihana,
    Just listen. They share with us not for a solution to their rough patches. They just want a listener. My niece is a professional counsellor. She says
    they too just listen. In pouring their thoughts their thoughts are streamlined and find their own solutions.
    Syamala
     
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  6. Rihana

    Rihana Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for sharing, Viswa. Indeed, people who are near the end of life need more of a fellow human's sheer presence than words as there are often no words that will help.
     
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  7. Rihana

    Rihana Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    I am so grateful and even relieved to read this response, Anisu. Ever since I "discovered" this concept, I have tried talking about it with friends, but most don't get it. This write-up also was sitting in my google drive for quite a while, and I posted it just because google keeps telling me I should start paying for space or delete files. : ) So, the relief is so profound that a long ramble follows. : ) And I know if I wait to revise it properly, it won't happen at all.

    One of the first time, or maybe even the first time, I was at the receiving end of this blessing was when I reconnected with a childhood friend after decades and shared some heavy stuff. She just listened, like just listened, I had to ask many times are you there? When I finally said say something, she replied, I don't know what to say, I am glad I am facing away from my office door, and offered only a neutral statement like "their moral compass aligned to a different north pole". That was not what she said, her actual words are too precious to share casually as an example in an internet discussion.

    Just to know someone else has attempted this, considers it worth attempting, and ranks their progress as 50% feels so validating, gratifying. I want to go and find out again how to follow someone in IL. : ) It is very hard to be the listening ear. Very very hard. Especially when the person is someone we care deeply about. And, if we have been through the same struggle, there is this insane urge to somehow save others from that struggle.

    So far I have found people who can do this are very few. Sometimes when I am desperate and the aforementioned friend is not available, I try to talk to one of my other friends. It often doesn't work. I start by saying can you just listen, I only need to vent, but, they end up offering their point of view. It is even harder if we are typing in WhatsApp. : )

    For a while I used to get irritated when friends kept offering their point of view or kept mentioning similar experience from their lives or lives of those they know. But a little deliberate reflection on why they do this after repeated "please listen" requests from me during the conversation, I realized that the way I present my problem/story, the basic issues of the story already analyzed by me, it is a processed format, so it is tempting for them to piggyback on it and share their related story. When venting, the insights I already have due to hours of prior brooding are so on the dot that they have to pick on those and attach their insights.

    Thank you for the response, Anisu. It means a lot to me. To know that someone else tries to do this is beautiful.
     
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  8. Rihana

    Rihana Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    What your niece says is so true. Professional counsellors are like people who stand at the entrance to a disorganized room and gently watch as you go about sorting it, one square foot at a time. : ) No hurry, no order of steps, no pressure, no judgement. : )
     
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  9. Thyagarajan

    Thyagarajan IL Hall of Fame

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    I ran through this interesting thread. The epitome is good. I hv few cents here.
    But the judge in court not listens he only heard it! Listening is for pleasure but listening in a class room is an art. But many times, I listen but I have not heard it especially when spouse impose work ! But the magic is the work is done without me uttering a word. Our passive listening may be a consolation for a political leader and his party members. But for a patient a visitor listening to her or him would be revitalising.
    The point is, if some one wish to cry over my shoulder I let him/her! I don't even interject.
    At a long court hearing when the judge ordered that court is adjourned, he was seen removing continuous long cotton wool from his ears.
    Life is full of Listeners' Choice!
     
  10. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra Finest Post Winner

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    There is a subtle difference between hearing and listening as the difference between reading and understanding. Steven Covey states that listening is a skill that one builds up on his own without being taught by anyone in the school. The schools only teach how to read, write, and speak. Listening is an important skill and it requires quieting the mind during listening from other activities. It also is associated with the attention span of the individual. Listening also involves observing the body language of the person who is speaking. When most minds stray out to other topics or even ready to demonstrate its skills by preparing what it should share as opposed to intense listening of someone talking real time. My business partner built a brilliant body language skill when he migrated to the United States as an Italian as he didn't know a word of English and learned by studying the body language.

    I remember my cousin who is a leading criminal lawyer in Chennai once had to cross examin the Late former Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha. When he asked a qustion about a news article, she replied, "I read it in the newspaper". He shot back, "Reading is not the same as understanding the subject as hearing is different from listening". As there were so many AIADMK supporters in the court, he ended up staying in the court for nearly 4-5 hours before he could safely moved away from the court with police protection.
     

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