Break Through Your Threshold: “Holding Space” for Someone
By Jai Maa
“Holding space” for someone is a special way of allowing someone to grieve without judgment while offering an empathic ear.
I hope you don’t mind me calling you again, you’re just one of the few people who get me,” Laura said on the other end of the line.
“You trust that I will hold your space,” I responded.
“Yes, you do. Thank you.” There was a long pause before Laura began to speak again.
“I’m having doubts about the decision I made to leave my partner. I felt strong in my choice to move out, but when I brought our 3-year-old here to stay our first night in our new apartment, something clicked for her that daddy wasn’t staying with us. She fell apart and it crushed my heart. I haven’t spent that many hours trying to calm her down and get her to sleep since she was an infant. Now, I’m wondering if I did the right thing,” Laura began to cry.
“You feel crushed by seeing your daughter in pain, and now you doubt your decision,” I responded.
“Yes. I know I did the right thing, I just never want to see my baby girl hurting that way,” Laura continued.
“You trust yourself, but you wish you could take your daughter’s pain away for her,” I responded.
“Yes,” Laura paused and sighed deeply, “Thank you for listening. I just needed to cry and get this off my chest. I know we’ll be okay, and I hope that this space will create healing between me and my partner. If I go running back, it will just be the same old, same old. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve been waiting for a change for years, so I am decided to be the one to make the change.”
“It took courage to take a stand for a healthier relationship, and you’re allowing yourself to feel the grief that comes with this change,” I reflected.
“I am. I felt miserable earlier, but I’m feeling strong and clear again. I’m going to go to bed now and snuggle my daughter. Thank you for being there for me.”
What did I do in this conversation? Did I give advice? Did I promise her things would be okay one day? Did I take her side? Did I say anything to try and make her feelings go away?
No. I held the best space of compassion I could and used empathic listening.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up in an environment that practiced empathy. I never learned empathy from home, school, church, or other authoritative figures. What I learned was how to give advice, judge, blame, label, teach, and try to rescue others from feeling their feelings.
Empathy means to compassionately see the world through another’s perspective, and demonstrate understanding without agreeing or disagreeing. Empathy means you are willing to suspend your judgments, view points, and even relatable examples you may commonly share to deeply listen to and understand the other.
Empathy does not mean collapsing into the perspective of another. Imagine another trying to tell you what the inside of their house looks like. Empathy means that you walk inside and see what they see. Collapsing into the perspective of another means that you’ve moved in. Judging, giving advice, blaming, praising, or any other self-centered response shows that you didn’t bother to go inside their house at all.
There are two parts to mastering empathic listening:
One is the verbal mechanic of shortly repeating what another person said while acknowledging the emotion they feel. Even if another doesn’t directly share what they feel, you can still sense what may be happening in their heart. Is it sadness, anger, joy, fear, trust, disappointment, guilt, or any other of the many emotional colors of the human rainbow?
The second requires mastery of the self. Can you learn how to become so still inside that there is no agenda to tamper with the experience of another? Meaning, even if you are itching to say something, you suspend your inner reactivity to remain present in the world of another? Like all skills worthy of mastery, quieting your mind takes practice, otherwise, you may take the conversation hostage.
For the past 10 years, I have been participating in empathic listening and life skill training through Satvatove Institute, based out of Alachua, Fla. One of the greatest compliments I receive from others is, “Thank you for understanding and just listening to me, no one else does that for me.” I can’t tell you how relieved I am to finally know it is not my job to be the savior of humanity by trying to change another’s experience. Holding an empathic listening space for others has taught me that everyone is capable of thriving in their own self-realized wisdom. Be the change. Simply listen.
Enlightenment Challenge: Try this basic model for empathic listening in your relationships: “You feel __________ because__________.”
If you would like to learn empathic listening and relationship building skills, the next Satvatove Foundational seminar held in Gainesville, FL is June 7-9. For more information call Jai Maa at 352-514-3122.
Jai Maa is a touring author and enlightenment facilitator who inspires others to create their visions with no compromise. An interfaith minister and native of Polk County, she travels with her cat companions teaching others how to co-create with God and live their own version of Heaven on Earth. For more information visit BreakThroughYourThreshold.com.