WTF Is Holding Space? (A Man’s Guide)

“I need you to hold space for me.”
These words get tossed around A LOT in modern relationships, but most people have no clue what it is or how to do it.
In a workshop I led recently, the concept of ‘holding space’ came up.
I asked how many people had heard of this concept and the entire audience raised their hand.
Then I asked how many could define it or effectively knew how to do it…
Crickets. Only 2 hands raised.
One of the men spoke up and said “my wife asks me to do this all the time, but I haven’t got a clue what it means or how to do it. I assumed it just meant shut up and listen, but that doesn’t seem to work either. She often says i don’t understand her, that I’m always trying to fix her or that I’m cold and emotionless.”
“Same here” “Me too,” said a few of the guys in the room.
Then, I asked the women in the room what the impact or result would be if their partner could hold space for them properly.
“I’d finally feel heard.”
“I’d feel like he understood me!”
“I’d feel more emotionally connected which would make me more connected at an intimate level.”
“I would feel like he was compassionate and empathetic.”
“When my partner has been able to hold space for me, I’m always more open to physical connection afterward.”
Clearly, this was an important topic men needed and wanted to understand.
First, let’s agree on what holding space is NOT.

Holding space is not:

  • Just Listening
  • Trying to fix, solve or provide alternative points of views for your partner
  • Disconnecting or diminishing your partner’s emotional experience
  • A one-way conversation
  • Being disconnected from your own experience.

I asked the men to share their past experiences of trying to hold space to really drive home the point.
One man summed it up by saying “I feel like I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried being completely silent and listening, I’ve tried fixing the problem, offering suggestions and I’ve even tried just agreeing with everything she’s said. Nothing seems to work and I’m almost ready to give up.”
So what IS holding space?
Here’s my definition:

“Holding space is the process of witnessing someone else’s emotional state while simultaneously being present to your own.”

This means the person holding space has double duty.
If you are the person holding space, you need to be tuned into your own judgments, emotions, desired outcomes and opinions all while understanding what’s happening for the other person.
Holding space goes beyond listening because it requires us to hear the other person, have empathy and not make the situation about us by trying to ‘give insight’ fix or ‘offer advice.’
Think of it this way; when you hold space, you are creating a container for the other person’s emotions to come up, be seen without the interference of your own and be released.
Holding space it’s like creating a metaphorical bucket for someone to emotionally and verbally vomit into.
Sounds classy, right?
Holding space doesn’t mean you remove or avoid your own emotions and it doesn’t mean you get sucked into their emotional state because then you’ll both need a bucket.
But how do we effectively hold space? How do we create this bucket? Knowing what something is and knowing how to do it are two very different things.

The 3 things you need to know about holding space:

1. Awareness Is Crucial. 

Your emotions, thoughts, and opinions are going to get in the way.
If you want to ‘build the bucket,’ or really hold space, you’ll need to master the art of noticing your own internal processes while observing theirs.
Being able to see what you think and feel is essential. It’s what all really exceptional listeners, leaders, and therapists do.
They hear what you say, feel what you’re feeling all while noticing (without judgment or attachment) what their own thoughts and feelings are about the situation.
Without this awareness, you will fall into the trap of trying to effect an outcome based on your own desires or opinions.
The outcome of holding space is not decided by something you’ve done, it’s determined by something you’ve created. 
Awareness is so crucial because as human beings we are easily influenced by other’s emotional states. Think about someone who is quick to anger. When you’re around them, it’s much easier to become frustrated, annoyed and angry than normal. Why? Because of transference and emotional mirroring. Put simply, if not aware, you take on the emotions of others.
The point here is that you need to be equally aware of your own thoughts and emotions as you are of the person you’re hiding space for. The goal is not to be empty or devoid of emotions, the goal is simply to be aware so you don’t react from those emotions.
Oh, and put your damn technology away. You’re not holding space properly with your phone out, email open or TV on. Be Present.

2. It’s Not About You.

As much as you will feel the need to fix, solve, be right or ‘of service,’ the best thing you can do is realize that the whole conversation and point of holding space is to make the conversation about their experience and not about yours.
Notice how when you’re trying to fix or solve a problem, it’s more about your own validation than your partners. If you want real validation, use the law of reciprocity: give that which you want to get.
Here are a few things that help create the bucket and shift the focus onto them:

  • Give them permission to share, permission to trust their instincts/intuition and trust their internal wisdom.
  • Create the space for them to make decisions or take actions that might be different than your own.

3. Validation, validation, val-i-da-tion

Let’s make one thing clear, you don’t need to agree with them to validate them.
The biggest trap people fall into when holding space is that they are looking for evidence to AGREE with before they feel like they can give validation.
When this happens, validation of any form is a challenge because the person holding space is trying to understand the situation and emotions associated with it based on their own view of reality.
In general, the masculine will struggle with this. The masculine will want to understand someone logically before validating their partner’s emotional experience. (Notice, I’m not saying MEN, but the masculine. More logical, analytical women can get caught in this trap too.)
There are two important things about validation:
The other person needs to feel understood. This means you have to take a different view point, put yourself in their reality for a minute and understand why they are thinking and feeling that way.
Reflecting back their thoughts/feelings is the best way to do this. (remember, you don’t need to agree, simply understand).
Really listen for the core of the issue they are having. Mirror back what they say the issue is and take the time to validate their emotions. You’d be surprised how many people are simply looking to be understood and be told that they aren’t crazy (like they’ve been telling themselves in their head).
Finally, trust them.
Trust that they can handle their shit.
Trust them to navigate their emotional turmoil, solve their problems and trust in their ability to find what they need.
And remember – the bigger the problem, the bigger the bucket, the longer you’ll need to hold it.

Man Of The Week – Connor Driscoll

Connor Driscoll was introduced to us through a previous Man Of The Week and boy are we thrilled with that connection! While his life’s purpose may not be something he has identified or learned yet, Connor is an admirable young man whose values and work serve as a reminder for all of us to continue positively impacting those around us. Connor has done this for the last seven years where he began teaching in an elementary school, and today serves as the principal. Like many before him, Connor sees education as a means of preparing children for their future, with some of the tools needed to handle life, and the medium for which we leave the world in a better place. His reward is the simplest and purest of things: the joy kids can bring. Many of us often get stuck in the rat race that is our professional career; however, Connor’s life experiences have taught him an invaluable lesson that the real joy in life is not in the outcome, but the journey itself. Investing time and efforts with the right intentions in meaningful areas of our lives has a bigger impact on us and those around us, but this must be done with the support of your loved ones. Read on to learn more about Connor’s journey and how an incredible moment of vulnerability allowed him to realize that his wife is the rock of his life.

Age – 30

What do you do? (Work)
I am in my first year as an elementary school principal. I’ve worked as a teacher for the past seven years, and had bouts as a climbing and mountaineering guide on the east and west coasts. I’m also a fledgling author of fiction for middle-grade readers. I’ve finished one book and am working with a fantastic agent to find the right home for it. So far it’s not profitable work, but I enjoy it and work hard at it, so it counts.

Why do you do it?
Let’s see. I work in education because I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of public education and that every child deserves access to a future that only education can provide. Also, I really enjoy the work. I think with any job, it’s important to enjoy what you do, but that’s particularly true in education because the joy kids bring is the biggest reward in the job. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re sunk and the ones who lose out most are the kids. Don’t get me wrong, the work is really hard (as any educator who does a good job will tell you) but the fact that it is so hard and so important makes it worth it. I mean, in what other profession do you literally get to prepare the next generation for what life has in store- or at least what we predict life will be like when they’re adults?
I worked as a mountaineering and climbing guide because I love climbing and the mountains, and I wanted to share passion with others. I still love climbing and the mountains, and will share those experiences with anyone I can, but I had to choose and I chose public education. I don’t regret it.
I write because I enjoy it. That’s it. I could always get lost reading fiction, and I’ve found that I can do the same when writing it.

How do you make a difference in the world? (Work, business, life, family, self)
I think that’s the whole point of education. It may not be a difference that’s felt all at once, or one that the students even notice is being made at the time, but most adults can look back and identify at least one teacher that really made a difference in his or her life. Helping kids learn and helping them mature and cope with life’s many curveballs makes a difference to them, and who knows how that will impact the world down the line.

What are 3 defining moments in your life?
– Meeting, then marrying my wife. She’s absolutely amazing.
– Growing up and working on a party fishing boat with my dad. He was the captain and I was the mate. It was a really special time, and I got to hear my dad tell a lot of stories. Maybe that’s why I like to write them.
– Any of about a million memories of spending time with my family. I can’t pick one, but they’re really important to me and always have been.

What is your life purpose?
I haven’t figured that one out just yet, and I’m not sure I ever will. I think that maybe that’s a purpose in and of itself- the journey. I think it’s about the process, not the ends.

How did you tap into it?
I try to enjoy experiences as much as I possibly can and be the best person I know how.

Who is your Role-Model or Mentor?
My father. He’s always been someone I looked up to.

Do you have any daily habits? If so, what are they?
I like to try and do something physical, whether it’s running or hiking or climbing or taking the dog for a romp in the woods. If I go to many days in a row without doing that, I start to get antsy. My wife thinks I’m like a dog that way, and she usually notices before I do if I’m off. I think she’s worried I’ll start chewing the furniture. I also spend as much time with her as I can- dinner if we’re both home or some couch time if it’s later.

When do you know your work/life balance is off?
I can feel it. The other day I was at a meeting, and we were talking about the work/life balance and someone slipped and said the work/work balance. I think that’s a sign.

Vulnerability is a challenge for most men – share a vulnerable moment from your life with us.
This one’s tough. I lost one of my best friends to suicide several years back. It was incredibly hard. He was an exchange student that lived with my family in high school. In college, I did an exchange and lived close to him for a while, too. We spent a lot of time in the mountains of Germany in Austria together, and we were very close. Because we lived in different countries at the time of his death, and his friend from Germany was informing people and didn’t have my number or email, I found out through a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know, so I didn’t believe it. I was living at my parents’ house at the time, and they were on vacation. My wife (then fiance) was living with her parents across the state, so I was alone for that night. The next morning, I couldn’t take being by myself so I went to work where I was teaching in Boston. I stuffed my car into a snowbank on the way in because I wasn’t paying attention and hit some ice. That night, I drove out to be with my wife because we were doing a pre-wedding thing with the church. Once I got there I just lost it. I cried harder than I ever had, and it hurt worse than anything I’d ever endured. Not just emotionally, but it physically hurt. Bad. The whole time I was convulsing in sobs, my wife just held me. I can still feel how tightly her arms wrapped around me from behind (I was little spoon that night) and I knew that I could get through it because I had her.

What did you learn from it?
I learned that despite any evidence to the contrary, my wife is my rock. She may dispute that, but she’s proved it time and time again.

If you are or were going to be a mentor for another man, what is one piece of advice you would give him?
Get a dog. Dogs are awesome and they make you a better person.

How do you be the best partner (Boyfriend/Husband- past or present)
We try to support each other in whatever we do. We make time for each other. We talk and we laugh, a lot.

Do you support any Charities or Not-for-profits? (Which one(s) and why?)
My wife has a connection to an orphanage in Tanzania, and we’ve paid school fees for a student there as she’s gone to secondary school. I say “we” there, but really it’s her doing that. We also both work in education and give freely of our time and treasure to that cause.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
I was trying to think of a serious one for this, and it just wouldn’t work. I keep coming back to “Call me Maybe.” I’m really not sure why.

Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Right where I am now. I’m really happy with what’s going on at the moment, and have no desire to change it. I feel like sometimes people get so caught up with ambition that they forget what it’s like to be content.

What legacy do you want to leave for future generations?
I’d like for students I’ve served to be able to look back fondly on the time they had, and for them to be better human beings for having spent time in a place where I worked. I’d also like the world to be better and more understanding for my kids.

What One book would you recommend for any Man?
Anything by Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein. Really, a lot of books for kids. I think there’s a lot that adults can learn from them, and maybe a lot that they have learned, or have forgotten over the years. It’s important to be reminded of what makes us human and I think that books targeted to kids do a really good job of that.

Man Of The Week – Jeremy Hendon

This week, we have the honour of highlighting Jeremy Hendon, an entrepreneur, coach and speaker. Ironically, Jeremy has found a way to balance doing ‘so much’ and ‘so little’ at the same time! Jeremy has a very intriguing perspective on life and how to live it, one very different from many of the men we have featured in the past. That’s not to say he’s wrong though, Jeremy’s logic does make sense and in fact allows you to notice many of life’s subtle little ‘traps’ we fall into, traps that influence our intentions, thoughts and actions. A man who epitomizes living in the present moment, Jeremy believes purpose is not something we pre-define, but a moment we experience. Read on to uncover more of Jeremy’s fresh take on life.

Age: 37

What do you do? (Work)
I do whatever I feel like, and it seems to work out.
My wife and I are entrepreneurs.  We have brands on Amazon, I recently built a plugin, we have websites that sell our books and courses, I do a little consulting/coaching and speaking, and I’m starting to host events.
But most of my time, I travel a lot, I eat a lot, and I talk to a lot of people.  I do some writing, some speaking, some podcasting, and I play a lot of board games.

Why do you do it?
Most often, because it’s what I think will make me happiest.
In my moments of clarity, I do what I do for no reason at all.

How do you make a difference in the world? (Work, business, life, family, self)
By “doing” as little as possible.
I believe we get caught up in “making a difference” only by viewing the world as imperfect.  This is a trap I’ve fallen into for most of my life – trying to make various differences from environmental reform to political change.
I’ve tried to change the world and to improve myself, but neither is necessary. Change will come and it won’t, and both are fine.
In the words of Ramana Maharshi, “The power that created you has created the world as well. If it can take care of you, it can similarly take care of the world also. If God has created the world it is his business to look after it, not yours.”

What are 3 defining moments in your life?
I honestly don’t know how to answer this question.
If it’s 3 moments that define who I want to be, then those three moments are “now”, “now”, and “now.”  If it’s 3 moments that define my perceived shortcomings, I’d probably choose three instances when I flipped out and yelled at customer service representatives.
I don’t know that any moments actually define my life or even give someone a good idea of what it’s like to be me, which is generally how I interpret the question.

What is your life purpose?
Haha…I don’t know.
I like to think my purpose is to be at peace and to play as much as possible.
But I’m excited to find out what the universe actually has in store for me. I don’t believe it’s possible to know in advance what my “purpose” is. I try to let go as much as I can.

How did you tap into it?
I believe that we create – rather than tap into – meaning and purpose. And so long as I can remain aware that all purpose and meaning is created, I can be at peace with whatever I create.

Who is your Role-Model or Mentor?
This changes all the time for me, but one person whom I have admired for a long time is Oprah. She has a lot of compassion and peace in her life for someone so busy and successful.
I have many informal mentors in my life, including some of my friends like Theresa Laurico, Arda Ozdemir, and Philip McKernan.
I also greatly value the contributions of historical figures such as Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha) and Lao Tze.

Do you have any daily habits? If so, what are they?
Habits have become the new currency of dissatisfaction with the present.
Too often in my life (and I see it in many others), I’ve tried to implement habits in order to change something about my life or to “get somewhere.”
So I do have habits, but I don’t think of them as habits at all.  I meditate every day, write most mornings, and even work with some affirmations almost every day (mostly around peace, bliss, and serendipity).  The difference is that I don’t do these things for any reason other than doing them, and I just happen to do them almost every day.

When do you know your work/life balance is off?
I know when I feel like I should do something rather than just doing it. I don’t really have a distinction between work and life, so that’s the metric I use. Procrastination is usually a pretty good sign.

Vulnerability is a challenge for most men – share a vulnerable moment from your life with us.
My vulnerability is very dependent on circumstances. It might be vulnerable for me to admit how much money I make when I’m around billionaires but not when I’m around people earning minimum wage.
With that in mind, one thing I’ve felt vulnerable about admitting over the last few months is that I often feel unhappiness and despair. These feelings are something I still view as imperfect about myself, particularly in the company of friends who seem to be very happy with and excited about their lives and their businesses.
Like many vulnerabilities, it might not sound like much, since everybody deals with unhappiness and despair to some degree. But admitting as much to many of my friends has been extremely difficult, uncomfortable, and vulnerable.

What did you learn from it?
To welcome and even embrace those emotions.  (I have not fully learned this lesson…lol).

If you are or were going to be a mentor for another man, what is one piece of advice you would give him?
Be as you are.
Ironically and paradoxically, that might take a lot of work (therapy, personal development, meditation, time, etc.). Or it might take none at all. You are not your thoughts, emotions, or body. You can choose to identify with them or not, but you have no control over them.
Always ask yourself, “Who am I?” and keep asking it, until you realize that there is no “I”.

How do you be the best partner (Boyfriend/Husband- past or present)
The indirect answer is this… when I’m present and clear, I don’t try to be the best husband at all.
I attempt to act intuitively, without trying to please or make my wife happier. I find it both empirically incorrect and also egotistical to think that I could make my wife happy.  My actions might trigger mental or emotional patterns in her (as in anyone else), but her happiness is her own.
The caveat to all of this is that I definitely don’t always act or not act from that intuitive place. Also, you’d have to check with my wife about whether any of this makes me a better husband or not.  ☺

Do you support any Charities or Not-for-profits? (Which one(s) and why?)
I really like DonorsChoose.org. I love teaching, I love kids, and I love the platform of being able to choose projects to support.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
Let it Go (theme song from Frozen).

Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
In the Present.

What legacy do you want to leave for future generations?
An awareness that we don’t need to grow, change, or improve.  That peace and bliss are possible, but only through complete acceptance of ourselves and our world as it is.
But then again, maybe future generations will have technology that makes peace and bliss automatic.

What One book would you recommend for any Man?
Two books I recommend right now…
– The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
– Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

If you know a Man that is making a positive impact on the world, we would love to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected]


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