By Cheryl Wituik BA, BSW RSW – Program Coordinator at BFO-SW

You may have heard the term “holding space” in conversations with others, perhaps you’ve seen it in a book or article, or it might have been something your therapist mentioned, if you’ve ever been in counselling.

It’s a phrase we use often in our work supporting bereaved families. Holding space means, quite simply, BEING WITH. It means being in a physical and emotional space with someone; fully present, listening intently, actively, without judgement, with full acceptance. It is a way of extending openness, kindness, gentleness; making room for, and allowing whatever is present to exist in the moment.

It is an active attempt to do nothing to interfere with what is.

Finding compassionate people who can hold space for us, who can provide this gentle acceptance isn’t always easy, or at times, possible. The good news is that we can learn to hold space for ourselves, by turning this around and reaching in to the heart of compassion that exists within each of us. It is comparable to holding a mirror up, looking into our own eyes, and intentionally treating ourselves with the same warmth and kindness we would show for another person who was facing similar circumstances.

What might it mean if we were to hold space for ourselves within our own grief? We all know how quickly we place judgments upon ourselves for our thoughts, our emotions, our actions. We’re so quick to criticize and berate ourselves; we tell ourselves all kinds of things that aren’t true, or helpful. Holding space would mean being kind, gentle and understanding of whatever we are experiencing in the moment.

This can be uncomfortable for us if we’re not used to allowing our intense emotion to come to the surface. But there are valuable benefits to nurturing this way of being with ourselves. Holding space is a way of slowing down, of bearing witness to what our hearts are feeling and what our minds are thinking. It means to be fully present with all of it. To listen intently to the internal dialogue and external expression of the pain and suffering and to resist the urge to shut it down immediately, to resist the tendency to tell yourself that this isn’t what you should be feeling, or thinking or doing. Simply BE with what exists. You can love and support yourself, by allowing yourself to move through the present experience instead of pushing it away.

When we learn to trust that we are our own best guides through these personal experiences; when we practice allowing ourselves to feel what we feel with self compassion, there can be a shift in how we experience our days. Often, there is a sense of lightening, of ease, of peace – even for a few precious moments – because we’ve shown ourselves kindness, compassion and unconditional support. And, as an added bonus perhaps, when we practice holding space for ourselves during the challenging times, we soon come to realize that we are teaching ourselves to be more fully present in all aspects of our lives – the sorrow AND the joyful moments, the pain AND the relief from suffering. We become more in tune, self-aware, and more fully accepting of ourselves along the way.

This month, see if you can extend some loving kindness, some gentle self-compassion, when it feels safe to do so. Try holding space for all that your heart is enduring as you grieve.

“Holding space for myself means permission to feel what I need to feel, space to just be here, exactly who and how I am, and to find my way forward – gently.” –