When we hold space for others it means that we empathise that we can feel other people’s pain where ever their journey might have taken them, without judging them for making “wrong” decisions, making them feel “less than”, by trying to fix them with our “superior knowledge” or influence the outcome or get annoyed with them because they don’t take our advice. What holding space for someone means is that we open our hearts and our minds, we offer a non-judgmental non-controlling space where they can just be themselves and try to work their own problems out.
It is really hard to hold space for other people unless we feel that someone has “our back” which is why “normal” people in relationships with narcissists can appear really flakey and unreliable because they can seem really supportive and loving when all is well with their narcissist and disintegrate for their friends when they come under a barrage of fire from the same, as a narcissist’s attack is nearly always savage and can leave their victim very unstable because all is not what it seemed to be.
Holding space for other people is the essence of being a human. It is not about money, success and all of those superficial things. It is not what we have been taught but it is what is true. We need to let people (now more than ever) be weak, be vulnerable and to feel safe to ask for help.
The rules are very simple:
- Don’t try to tell people who you think that they should be. That does not mean that you should live without boundaries.
- Don’t “over advise” or get pissed off when they don’t take your advice, they are living their own journey and trusting their own intuition (however that might be at the time), it is their journey not yours
- Don’t overload people with information, narcissism is a really hard concept to accept – be gentle/ be kind.
When people first learn about narcissism there is a lot of incredulity/half acceptance because they cannot believe that they are “that bad”, to be supportive expect to hear the person you are supporting become quite obsessed with the topic and be very repetitive, they only want you to listen so that they can work it out for themselves. They are learning about the condition and are trying to mold the vast amount of information out there in to their own particular situation.
If we judge them as they grapple around in their confusion they will immediately recoil into their shell, when we hold space for them we give them the courage to move on and the resilience to keep going.
There is a phase in the journey on learning about narcissism when people have a tendency to beat themselves up and wonder “how could I have been so stupid/blind?”, “how could I have been so “accepting” of this type of abuse?”. This is just an inevitable part of the journey and each person’s story is different. However, there are two main reasons why people accept abuse the first is they come from a narcissistic family of origin, so abuse is their form of “love” and the second is that a narcissist will constantly check boundaries (like a small child) and every time they are permitted an abuse, the next time they will push a little harder. So what might feel like a behaviour that occurred as a result of a bad day or fatigue is really the first steps towards something much more sinister.
A person who has been abused will be very confused so when they come to you for advice, instead of telling them what you think that they need to know, ask them open questions so that they can discover for themselves.
When a person feels that they are in a safe space, that is to say with people who are empathetic, compassionate and tender, they can get in touch with all of their more complex emotions and if necessary completely break down in front of the person(s) who is supporting them. This is of immense help to the victim because they can then get in touch with “stuff” that they have been denying or minimalizing up to this point.
Strength and confidence are very important if you are going to hold space for someone. Which means that you are in for the long haul (while respecting your own boundaries) and that you will not be shocked or aghast by what you hear or “turned off” by excessive emotional outbursts.
It is not easy to hold space for other people and it takes patience and practice. It is also important that you do not hold space for the “wrong” person, someone who just wants an emotional crutch and shows no real desire to grow and move on. This is a hard thing to recognize because it is not always obvious