“Don’t worry Anna - all kids catch up eventually - you know by the time they finish school they’re all the same”
A well meaning comment I received five years ago, after I told a friend about Jacksons' ASD diagnosis.
Looking back I see now that she was deeply uncomfortable with what I'd just told her (understandable) and trying to ‘solve’ the situation - for her own peace of mind if not mine.
I also see now what I didn’t know then. That the ability for her to sit with me in my discomfort would have been extremely healing and validating.
I look back at comments I have made in the past and see the same fear and unease in my responses.
A friend of mine whose child had just been diagnosed in utero with achondroplasia four years ago. While I ‘comforted’ her by saying ‘well at least you know he will still make friends and learn to speak and have the opportunity for a career and marriage and kids….’
I stole her unspoken fears and made her child's’ diagnosis all about my own child and my own grief.
What I didn’t realise then but is now so clear, is that most humans are afflicted with the need to ‘fix’.
And so many miss the distinction between advice giving, and simply sitting with someone in loving support allowing them to feel seen, understood, and cared for.
The unsolicited advice giving and ‘comforting’ reassurances - is not holding space, it is grabbing space and disguising it as love.
At the end of the day, that ability to hold space means to not make it about you. That's it. To remove all ego and judgement and let it be about someone else. It is powerful and validating experience to be on the receiving end of. But happens all too rarely in our fast passed solutions focussed world.
Holding space for another requires your clear understanding that while you’re in the trenches with them, you are only holding their hand — not stealing their hardship and making it your own.
It means to shift into neutral gear instead of trying to speed up past the discomfort by offering solutions
Holding space requires us to drop our judgements and be present enough to connect on deeper, more meaningful levels — without letting our internal narrative get in the way.
I’ve witnessed in some of my coaching clients that for the first time ever - they have the opportunity to feel truly heard and understood. To feel like they’re not weak or pathetic to feel how they feel. To stop feeling gaslit and misunderstood. And to stop feeling so alone in their heartache. Or like there is something wrong with them.
I also see them find solutions for themselves. An empowering process.
Knowing how to be with people in pain is a superpower. Possessing a willingness and ability to be alongside someone in their experience of pain.
It is a the medicine that many of us don’t know we need mostly because we receive it so rarely.
We are amazing women who have evolved and overcome so much in our lives. We don’t need someone trying to take our power away (by trying to fix our problems), shaming us (implying that we should know more than we do) or comparing our problems to anything or anyone else.
Advice and problem-solving (unless requested) can come later.
We don’t need superheroes to swoop in and save us.
We are perfectly capable of saving ourselves.
Most of the time, we need someone to remind us that having weak moments does not mean that we are weak.
And that what we are feeling is real and valid.
So if you are privileged enough to have a friend allow you into her innermost private world, resist the urge to step all over it with the footprints of your agenda or unease.
Just take a seat on the grass beside us and let us know we are not alone.