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  • Writer's pictureProject Empower Circle

The Art of Holding Space with Heather Plett: Conversation Takeaways

"Holding space is the practice of compassionately witnessing, accepting, and supporting someone without judgement, while retaining your boundaries and sense of self." - Heather Plett

Heather Plett, the creator of Centre for Holding Space, has done revolutionary work around holding space for oneself and others all around the globe. She believes in the power of giving others permission to be vulnerable, and to foster a safe “liminal space” for life transitions of all sorts to happen. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control. We show that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they're on without making them feel inadequate, needing to change them, or trying to impact the outcome.

Eight years ago, Heather and her siblings stood by their mother’s side as she was succumbing to her disease. Reflecting back on this time, Heather vividly remembers the crucial role of a palliative care nurse they had hired in helping them navigate the confusing world of end-of-life care. She had held space for Heather and her mother in ways that allowed them to experience life events while knowing there was support available. This transforming period inspired Heather to write a viral blogpost about holding space in 2015. With over 10 millions reads, Heather’s concept of holding space has revolutionized the way people approach difficult conversations and life transitions with their loved ones. Her outlook is also extremely applicable to large-scale social settings in how communities can hold space for one another.

Here are 5 takeaways from our conversation with Heather!

1. Reflect back on how others have held space for you, and what you can learn from them.

Heather started the session off by asking the audience to think back about the time that someone held space for you. This helped ground the discussion and allowed everyone to be present in this conversation around holding space. Heather also asked her audience about what words come to mind when thinking of someone who was there for you and themes of compassion, patience and understanding emerged.

2. Three layers of the Holding Space bowl: What you offer, What guides you, What supports you

“When we hold space for another person’s path through liminal space, we essentially serve as a container -- like the shell of the chrysalis -- offering and creating a safe place for the chaos, the mess, the fear, the grief, the rage, and the ecstasy [...] to take place."
"Becoming the bowl is how you serve when you hold space for others. The first layer of the bowl is What You Offer, based on the needs of the individual(s) you are holding space for. It is the lining of the bowl, those aspects that will be experienced by the person in the midst of the liminal journey." - The Art of Holding Space, a practice of love, liberation, and leadership

The second layer of the bowl is What Guides You, which are the five properties that will make you a more effective space holder, consisting of intuition, discernment, humility, courage, and curiosity.

The last and outer layer of the bowl shapes and supports the entire container, and it is dedicated to What Supports You. This can include Mystery, a sense of navigating unknown territory, and Community, as holding space does not happen in a vacuum and involves networks much bigger than the individual.

3. It is critical to hold space for ourselves first.

You may have heard the saying that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Heather stressed the importance of holding space for ourselves before doing so for others. This can take on many forms depending on our state of mind and capacity for , such If we cannot hold space for ourselves, then we are not able to hold space for others. It’s the idea that you cannot pour from an empty cup! It’s important to first develop compassion towards yourself and to create a relationship of trust with yourself.

“It’s really critical, for those of us who want to hold space for other people in a healthy way, to hold space for ourselves first.” - Heather Plett

4. Give others autonomy and understand sovereignty in holding space.

Heather’s concept of holding space is grounded in giving others the autonomy to make their own decisions. When going into a situation where someone needs support, it’s important to go in with a level of trust in the other person’s ability to make decisions and to lead their own lives. There is a level of sovereignty that needs to be respected. You don’t want to go into a relationship or a situation by hijacking the space as this could ...

“It’s sort of the fabric underneath every relationship. It changes how I show up for people. I need to show up in a way that always trusts that the other person is smart enough to lead their lives. I don’t want to show up in a way where I colonize…”

5. How to ask others to hold space for us

A topic of discussion surrounded approaching others when we need to be held. Heather acknowledged that sometimes we may not receive the type of space we hold for others, and that is okay. Holding space is a skill as much as it could be an innate talent for some. People can get better at it, and that is promising for individuals looking to communicate their needs to the loved ones in their lives. Having realistic expectations about what kind of space we would like others to hold for us, depending on their role in our lives, can help frame an open discussion around this topic. Also, it is okay to look for other individuals that can become parts of our lives that are able to hold space, and to minimize relationships that “hijack” space.

When asked about what empowers Heather, she indicated that she is inspired by the young people who are working to have an impact and hold space for themselves and others. Heather’s vision for the future is grounded in a world that practices holding space. She wants people to create a compassionate world where each and every individual can experience challenging life events or transitions in the presence of others who will hold space for them.


This article was written by Pallavi Dutta & Nikoo Aghaei.

We would like to thank Heather Plett and all attendees for a greatly insightful conversation. Learn more about upcoming events.

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