What does it really mean to hold space for yourself

Hold space for yourself, it really matters

As a parent, there is nothing worse than your child being sick or hurt. We recently went through this challenging experience with our son. The fear in his eyes was heart-wrenching and took every ounce of my ability to hold it together. I felt powerless as the doctors surrounded him.

As I watched him face this challenging day, I could do nothing to take his pain away. I couldn’t be the hero mom who swooped in and took it on for him. My role was completely different. I need to just be there and hold his hand, holding space for his experience. Which is when I got it, it would be easy to be there trying to solve or fix it. But that wasn’t what he needed. What he needed was to be loved, and I needed to be at my best to do that.

Being a mom of a 21 and 18-year old took on an entirely new meaning for me at that moment. I had spent two decades trying to prevent their pain and suffering. Exhausting myself in this role as their superhero. I wore it like a badge of honour, the oh-so-tired mom badge. And at this moment, I realized that all this time, all the sleepless nights of worry, all the hours of working myself to the bone I was missing the point. In those difficult and scary hours, I learned that what I needed was to take care of myself so I could really care for him.

I have limits

Since that scary night, I have reflected on how much of my time and energy is holding space for others: my husband, children, family, friends, students, and clients. I have invested my life into keeping caring for others; I am compassionate and giving. But in this reflection, I realized that there is a limit to my ability, that for me to grow and expand this ability, I would need to learn to give it to myself first. To hold space for others, to be what they required of me, I would need to focus inward.

How to hold space for yourself?

Think about the last time you were planning for the holiday season. We often experience emotion and pressure and feel stressed. We are worried about family dynamics, planning to navigate holiday parties, or fitting in family time in busy holiday schedules. While the holidays remind us just how much our lives impact us, we can easily forget that this is true every day. Emotional regulation helps us manage the overwhelm of the emotions in our body, soften our thoughts, and feel okay during difficult times. There are three helpful resources in developing emotional regulation; interoceptive awareness, embodiment, self-compassion, and self-regulation.

Interoceptive awareness is the ability to sense, process, and appropriately respond to the body’s physiological signals. Building this awareness is like learning a new language; this one is internal, unlike a language we hear externally. Our body communicates with us through sensations and feelings such as tension, gurgling, pangs, tingling, and warmth. These sensations are the body’s vocabulary; interoceptive awareness is our ability to understand that language.

In the simplest terms, Embodiment means to feel the sensations, thoughts, and emotions within us and live in that experience. I had spent decades trying not to feel the pain in my body, not the pain in my emotions, which had also prevented joy and peace, especially not having time for my thoughts. By integrating my mental, physical and emotional states, I can be present, open, and aware of each moment as it happens. I can live in each moment as it happens, acknowledging my experience. Embodiment increases empathy, self-compassion, and self-awareness and reduces stress and anxiety.

The awareness that interoception and embodiment are helpful, but without self-compassion, we can easily use that knowledge to judge and shame ourselves leading to further suffering. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. 

Self-regulation is our ability to regulate our reactions to emotions like frustration or excitement. Calming ourselves down after something exciting or upsetting happens. You are being able to focus on a task and refocus attention on a new task. Interceptive awareness and embodiment help us integrate our mental, physical and emotional states with embodied practices such as yoga or meditation. We can practice coping with difficult emotions and generate positive mental states. Incorporating self-regulation means you are in your power, creating the life you want while pursuing your goals.

With each of these skills and practices, we can emotionally self-regulate, which is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions, as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed.

Be open to feeling all of your emotions. 

Have you ever found yourself in tears watching a holiday play? Or found yourself missing those who are not with you? Or overwhelmed with joy?

Holidays can bring up a lot of emotions from all the planning and travel, causing changes in sleep patterns, etc. Happiness, guilt, and even overwhelming. It can bring forward reminders of loss, grief, or a feeling of loneliness. Plan to give yourself space to acknowledge emotions as they happen. They are helpful to allow, but you can also honor yourself by gently facing them as they come.

Be open to the emotions of others.

 You won’t be the only one facing emotion. Observing your family and friends allows you to provide support and love. Not only will you see opportunities to support another, but this creates closeness in your relationship.

Build your compassion toolbox. 

There are many ways to show that you care; by simply observing a situation, you are holding space for yourself. You can ask yourself how you feel and your go-to method of showing your care.

Are you feeling like giving a gift? Ask your self “what am I trying to communicate with this gift? What other choices do you have to show how I’m feeling? Could you express your thoughts in words? Through time?

Let go of self-judgment and the expectations of others.

Conflict often occurs when expectations are not met. Whether we blame ourselves or another, the underlying problem is the expectation. By addressing this first, we can identify if the expectation was built on what we wanted or needed. Or if the expectation is grounded in ability and capacity.

It is helpful to notice when you feel judgment to observe what is happening. How or where do you think the judgment? What do you wish was different? How would it change the result? It can be tough to let go of criticism completely; it will take practice. So allow yourself to notice it happening and allow yourself space to step back instead of stepping into it.

Practice active listening. 

It’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with stimulation, especially in the holidays with packed houses, especially during a holiday get-together where we may feel overwhelmed by the amount of interaction in short periods and the overall amount of simultaneous interactions. But this is a beautiful time to practice active listening skills. You could be surprised by what you learn about your listening skills. Do you notice changes in body language, tone, and volume of voice, and can you hear their message, not just the words they are speaking?

One tip is to observe your distractions. Is there a better environment for this conversation? Is your phone buzzing in your pocket? Can you hear someone else’s perspective without wanting to correct it or share your own?

Let go of what is getting in your way. 

Holidays often bring back childhood memories and traditions, making it a perfect time to fall into old patterns. Competitiveness with siblings, old arguments, and competing egos can get in the way of a happy holiday. Notice your thoughts and feelings that you may be carrying from the past. This is an incredible opportunity to allow forgiveness and create change.

Limit “should” and be aware of what you need. 

It’s easy to feel pressure to buy the perfect gift, meet the expectations of others or attend every party.  Meeting these expectations can lead to resentment, frustration, and even burnout. Allow yourself to reflect on how you feel, specifically how the expectation affects you. Give yourself space to allow what you need and give yourself time to self-care.

Practice self-care and compassion.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “giving season” and forget to take care of yourself. Between preparing, extra events, and travel, we often fall out of our usual patterns. Taking time to plan your exercise, ensuring you get a whole night’s sleep, helps you recharge each day. You’ll thank yourself when you can be more attentive, calm, and react to situations the way you want. This kindness to yourself will make it possible to be more giving to others.

You may believe that self-care is some new fad. But it’s has been around since Ancient Greece.

What is important to note is that what it means to hold space for yourself will be different for each of us. Holding space for myself means having time for stillness, for creative and reflective thinking, and sometimes, I need to be alone to recharge. It means being present with my body and emotions and treating myself with the same curiosity, care, kindness, compassion and love that I would give another. It requires me to be self-compassionate and connected to how I feel. To be okay to feel emotions fully, with curious about their origin. And the permission to stop, take the time I need and say no.

Adding Self-care

Self-care isn’t some buzzword or a new age thing; it has deep roots in our mental and physical health history. It doesn’t require financial investment or fancy gadgets. We can take a moment and become present with our needs by listening to our bodies. What sensations do I feel? What emotions am I experiencing, and where are they in my body? How do I think about the emotions or sensations? And then acknowledge one thing I need right now? 

It’s that simple to begin a self-care journey. Self-care is a way of being; we choose to be connected and self-compassionate to ourselves. To listen to our needs without judgement or expectations. It means treating yourself with kindness, care, compassion and self-love.

When you hold space for yourself, you give yourself a place to check-in, self-care, or self-regulate. It invites self-awareness and creates space for you to reflect and understand yourself. And if you are like me and your life intention is to support others and make a difference in the world, It’s essential to create this space in your life, room for you and freedom for others.

Tips on how to hold space for yourself

Accept and love who you are today.

When I think about self-love, I often think about the roots of a tree; some are strong, and some are fragile. Some are twisted up and complicated, and some gently flow through the ground below. But the tree is not complete or healthy without acknowledging and supporting all its roots. The same is true for us as humans. We all have fears and doubts, things we would like to be that we are not. But we also all have value, ways we shine, stuff we do unlike no other.

A helpful way to change your way of looking is to re-frame negative things into positive things. An example is “I am controlling”: “I focus on details and like things to be the best.” How we look at ourselves is keenly attached to how well we will care for ourselves. So take some time to notice what you say to yourself, listen to your self-judgement and recognize that it is not the truth. Find the good in who you are; find the highest intention in your quirks and ways of being. Accept them and use them for good.

Save time to listen 

It is so easy in the hustle and bustle of our day to miss the subtle signs our body and our mind send to us. We cut a meal, work through a break or neglect personal time to drive our kids to practice. We often give up our quiet time where we have space to reflect, be alone, be still, and dream, making it easy to lose our connection to ourselves. Instead of being stuck in this cycle or trying to find chunks of time, start with something small; look for one place you could take 5 minutes to walk in your day or sit quietly for 5 minutes. Allow this time to listen to your body and mind observing what comes with acceptance and loving-kindness.

Understand your need for boundaries

Have you ever heard that expectations are the root of all disappointment? Take a moment to think back to the last time you felt disappointed and what didn’t happen that you expected? Now take a moment to explore how that expectation was communicated. This exploration can be pretty helpful in understanding your values, what matters most to you and what needs your needs met. By understanding our needs, we can communicate and have good boundaries that allow us to say no without guilt and set our relationships up for success.

Speaking of saying no

Have you ever found yourself drowning in things you don’t want to do wish you could be doing the items you want? Getting caught in pleasing others to be accepted by others can be exhausting. This was a big part of my well-being and lifestyle changes that invited my health and wellness back. Now I begin with two questions before I say yes. 1. How does this connect to my values? 2. If I didn’t do this, what would I be able to do?

Honouring your values and capacity allows you to be kind to yourself. Being connected with what you are doing removes the resentment that often follows saying yes when we should have said no. And then, by taking the time to hold space for ourselves to be connected to our tasks and our giving, we can show up in integrity, do a good job, and permit others through watching our actions to do the same.

Ask for help

Give yourself 100% permission to ask for help when you need it. This gift to yourself consistently reaffirms that you are worthy and can and will support yourself. It helps you build resilience and relationships.

Be authentic

Be unapologetic-ally you! See yourself for all the wonderful uniqueness you are. Stay true to yourself, your dreams your desires. Know your worth, live in your capacity and be there for yourself for others.

Give yourself permission

You may have noticed I have said this quite often in this post, so I thought I would touch on its own in a bit. We often place so many expectations and judgement on ourselves and neglect to allow ourselves permission.

Take a moment to think about an area where you feel stuck or struggling to move forward at the pace you want. Now ask yourself, “what do I need permission to do differently?” Allow yourself the freedom to explore new possibilities, without boundaries, without limitations or judgment. Take yourself to the innocence of being a child, the curiosity and sense of no limits. What would you do if there were no restrictions, limitations or boundaries? What wouldn’t be holding you back?

Read last week’s post, “What it takes to hold space for someone else.”


No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.


  1. GG says:

    I read this blog on January 1 2022 as part of intention setting process for the year ahead. It resonated deeply. Thank you for your insights and for sharing the concept of holding space for self as an important capability for holding space for others.

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