What it Means to Hold Safe Space

Holding safe space does not mean that I should passively endure blaming, shaming, or judgment. That is not safe for me.
Holding safe space is for the expression of feelings. Feelings are emotions like sadness and anger, not judgmental thoughts and beliefs about others. Opinions are thoughts, not feelings. Saying “I feel like…” does not make it a feeling.
Holding safe space is for the sharing of direct experiences, not for sharing your assumptions and judgments of other people’s experiences or your opinions about how they should respond. If they ask for your advice or perspective, wonderful; but if not, then it’s disrespectful to impose it on them.
Holding safe space is for listening to each other’s stories, not for telling others that their story is invalid.
Holding safe space is not to allow people to say anything they want or to protect bullies from being called out for causing harm. Safe space is nonviolent by its very nature and requires nonviolent communication to be effective. Culturally our communication is full of violence. That’s why putting intention and effort into safe spaces and nonviolent communication is necessary and hard work. There is no room in a safe space for judging, blaming, shaming, criticizing, insulting, or any other form of attempting to control another person with words.
As I learn to hold safe space for myself and nurture strong boundaries around safe emotional space in my relationships, I am realizing how often we try to avoid our own pain by telling other people what they should be doing with their pain. We have a lot of subtle and insidious ways we try to control others to manage our own comfort, especially by shaming them. That’s not ok.
I will hold safe space for your feelings, your experiences, your story. Tell me about what happened to you and how you feel about it. Tell me about when you were betrayed. Tell me about the resulting anger and how it feels in your belly. Yell if you need to. I don’t care if you’re loud. Tell me about your fears and insecurities. Tell me how your anxiety wakes you up at night. Cry on my shoulder. Hold my hand in awkward silence. I don’t care if it’s weird or uncomfortable. Share yourself and your story with me.
I will always hold safe space for you to tell me your story.
But don’t think for one moment that you get to tell me about mine.

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