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Holding Space in Non-Judgment

You're probably not doing it when you think you are.

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The most important muscle for a coach is to cultivate and hold a safe space of non-judgment for their client. Before the gameplan, before the accountability, before the processing, you need the soil, which builds trust. Without trust, you have no space at all.

This sounds easy but it is not. It is not just a decision to practice non-judgment. It is an ability. A practice. And like any practice, it takes time and effort to be good at it.

I've been a therapist and relationship coach for over a decade. I've done north of ten thousand sessions. Holding a non-judgmental space is something I still struggle with.

First, what is a safe space of non-judgment?

A safe space means to donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back. To practice empathy and compassion. To accept someone's truth, no matter what they are. Hold a space in non-judgment means to allow and accept one to be truly herself. To embrace with two hands instead of pointing a finger. To not control or manipulate. To activate deep and active listening. To be open. For them. Not you.

In order to create this kind of space, you have to be aware of your story, your conditioning, and your triggers. Everything you've been through wires you a certain way. Forms your lenses and the way you see the world. What's right and wrong. Good and bad. Possible and not possible. To be completely neutral, a blank canvas is impossible. Because we all have a story. Whatever we've been through has shaped us in some way, wired us, conditioned us. Hurt us.

For example, if we've been cheated on in most of our relationships, it will be a trigger if the person we're trying to hold space for discloses that she has just been cheated on. It will bring up something in us, depending on how much we have healed or not healed from those events in our life. It may bring up anger. Regret. A cementing of the false belief that "all men cheat." But whatever it brings up we must be aware of. That is the first step. Without awareness, the space may no longer be safe. It may have cracks caused by our own wounds we bring to the table. Once we are aware of what it's bringing up in us, we must take responsibility for it by owning it, by keeping it ours. By not giving it to the other to hold. We can even be honest and call it out. "Yes, I can relate to you." Or "Your story is triggering things in me because I have also been cheated on." This keeps the space safe because you're being transparent. It builds trust. It helps spot the undetected. Because our reaction may not be obvious. It can be a subtle facial gesture. A slight shift in our energy. A few choices of words. There is more elasticity because the client understands. You humanizing yourself forms a connection.

The above is an example of an event that can be triggering. But what if it's not an event or something the client went through that's triggering but rather the client herself? Something about the client rubs you the wrong way. She reminds you of someone. Maybe you. Or an older version of you you didn't like. Maybe you don't like her morals or values or how she's choosing to handle something? Maybe you don't respect her. Whatever the reason, you don't like her and it's triggering. So how do you hold a space of non-judgment for someone who isn't like you? Someone you don't connect to. Someone you don't like.

This is what's hard.

This is why the world is the way it is.

We don't.

Instead, we judge. We disengage. We drift. We blame. We react.

To try to understand why you don't like someone is the first piece. Usually, it's tied to your own story. Or more accurately, their story doesn't match with yours. You can't relate. Whether it's where they're from or how they think and see the world, their life blueprint doesn't match yours. This contrast creates friction. And we act on this friction.

Instead, if we made a choice to be open. To be curious about differences and own what is ours to own. Be aware of what's triggering us and take ownership of what comes up. To respond instead of react. To practice compassion and understanding. As a practice. A way of life. Not just in therapy rooms but in all areas of our lives. Because these are skills that transcend the work of therapists and coaches.

If everyone held space in this way.

We would like ourselves more.

And the world would be different.

- Angry