Hold Space For Your Feelings

By De Elizabeth

I have most of my “serious” conversations over text these days. As a mom of a 2-year-old, I only have a handful of quiet pockets of time each day, most of which are usually spent catching up on work, answering emails, doing laundry (or at least thinking about doing laundry), and some form of self-care, which typically entails lying on the couch and staring into space for as long as possible. Gone are the days when I could spend an hour (or more) on the phone with my best friends, or G-chat into oblivion during a lazy afternoon.

Getting into it over text isn’t ideal, in part because I overthink everything, particularly when I’m talking about something serious — or revealing something raw. A few months ago, I found myself in one of those ~serious~ group texts with my two best friends from college, trying to form words and sentences to articulate thoughts that had only existed, up until that point, in a foggy loop inside my brain. In typical fashion, I followed up a giant blue brick of text with a few emojis and “Sorry to unleash on you guys LOL.”

As customary for true friends, they responded immediately with “Don’t apologize” / “You have nothing to be sorry for.” And then, one of them added: “We’ll always hold space for your feelings. You can talk to us about anything.”

In the months that have passed since that conversation, I think about that phrasing and response a lot. It would have been easy for my friends to tell me that everything was going to be okay, that “this too shall pass,” that I’ll get over it, and maybe one day I’ll look back and laugh. It would have been easy to try and drown out my dark thoughts at the time with positivity and optimism. Many of us respond to our friends this way when they’re struggling, all with the best of intentions. That’s what friends do, right? They lift each other up, make each other smile, offer an umbrella when it’s raining.

But the truth is, sometimes saying “it’s going to be okay” isn’t enough. Sometimes, those words of encouragement feel empty because it isn’t okay right now. And sometimes we need that “not okay-ness” to be validated, to be heard, to be granted permission and given its own space to exist. To be told, “it’s actually okay not to be okay.”

It’s such a simple concept, but one that’s so rare that the relief of being on the receiving end of such a phrase feels entirely foreign. You forget what it’s like to be allowed to feel things that aren’t pretty, that aren’t what you should be feeling at this time and place in your life. You forget that you’re allowed to be imperfect, someone who is full of contradictions, all of which are valid. You forget that you’re allowed to be human, someone with a tragic flaw, or several. You’re allowed. But you forget.

You forget, because so often we don’t give each other space for any of it. So often, we don’t give ourselves space for any of it. We don’t hold space for feelings that aren’t widely accepted, that aren’t easy to digest. But we should. We really, really should.

Positivity may be the knee-jerk response for a lot of people, because it feels like the “right” thing to say. But perhaps it’s more powerful to meet your friends where they are in the moment; instead of trying to be the light to pull them out of the darkness, jump down into the darkness with them. Instead of holding the umbrella, sit in the rain by their side. Get wet. Get fucking drenched in it, in fact.

Wait for the storm to pass, but wait together.

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash