Have you ever felt drained after a conversation with someone feeling emotional? Perhaps this person was grieving, and you didn’t know what to say. Maybe you wanted to take the other person’s pain away, but you didn’t know how. Here are some pointers to hold space for others without draining your energy or burning you out.

  1. Listen without fixing: When someone is crying, they release stress from their body. You can’t physically take someone’s emotional pain away. However, you can validate their experience. You can acknowledge how painful it must feel for them. Trying to fix the feelings or issues takes away from this person’s experience. However, anger can be a challenging emotion to deal with if the person becomes aggressive. 
  2. De-escalating anger and aggression: Listen for the motivation behind the anger. You should politely excuse yourself if they try to control or intimidate you. Sometimes anger expresses outrage, unfairness, or underlying feelings of hurt. In this case, manage your own emotions around conflict first. Listen to the other person while you regulate your own body. You can do this by focusing on your breathing or sounds, smells, and other sensations. Validate the other person’s feelings and remind them you are there to help. Tell them you can’t register what they say if they are screaming. Remain calm and view the other person as an observer would. It is outside of you, and you are watching. Do not engage in any argument. You can resolve the conflict when the person has calmed down.
  3. Boundaries: If you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to listen, set a boundary. Tell the person that you will be able to listen to them soon. Allow yourself that emotional space to decompress and process. Sometimes other people’s feelings and challenges remind us of past traumas.
  4. What is coming up for you? Sometimes big emotions can remind us of negative experiences that we have had. Perhaps someone crying brings up your own grief. Maybe anger reminds you of past abuse and trauma. If you are having strong reactions, take time to process these feelings. If you feel that past experiences keep returning to haunt you, a professional can help.
  5. Decompress every day. Find time to sit with your own feelings daily. Process what you need to process, and then relax. Decompressing can be any activity that takes your mind away from stress. For some people, that can be the gym, writing, art, dance, or other social activities.

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