Episode #4: Hold Space for Healing

Our human capacity for denial is a survival mechanism that sometimes serves us well; holding unimaginable pain or seemingly unbearable things somewhere away from our hearts and minds until we are able to process them safely. And yet, unprocessed emotions also make us sick--physically and mentally ill.

In a world where we are taught to fear the "other" and in fact encouraged to do so by people who seek power and influence, our inability to recognize our shared humanity--to deny the human experience--is making us, our families, our communities, our country and the world very, very ill. 

This episode explores a simple, yet powerful practice that allows for healing to begin.

Welcome to the Freedom From Empty Podcast.  Building strong, effective, resilient leaders and humans.  My name is Booth Andrews and I am your host.  Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.  

So, when I was growing up, I wanted to be Spock. From the Star Trek Series, the original Star Trek Series, so I will date myself a little bit with that reference.  

Spock was admired by my primary caregiver (and abuser) as the ultimate role model.

All logic. No emotion. Emotion was weak. Emotion would be exploited.

I learned to use my mind. It was my greatest resource and it was my safe place. If I could "understand" something in my brain, then I was able to remove the emotion and more importantly, to me, the vulnerability.

I developed an incredible mental capacity and an intellectual muscle.  

At the same time, if I sound like I might have been an automaton, in some ways I was.

One of the other things that I experienced growing up was the projection . . . 

If I did something wrong, I was told what I did, why I did it and what I meant by it . . . And I still get angry as I think about the motives and meaning that were projected upon me by people that were disciplining me for my behavior. They didn’t want to hear what I had to say.  And I still look back on the kind of sinister motives that were ascribed to my behavior with a little bit of shock and I look at my own son, who at five years old was highly energetic and a little bit of a handful, but also with the biggest heart in the whole wide world, I can’t imagine how people looked at me and thought that I was so ill motivated in the things that I did as a child.    

So I lost my voice in two ways . . . first I learned to hide my own voice . . . to put my feelings away . . . deep down inside me where they wouldn’t cause any trouble.

And my voice was taken from me as I was railroaded into submission for every mistake I made.

And as I watch what is happening around us in the world today, and more particularly, in our country at this time in our history, I get queasy and anxious and angry.

How many times do we fail ourselves, each other, our community and our country when we simply will not give people space to be seen and to be heard.

We invalidate each other and our own human experience on a daily basis . . . in religion, in politics, and in everyday life.  Some of the statements that I have seen, heard or observed just over the last few weeks in public and in community, on social media is like:

  • Well he isn’t protesting racism in this country . . . he is protesting the flag and the anthem.
  • Well she didn’t have that experience, and if she did, she should have told when it happened, but since she didn’t talk about it when it happened, it didn’t really happen or it didn’t happen that way, or it didn’t cause any damage, or it shouldn’t have caused any damage.
  • He/she doesn’t have the right to complain . . . look at how much money he/she has . . . his/her life is perfect.
  • If that person wasn’t lazy, they wouldn’t need help with food and health care and housing . . .I’m the one that has the rough life, they don’t have a rough life, they don’t understand what hard is. 
  • Carrie Underwood just last week revealed that she had gone through three miscarriages in a very short period of time.  And she said herself that for the first three, or for all three she struggled to give herself permission, she actually wouldn’t give herself permission to feel sad or angry because she has such a good life.  So she somehow believed that she wasn’t supposed to feel those things about those losses.  

And we give these messages to our children--when we are trying to manage their behaviors we invalidate their feelings instead.

  • You shouldn’t be angry, you can’t be angry about that.
  • You shouldn’t be ungrateful
  • You shouldn’t be afraid
  • You shouldn’t be sad

We tell them repeatedly that they shouldn’t feel this or they don’t have a right to that, or they can’t feel something.  But here is the problem... when we short-circuit ourselves, when we short-circuit our relationships, we short-circuit our capacity for healing and coming through all of the challenges that are “life.” And so what I am saying is that when we deny our emotions and we don’t give them space to breathe, and we deny the experience to other people, we are truly short circuiting ourselves and our community.   It is making us physically, mentally, and emotionally ill in every aspect of our lives.

When I was, well I guess it was the winter of 2015 and I had been very ill, off and on for several months, it was really the point at which my emotions had begun to rise from my body to the surface in a way that I truly felt deep down inside that my cells had gone toxic. Because the emotions were coming now and I could not stop them. But it wasn’t so much emotions rising to the surface and say crying or screaming, it literally felt like my emotions were releasing into my cells and it was making me sick.  

And I was getting ready to attend a training, a trauma informed mindfulness training called Timbo, founded by Sue Jones. And I couldn’t get on the plane to go to the training because I was sick.  And not only was I a little sick, but I have the flu plus bronchitis. And it was about the sickest I had ever been for at least a few days. My airway rattled when I breathed because there was so much stuff in my lungs.  

And so when I emailed Sue and said that I was not going to make the training, can I come to a later one, she said of course and then she directed me to a book called “When the Body Say No” by Dr. Gabormate, MD.  And it's a book about the costs of stress.  And so essentially, this practicing physician who was in hospice care for I think about 25 years, started trying to understand the difference between people  

Trauma isn’t getting better . . . An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumaticevent at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. An estimated 5 percent ofAmericans—more than 13 million people—have PTSD at any given time.

“Trauma is not what happens to us. But what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”

And yet, we are all running around doing everything we can to avoid giving trauma a voice . . . you snowflakes . . . 

We not only are not giving our trauma room to heal . . . we are compounding and magnifying it in our world by refusing to acknowledge it . . . 


Body keeps score? Emotional disassociation and link to disease

I am not suggesting that we let our emotions “take over” (how long an emotion actually lasts without the stories we attach to them) 

I am suggesting that the only way to remove their power and heir potential for toxicity is to LET THEM FLOW IN OURSELVES AND IN OTHERS

What would happen if we stopped denying our experience? What would happen if we stopped denying the experience of others? 

One of the most powerful practices I have learned and experienced on my path to healing has been the practice of holding space . . . for myself and for others.  TIMBO

When people tell us how they feel . . . hold space

When people tell us what happened to them . . . hold space

When people tell us why they are afraid . . . hold space

When people tell us they are sad . . . hold space

When people tell us they are happy . . . hold space!

Don’t fix

Don’t rage

Don’t judge or blame or preach 

Don’t tell them why what they feel is wrong or why they are wrong

Don’t tell them they don’t have a right to feel what they feel 

Don’t tell them that they got themselves into this mess

Don’t project your own fears, or bias, or solutions onto them

Give them a moment to feel what they feel

To feel fully seen, valued and validated in that moment


And if you have the energy and grace in that moment . . . hold space and breathe light . . . hold space and breathe unconditional love . . . hold space and breathe healing

If not a breath, then a wish for them, for you and for the world around you

Sometimes it is easier to begin by starting with others. It takes intentionality and practice to find that same compassion within ourselves for ourselves

And isn’t it also true that we are often much much harder on ourselves than we are on others . . . What if we applied to same practices in our own lives?


Perhaps in contrast the Spock living in my own head, I was able to generate a high level of empathy for others. A true kindness and compassion. An ability to see possibility in people, often to the extent of seeing more in others than they saw in themselves. It was okay if everyone else was human.

But not me. I was not able to extend that kindness, compassion and grace to myself. Someone told me once that I was an expert in self-flagellation. It was a true statement.

As I write this, I know I will spend the rest of my life learning to be more fully human; how to expand into the unique vulnerability, connection, and experience that is uniquely ours.

Through this exploration, I will be a better friend, a better leader, a better mother.

Only in embracing our humanity will we the opportunity to bring our fullest light to the world.

The power and importance of self-compassion and empathy--quick research

You can find more resources on this topic in the show notes

Happier Now - self-compassion

Free Hugs


When the Body Keeps Score

Hillary Jacobs Hendel