August 17, 2015

Men Holding Space for Young Guys

In my work with young men, I often hear the term, “holding space.” It means a lot of things really. For me it’s primarily about keeping a place in my heart and mind for the multitude of sad, angry, brave, lonely, and under-male-supported young men I know who are out there and lost on their journey to manhood.

The most common use of the expression, “holding space,” refers to the creation of a safe, gentle, and non-judgmental environment for young guys on our events, outings and in our school and other group circles. We refer to it as creating a safe container that can hold the hard questions, expressions of deep wounds, joys, anger and anything else that's found behind the brave, “I’m Okay” boy mask. It's the space inside that container, where deep truths can be spoken, that we hold and protect.

“holding space” refers to
the creation of a safe, gentle, and
non-judgmental environment for young guys

One way of teaching men to hold space and to keep the container strong is by teaching them our basic group-mentor’s job description. While it may be slightly altered in different places in our network, basically it’s to LAMP and not to FRAP young males! LAMP means to Listen, Accept, Model, and Praise. These behaviors are gifts people can give each other in any relationship and which increase trust and connection. FRAP is what we try not to do. Fix, Rescue, Advise, and Project. FRAP-ing behavior quickly reduces and erodes the trust that is the glue in any container. You can read more about these skills in this past Man-Making Blog post on the topic.

Matt Zavadil, a true brother in mission and the program director for Boys to Men - Georgia, came across the term “holding space” in an article he was reading. He sent the following contribution for your consideration.

Earl, I recently read a great blog post from a woman who learned how to support her mother's dying process. It's full of tremendous insight and the wisdom she gained going through the experience. The term she uses is "holding space" and it perfectly describes what we do for the boys in our programs.

Holding space seems so passive on one hand, and yet, OMG, it is not! For me, to really hold safe space for a young guy, I need constant vigilance to corral my every impulse to look smart, anticipate a kid’s meaning, push for a specific outcome, feed my own ego, or somehow make it about me. After reading this post, I realize holding space, at its core, is one of the strongest acts of love there is.

Here are lessons the author learned from her experience of holding space for her mother in that most difficult time:
  • Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  • Don’t take their power away.
  • Keep your own ego out of it.
  • Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  • Give guidance and help cautiously, with humility and thoughtfulness.
  • Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
  • Give people only as much information as they can handle.
  • Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
The author goes into more detail about each of these themes in her article. Let’s share these ideas with people who are working with young guys.

How would you feel if you were able to sit with a group of good men who were committed to holding space for you? What would it be like for you to be in a place where you felt safe because trust in each other was high, and where your real, unedited, truth-speaking self was welcomed and honored? It’s in that environment where real man-making takes place and where all the participants move along on their journey to manhood.

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