How holding space is more supportive than blind loyalty

July 27, 2021

loyaltyIn all the years I’ve lived in California–some 36 years–I can’t remember anyone bringing up the subject of loyalty. But since I’ve been spending time in my hometown, it’s come up twice.

So what does it really mean? The dictionary calls loyalty a strong showing of support or allegiance. But the way it’s come up in discussions lately, it’s defined more like taking sides.

It’s almost clannish: “The friend of my enemy is my enemy, too.” It’s very Sicilian, and that’s my heritage.

Defining “support” in a more helpful way

But. I don’t think that’s what loyalty means. You can support someone without making their battles yours. Usually their battles have nothing to do with you, so why should they become yours?

In my circles, we talk about a far more positive concept: “holding space.” It means being “present” for someone: physically, emotionally and mentally. It means making them your focus as they go through difficult times–and not judging them in any way. It has nothing to do with their situation and everything to do with our friend or loved one and what they are feeling. The feelings, not the situation.

Willing to be uncomfortable

Of course, holding space for someone going through tough times can be uncomfortable. Men, especially, have a hard time with the emotions that can come up. Blind loyalty means we don’t have to deal with those messy things like someone’s emotions. We can simply make their situation ours to show our support. But it does everyone a disservice.

I like to think we’ve evolved in how we offer our support to others and that we are all fully capable of making it about that person and their emotions– not their specific situation.

We don’t have a dog in someone else’s hunt. It’s not our battle.

There is absolutely no reason that their enemies, if any, need to become ours.

Now, it’s an entirely different story if I observe someone not treating a loved one well. Then, I am not going to like that person very much. But they won’t become an enemy because it has nothing to do with me.

8 comments on “How holding space is more supportive than blind loyalty
  1. Unless both people involved are good friends, in which case you need to find a way to support both equally and separately, I think there’s a lot to be said for standing in a close friend’s corner when they’ve been wronged by someone else.

    • Yes, support both equally and separately. I agree about being in someone’s corner, but no question that in many instances, both need support, but differently. I think this is possible. I have done it successfully, myself and others have done same for me.

  2. Laurie Stone says:

    Sometimes just listening is the kindest act of all.

  3. Diane says:

    This is just what I need to hear, Carol!
    I have a very difficult time separating myself from someone’s distresses. If you hurt, I hurt. Your battles become my battles.
    It’s exhausting. And stressful.
    I need to learn to separate myself from this, as you suggest.
    I’m a work in (hopefully) progress…

  4. Lynne says:

    I love the term “holding space.” It really defines what is needed.”

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