There is an idea of “feminine” and “masculine” and how the woman is crazy and the man holds solid space so the feminine can go nuts. Is this what women need from a man? A man who will stick around when we lose our shi*?
This is a complicated topic and I commend your desire to figure this out! I find myself laughing and cringing at the same time as I think about my past experiences of “feminine expression” with men.
The lens of seeing women as crazy or nuts is itself really destructive for relationships. Just because women are more emotional than men, we are not crazy. This lens tends to have women beat themselves up or hide what they feel, rather than learn to productively communicate and express their feelings, which keeps men at a distance.
Some teachers talk about men holding space for women. It is powerful when a man can love and appreciate a woman’s feelings, rather than try to fix or change her. But that doesn’t mean he should do this if her expression is shaming or disrespecting him.
The best way for a man to hold space for a woman is for the two of you to create agreements with consciousness and forethought. (Notes: 1. A woman can do this for a man also. 2. Don’t try to do this in the midst of an emotional eruption, especially one where you are frustrated or angry.)
I suggest choosing a time when emotions are calm and having a conversation that includes these parts:
1. Set limits:
Each person who plans to “hold space” for the other person’s emotions states limits or boundaries about what s/he feels up for holding. It is important to acknowledge your own limitations rather than thinking you can handle anything. Attempting to be “bigger than your britches” will cause massive break downs in trust and connection.
- “I don’t want you to call me names. If you do I will stop holding space.”
- “If you bring past situations, rather than the current experience, I will make one request that you come back to the current situation. If you can’t, I will stop holding space.”
- “When I hear the word f%&$ it reminds me of my parents’ fights. I don’t want to hear that word.”
2. Make requests
Each person who plans to express emotions makes requests about the way s/he wants to be “held.” These requests may or may not work for the space holder, but putting them out there makes it more likely that you’ll get what you want.
- “I love to physically express. Wrestling is an amazing way for me to move energy. I would love if you would let me push against you and play fight with you, with an equal and opposite resistance to what I give.”
- “It really helps me feel free to cry when I see you look at me lovingly. I would love for you to look at me with acceptance while I take time to feel what’s happening in my heart.”
Discuss the expresser’s desires and the space holder’s limits. Respect each other’s needs rather than thinking the other is weak or wimpy for not being able to hold anything. Get clarification about anything that doesn’t make sense. “I would love for you to look at me with acceptance” may not be clear enough. You can ask: “How would you know I was looking at you with acceptance?”
If you really love to use the word f%&$ and your space holder doesn’t want to hear that word, brainstorm together to find a word that has a similar feel. When you put two creative minds to the task you can easily come up with new ideas.
Then, when the time comes where someone is having emotions it is really helpful to:
4. Ask for permission in the moment you want to express:
It is challenging to be aware enough to have strong emotions AND be able to ask for permission for your expression, but the truth is people don’t always want to hold space. The more you express your emotion in a healthy and open hearted way, the more your space holder will trust you and the simpler your requests can become.
Sometimes all it takes is: “I’m about to blow up. Can you hold it?”
When you are new at this try adding more to your request:
- “Do you have the energy to hold space while I cry, groan and stomp my feet?”
- “I could really use a good cry. Are you available for that?”
- “I’m going to lose my shit. Can I make noise and hit some pillows with you nearby?”
A couple more things to remember:
As tempting as it is to let go fully I’ve found it has its limitations and can create incredible damage between two people. Three tips for expressing while also maintaining trust and connection with others:
1. Blame, shame and disrespect don’t create healing. Be responsible with your words if you’re going to use them. Use “I statements rather than saying “You made me feel…”
2. Fewer words tends to work better. It’s hard for someone to feel blamed when you share wordless emotion.
3. Remember that you are on the same team. The idea is to release and create more connection, not to alienate or win a competition with the space holder. As you express, have some attention on the person you’re expressing to. Notice if s/he starts to retreat into fear or shuts down. Expressing without considering the other person may allow you to release but it won’t care for the ecosystem of your relationship.
We are each responsible for ourselves. If it isn’t the right time for someone to hold space for you, you don’t have to stuff your emotions. Learn to express on your own. You can scream in your car, pound pillows on your bed, cry in front of a mirror… Depending on someone else, especially one person, to be able to express your emotions, becomes problematic.
This gives you a foundation for how to start expressing and space holding. Each person is unique and this is a complex process. Don’t expect to be good at it right away. Get help from a coach or therapist if it doesn’t go well, rather than destroying the foundation of a friendship or relationship.
Phew! There’s a lot in there so I imagine you’ll have questions. Leave a comment here and I’ll make sure to answer.