When we think of holding space for someone, we typically think of holding space for sad, negative, hurtful, angry, or otherwise difficult energy. We train for and practice sitting with people who are hurting, grieving, and experiencing trauma. We practice calming our breath to ground us, and we repeat mantras like “all feelings and emotions are welcome.” We sit, avoid touching, avoid unsolicited advice, avoid comforting, avoid interrupting, and avoid taking the other person out of their experience. We practice allowing and letting go of the outcome. We practice being comfortable in the uncomfortable of tears, body shakes, screams, and words of shame, grief, rage, loathing, and fear.
The Idea of holding space was born out of recognizing a few key points about being human, having a human experience, vulnerability, healing, and community:
What about holding space for good feelings? Has anyone who is reading this taken a course or training on how to hold space for good feelings? Have we been taught to be comfortable with laughter, joy, and pleasure? Have we learned and then forged a path toward managing and tolerating these feelings? Have we written rule books and guidelines for sitting with these feelings without judgment? No, I don’t think we have.
I don’t know about you but I get rubbed when I see someone having a profound positive experience in joy or pleasure. I feel uncomfortable. I feel weird. I experience judgment. I don’t know how to handle it. I immediately connect that experience to experiences I wish I had the courage to have or to ones I wish I was presented with the opportunity to have. This is a symptom of complex PTSD, do you feel me on that? If so (and also if not), pick up the book
Joy and pleasure feel unsafe for me. People experiencing joy and pleasure dig up feelings of unfairness for me. Sometimes I feel strongly about the meaning of it for that other person. Sometimes I have a strong urge to discourage or warn against it. Is this display of happiness, joy, and pleasure real? Is this an authentic experience or is it hiding or shielding something deeper? As if joy and pleasure are not themselves the deeper experience of life.
The healing community has become focused on shame, trauma, grief, and sadness, and for good reason. We have spent time and energy understanding it, diving into the feelings and emotions of the people we walk through it with. Most of us have sat with our own feelings on these emotions so that we have a great understanding of how to drop into them, how to feel them, learn from them, and then move through them. These are the ways that we have developed emotional intelligence and techniques around holding space for these emotions. Should we also do this for joy and pleasure? Should we also practice, cultivate, sit with, and learn from joy and pleasure? Should we facilitate the journey through joy and pleasure for other people? I think it is worth a shot.
Let’s take the same key points of space holding for grief and suffering and place it on joy and pleasure to see if it fits:
If those were hard for you to imagine now that we replaced the words grief and suffering with joy and pleasure, then there is work to do here. Consider that joy and pleasure could mean many different things for different people. Consider that joy and pleasure can be sexual in nature but do not need to be about sex. Consider all the ways that you yourself experience joy and pleasure.
Maybe it is time we swing the pendulum of trauma healing from grief and suffering to the joy and pleasure of life; could it be just as powerful? It is time to expose the entirety of the human experience, the full spectrum of feelings, the yin of pain, and the yang of pleasure. If you have been leaning hard into the pain of trauma healing, I am inviting you to lean just as hard into cultivating pleasure as a tool for trauma healing and see what it can do for you and your clients.
Cultivating joy and pleasure is a tricky thing and requires, like all things that heal a connection to self, and a desire to surrender. In this case, we are surrendering to the unknown qualities of good feelings.
We are willingly and intentionally creating opportunities for ourselves to feel profound joy and pleasure.
This should be done on your own or with a person that you feel safe with, can trust, and can be vulnerable with. Cultivating Joy and pleasure can take on two different forms; the first is through conversations where we think about, reflect on, reminisce, and communicate times in the past where we have felt these emotions. This can be with someone but it can also be solo deep dive into this emotion with a journaling session. Either way, the point is to bubble up the emotions and fully embody them. The second is through curated experience that invite joy and pleasure. Again this can be very powerful to do with a trusted person, but these can be just as valuable done on your own.
Joy and pleasure have about as much stigma as anxiety and depression, yet we see it differently and internalize it differently. Maybe if we treat joy and pleasure with the same awe, wonder, reverence, and intention that we have given to grief over the last few years we can create a balanced experience of this whole weird being human thing. Gratitude for the people in my life that have exhibited joy and pleasure as beacons of this practice. I am looking forward to doing my own work in this area and I am excited to see who shows up to do it with me!