Hold Space: Essential Self Care
In the care-giving world there is a term that describes the ability to be completely present for another person without judgement, open to whatever the other needs in that moment. It is called “holding space.” This is an element of therapeutic care that most professionals strive to achieve for their clients. But recently I have come to realize how important this type of openness is to give to yourself. In fact, I believe it is possibly the most essential tool we can have in our arsenal when healing from pelvic floor dysfunction and sexual pain.
As you know if you’ve been dealing with painful sex or chronically tight pelvic floor muscles, these are conditions that can take a good deal of time to resolve. Holding space for yourself allows you to meet the obstacles (the feelings self doubt, frustration, disappointment, occasional hopelessness, aggravation, lapses into grim resignation that this is just what your life is like; all that jazz and the like) that often come with treatment protocols with something that at least looks like grace. Most beneficially, it gives you freedom to find the “why” of your situation.
Let's back up a bit. Holding space for yourself has many other names; meditation, self love, and shadow work are a few. In this mental state, you exist in a place of calm understanding. You acknowledge whatever you are feeling - good, bad, head-spinning-Exorcist ugly - as an emotion that some part of you is finding necessary to express. No judgement (“This is stupid. I have no real reason to feel this way.”), no suppression (“I have to just suck it up and push through it.”), no false narratives (“I'm thinking positive! Everything is going great!” *cringes against the same pain as a few months ago*). Just pure openness and willingness to allow the emotion to wash over you, running it's full course.
If it doesn't, I would be very surprised. I remember feeling terror when I first attempted this exercise. Being any kind of vulnerable is difficult, even if that vulnerability is shown to yourself. We are culturally trained to push away “negative” emotions so we're pleasant to be around and can continue being productive. There's also the fact that some emotions just feel so big that they'd swallow us if we took the time to fully embrace them.
But having confronted those forces, I can tell you that no emotion is boundless enough to consume you. Most of the time, they're not even all that ferocious. And beyond the sheer ability to live through feeling the feeling, I've found a sense of liberty once I worked up the courage to name the dark shadows lurking in the corners of my heart and mind. You'll know what I mean when you have that ah ha moment where you're yelling, “This sucks!” completely sincerely and in the next second genuinely smiling over your tears because you can now see the pin prick of joy that still shines on under all of the bullsh*t happening in your world. A named thing is a claimed thing and a tamed thing. Opening to emotions you usually fight against, acknowledging them as part of your experience allows them to pass more quickly.
This brings us back to finding the why. Holding onto so many emotions can create mental loops which keep us stuck in a past event. We call this trauma. When we acknowledge and subsequently relinquish those thoughts, we can start to move forward. One of the reasons we get stuck in the first place is that we cannot fathom why we have to undergo certain experiences. Our minds run in story mode and cause without logical effect creates painful dissonance. Accepting your feelings for what they are as they are enhances our sense of clarity, enabling us to process our experiences on a different level, allowing for formulation of a story that makes sense.
(Small aside: Meaning in life’s events is philosophically contested. It is perfectly possible that everything is random and there is no purpose or reason behind anything that happens in our lives. It is also perfectly possible that everything is part of a cosmic plan. I am not debating or endorsing either of these stances.)
I’ll use myself as an example. I can directly trace the beginning of my pelvic floor dysfunction and the pain I felt during sex to my first sexual experience during which I was raped. My initial attempts to deal with this trauma were characterized by attempts to deny everything I felt about myself and to rewrite my memories of that event. It felt impossible for me to face feeling ruined, broken, dirty, unwanted, and unloveable. Those thoughts felt true. Who wouldn’t run from that? But the more twisted I felt emotionally, the more tense my pelvis became. Looking back, this mental strain might have been a major part of why traditional pelvic physical therapy did not help me. When I realized after years that clearly something needed to change if I was ever going to have any hope of a full life let alone good sex; I took a breath, stepped back, and faced off with the voices in my head. (In my mind this looked like a mashup of the epic swan dive off a cliff into the swirling dark mass below and sassily whipping around to stick my finger in the face of the big a** demon that was leering over me.)
From that moment on I started to get better. Actually allowing myself to see the gross in my mind afforded me the ability to see that those things were not true. I could finally remove the blame from my shoulders. And more, I was able to create a meaning for the awful that I never would have been able to find if I had stayed stuck in the miasma of hopeless, I-deserve-this-ness: I went through sexual trauma and pain so I could empathize with and inspire other women suffering with similar sexual histories and experiencing pelvic pain. There is an end in sight and it is within your grasp!
It is important to have give yourself this clarifying space to maintain hope. Whatever your stance on meaning in life, it’s statistically shown that people who find purpose and reason in their life stories are happier. Happier people are known to be able to handle physical pain more easily because they actually feel less of it. Assigning a purpose to an awful experience does not erase the horror (murder is still murder, rape is still rape, torture is still torture, and pain is still pain to be extreme about it), but it does give us a healthy means with which to cope and integrate it to heal both mentally and physically. Make holding space for yourself one of your most utilized self care tools. Have questions about how to hold space? Call or text (856) 857-7535 Also learn more about energy work and how it can also help you to release trapped emotions here.