‘Holding Space’ in Cyber Space: What if We Respond With Kindness?

Posted by Dana Greenwood on 2/14/19 3:00 PM

We've all heard of "Internet Trolls"--those who intentionally stir up drama and discord. They comment mean things, thrive on shocking others, and generally target complete strangers.

It's said that they best way to deal with web-bullies is to ignore them--"Don't feed the Trolls!". Some, however, attempt to create a true connection with these types of people in hopes that they begin to see others as human and will stop being hateful to strangers.

New research into the personality of Internet Trolls suggests that this practice of building their empathy for others could be one way to change their behavior for good.


For most of us, our online interactions talk past each other. We often don’t see the humanness of the person on the other side of that tweet or Facebook comment. What if each thread in an online discussion were like a mini-coaching session? What if, for that brief exchange, we could feel seen and honored?

“The only thing that fights dehumanization is increased humanization—of me, of them, of marginalized groups in general, and of the internet as a whole,” says blogger Lindy West.

In an article for The Guardian, Lindy describes connecting with a Troll who was saying horrible things without ever even meeting her: “We talked for two-and-a-half hours. He was shockingly self-aware. He told me that he didn’t hate me because of rape jokes – the timing was just a coincidence – he hated me because, to put it simply, I don’t hate myself. Hearing him explain his choices in his own words, in his own voice, were heartbreaking and fascinating. He said that, at the time, he felt fat, unloved, “passionless” and purposeless. For some reason, he found it “easy” to take that out on women online.”

Do you wish you could also display that level of patience and compassion? I know I have.

Holding space for others – strangers on the internet, clients, and loved ones – and asking potent and powerful questions are skills that can be developed like any other. With enough practice, the SWIHA coaching style of interacting with others can become a habit that permeates all your relationships.

The SWIHA Online coaching program is grounded in Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability, shame, and authenticity. It provides opportunities for forgiveness work, storytelling, creativity, and guided imagery.

In an effort to provide even more opportunities to practice these skills, the SWIHA Online Curriculum department is working on revising the culture of our course discussion questions for all our programs. We want to encourage students to hold space for each other and respond with coaching questions and observations.

Our hope for this new 'discussion question culture' is that it will give students more practice responding to people with coaching questions. In turn, they'll gain confidence when it comes time to take their practice out into the world in a loving and profitable way.

We would love your input: Without the benefit of eye contact and body language, how do you know when someone is holding space for you via the internet? What does it look like and what does it feel like? And how do you know when they’re not giving you their full attention?

Email me at danag@swiha.edu with your thoughts on how to cultivate meaningful discussions from behind our screens!

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Topics: Life Coaching, national life coaching month, Online Education, Empathy, Swiha Online

About the Author Dana Greenwood

Dana Greenwood works as an Instructional Designer for SWIHA Online, combining her 13 years of experience as an educator together with her Healing Arts journey. When she’s not up-leveling curriculum at SWIHA, she’s coaching through her business, Equanimity 4 Lifelong Learning, receiving love from her dogs, or mermaiding as she cleans the pool in the backyard.

Dana Greenwood

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