The Holding Environment
It is the luck of most babies to be held well most of the time. On this they build confidence in a friendly world, but, more important, because of being held well enough they are able to make the grade in their very rapid emotional growth.
Pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott (1876-1971) introduced the influential concept of the “holding environment”, where the mother holds the child in an emotionally and physically protective space, where the child is accepted and loved unconditionally, and from this space the child can begin to gradually face the inevitable challenges of living in the world.
When the holding environment is deficient for any reason, the child grows up searching for other healthy holding environments, and this is when, according to Winnicott, a psychotherapist can recreate the mother/child holding environment, and provide a space where the patient can feel safe enough to begin to explore his or her issues.
I find the idea of recreating the holding environment incredibly healing, nourish, beautiful. But I wonder, perhaps the holding environment can extend beyond the therapist/patient relationship. Can’t any environment in which we feel held in a healthy space, be our holding environment?
Most of us, even if we would say that we had wonderful childhoods, did not enter adulthood without some pain, which means that we probably seek out relationships and environments where we feel held in a loving space. But this becomes hard as we get older and our lives get busier. We text our friends more than we see them face to face. We send emails to our spouse and watch our children disappear into their busy lives filled with activities.
And sometimes we can feel very isolated.
But even though we all are so busy and constantly “wired in”, we still can connect with one another. We can, first of all, make our close friendships and relationships a priority. If we can’t meet face to face, at least we can speak on the phone or talk by Skype. We can also join a book club or go to a yoga class to find likeminded people who share our passion. And we can spend time alone in reflection or meditation to create our own holding space for ourselves.
A healthy holding environment is essential. As we journey down this spiritual path, there are many bumps and challenges along the way, and it helps to find places where we can be seen for who we truly are, acknowledged for our unique contribution to the world, and accepted unconditionally. The world may be changing, but our need to connect on a very deep and authentic level is not changing.
I encourage you to invest in those relationships in which you feel held and to find places where you can be held and hold others.
I include here a guided meditation in which you create your own holding environment.