Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Into the holding environment


Many have heard the term holding environment, introduced by the British analyst Donald Winnicott, to describe a field of warm, attuned presence. Any effective holding environment consists of the essential qualities of good contact and an ideal amount of space. Through making close, empathic contact with another as they are, and offering a spacious home in which their experience can unfold, we become vehicles of love in action.

We are willing to allow the other to matter to us, to care deeply about them, and to take a risk in moving toward them while simultaneously offering ourselves these same qualities in a system of mutual interaction.

We seek intimacy with the other and their unfolding experience as it is, but without coming so close that we lose perspective and become emotionally fused with them. In this sacred middle territory—in between the extremes of cold, passive, disinterested witnessing and fused, sticky, unboundaried identification—we bestow the gift of empathic attunement.

Simultaneously, in addition to making good contact, we infuse the other and their subjective experience—as well as the relational field we are a part of with them—with the offering of pure space. In this context, space isn’t something that we “give” or “do”; it is what we are. By resting in the organic space of being, we plant the seeds of a cosmic trust that their experience is valid, that we do not need them to transform in order for us to stay close.

We commit to not flooding them with our requirements and agendas, but will honor their unique process and path by being there for them if (and only if) we are needed. We will not impinge upon their journey, we will allow them to fail and to succeed, and we will walk side by side with them into the dark and the light.

But we will not try to make the journey for them. We will not give them answers to questions that are theirs, nor will we protect them from falling apart when that is what love has in store for them. We will do whatever we can to support their unique and unprecedented path of individuation.

But we will allow them to walk it alone, to fall to the ground and get back up, to know the full spectrum of the opportunity they have been provided.


Art by Gustav Vigeland, c/o the Vigeland Park in Oslo

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