Holding is the process by which the mother's capacity to identify with her infant enables her to provide sensitive physical support, especially when the child is physiologically vulnerable. This provision of ego support is a "form of loving" that provides the basis for the establishment of integrated psychological development.
Donald Winnicott presented his ideas on holding and infant development to the public, and to those directly responsible for infant care (1947), and formulated these in psychoanalytic terms at the 22nd International Psychoanalytic Congress at Edinburgh in his seminal paper "The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship" (1960).
Sensitive physical handling by the mother allows the baby to tolerate frustrations such as hunger and discomfort and experience the gradual diminishment of his sense of omnipotence without going to pieces. Holding, at the beginning, is a series of physical acts which include responding to the baby's skin, feeding, and a group of sensory sensitivities built into the whole routine of day to day care. This is continued as necessary ego support throughout childhood and adolescence.
When practicing as a pediatrician during and after World War II, Winnicott addressed many groups, including parents and nursery care workers, about the essential qualities of infant care. In describing the minute details of ordinary breast-feeding, he was able to demonstrate how the "good-enough mother" provides sensitive physical and psychological holding of her baby. She identifies with her infant to know how the child feels and to provide just what it needs. In the holding phase, this fosters the baby's apparent belief that what it wanted, it created. It has then a hopeful sense of itself in the present and over time. Successful holding provides the baby with the feeling of reliability in the world, both internal and external. The average mother provides this reliability almost without thinking; and by small increments of frustration allows her baby to become "disillusioned" and aware that there is a "me" and "not-me" and a world that in fact it cannot control. Successful holding is the mothers handling of her infant through a "mutuality of cross identifications" and leads to an integration of the self.
Winnicott is clear that these processes in infancy are not the same as the pathological mental mechanisms of the disturbed or borderline adult patient, but those infants who have been significantly "let down" (1970) experience unthinkable anxieties and the later possibility of schizoid states. Winnicott also described holding within the analytic relationship and more broadly in casework with adult patients (1960). When the analyst's mind wanders, it can be experienced by the patient as a failure to "hold" the mind.
Although mention is made of the father's role in later phases (1960), Winnicott focuses his attention more on the immediacy of the mother-baby interaction and less on the conditions within the adult couple and family needed to foster a successful holding phase.
See also: Breastfeeding; Breakdown; Dead mother complex; Framework of the psychoanalytic treatment; Good-enough mother; Handling; Integration; Maternal; Maternal care; Object; Protective shield, breaking through the; Psychosomatic limit/boundary; Self-mutilation in children; Splitting of the object.
Anthony, E., and Benedek, T. (Eds.). (1970). Parenthood: Its psychology and psychopathology. Boston: Little, Brown.
Winnicott, Donald W. (1964). Further thoughts on babies as persons. In his The child, the family and the outside world (p. 85-92). Harmondsworth, Penguin Books. (Original work published 1947)
——. (1960). The theory of parent-infant relationship. The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. London, Hogarth, 1965, p. 17-55.
——. (1970). The mother-infant experience of mutuality. In E. Anthony, T. Benedek (Eds.), Parenthood: Its psychology and psychopathology. Boston: Little, Brown.
hold·ing / ˈhōlding/ • n. 1. an area of land held by lease. ∎ the tenure of such land. 2. (holdings) stocks, property, and other financial assets in someone's possession: commercial property holdings. ∎ books, periodicals, magazines, and other material in a library. 3. (in certain team sports such as football, basketball, and ice hockey) an illegal move that prevents an opponent from moving freely. 4. a court's ruling on a matter of law essential to a judicial decision. ∎ the legal principle drawn from such a ruling.
A comprehensive term applied to the property, whether real, personal, or both, owned by an individual or a business. The legal principle derived from a judicial decision. That part of the written opinion of a court in which the law is specifically applied to the facts of the instant controversy. It is relied upon when courts use the case as an established precedent in a subsequent case.
A holding is distinguishable from dicta, which is language in the opinion relating some observation or example that may be illustrative, but which is not part of the court's judgment in the case.
The holding of a court is the ratio decidendi or the ground(s) upon which it bases its decision of a case. The holding, includes all the court's declarations of law necessary to the decision of the case; other pronouncements are obiter dicta. The holding in a case establishes a precedent and may be generalized into a doctrine. The term may also be used more narrowly to signify the court's resolution of any particular legal issue or question of constitutional interpretation presented in a case.
Dennis J. Mahoney