Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holding Time

We sat across from each other in one of the class rooms with the door closed. The message was clear to Hayley - we aren't going in until you can put this behind you. I wasn't sure how long it would take. I asked her what she could do to make herself feel better. She said she didn't know. I began with the silent scream. She didn't want to participate but within a few minutes was getting into it - tensing her body and pretending to scream at the top of her lungs - then relax and repeat. She began laughing, which increased as we progressed through the breathing portion of this familiar scenario. Breath in.... breath out... breath in... breath out... By the time I start singing, "it's alive, it's alive, it's ali yi yi yi yive - she was smiling and happy. She gave me a hug and said thanks for having "holding time" with me. Holding time?

I had not thought about "holding time" for a long time - for years even. When Hayley was young she spent a great deal of time (and still does) going on and on about negative things.  I was afraid to pay too much attention to her negativity as I did not want to unwittingly reinforce it. I tried the planned ignoring - refusing to acknowledge the negativity. I thought to myself,  surely she must learn to be positive if I continue to model positivity. After months (years even) without any change I felt inspired to try something very different which I called "holding time". I began one night by taking her to lay on her bed next to me with my arm outstretched and her head resting on it. I started simply with the following statement. "I'm mad because" ..... and I stated everything I could think of. Then I continued, "I'm happy because" .... and relayed an equally long list of positive things. Then I simply said, "Your turn." She immediately understood and began her mad list. This was easy for her. I thought the intent of the exercise was, in part, for her to delay or save up her negativity and vent it all at once during "holding time". What came as a surprise to me was how after the mad list was completed, she began a long list of positives as I had modeled. This came as a great shock to me as I had NEVER heard her be positive in any manner close to what she was doing. I suddenly realized that my refusals to listen to her negativity never allowed her to get past it. She was only capable of being positive AFTER the negativity was expelled. We continued this for many years. Somehow this practice had gone by the wayside although the need was always clearly there.

I was surprised that "holding time" had so quickly come to Hayley's mind. But even more surprising was her calling the interaction we just had in an empty Church class room on cold hard metal chairs - "holding time".  Missing were the bed and close physical contact during our interaction. I concluded that while the notion of "holding time" had always represented to me the physical contact of "holding" another person close, Hayley's concept of "holding time" was to hold her heart or feelings. For Hayley - real listening and love are one in the same.


  1. We could all learn so much from that girl sometimes if we would just so and listen with different ears and more loving hearts.....

  2. Hmmm...very interesting. I know someone who needs to vent frustrations and afterward feels better and only then can go on with the day. My lesson is that I need not be negatively affected by it and to suggest looking for some positives after the venting session. Then all of us can feel happiness. Does this make sense?

  3. Perfect sense. The trick it in not absorbing the negative while listening. You remind yourself you are facilitating the release. Then you might need to make comments to show you are engaged. By that I do not mean giving advice (not the right time) and say as little as possible. Phrases that come to mind might be - what else - I see - go on - and your frustrated because... You can feel when they begin to wind down but you don't want to stop prematurely. Turning things positive would, of course, be trickier doing this with someone without the disability - but I think it can be done.

  4. What a thought-provoking story. I can think of times when this would be very effective with my son.