A Very Simple Idea

The main idea behind You’re Never Too Big To Hold is very simple: Holding is for everybody. It’s also easy as pie! Anyone can do it, any time, any place, with no cost, training or equipment. So there aren’t any big psychological theories or “holding techniques” on this page.

But I do hope you will enjoy reading:

Hugging vs. Holding

Hugging has always been wildly popular with kids, as any bookstore or library catalog will show. My local library has dozens of children’s books about hugging, including two favorites of mine: Won’t You Be My Hugaroo? by Joanne Ryder and Melissa Sweet, and The Giant Hug by Sandra Horning and Valeri Gorbachev.

Hugging for adults has also been gaining acceptance. In fact, it has taken to the streets, gone viral, and even become spiritual. Check out the YouTube “Free Hugs” video, and the website for Amma, the Hugging Saint.

I think all of this is wonderful, but hugging isn’t really what You’re Never Too Big To Hold is about.

There is an important difference between being hugged and being held. That difference is time. A hug takes a few seconds. Holding requires several minutes, at the very least. I say “one minute” in the book, but that’s just to keep from scaring grownups.

The whole point of holding is to stay close enough, long enough, for your body to feel deep security. I find it usually takes me at least five minutes to calm down and stop feeling embarassed. So my advice is: Ask someone safe, do your best to relax, and give it time.

Safe Holding

No doubt about it—holding means that bodies get really close. To keep this experience safe, EVERYBODY gets to say NO! For any reason, at any time, no explanations necessary.

You may not want to be held by someone, or to hold someone, for any number of reasons. Maybe the other person is your best friend’s husband. Maybe it’s someone who is wearing a lot of cologne. Maybe you just aren’t in the mood. Whatever the reason, YOU CAN SAY NO.

“NO, thank you.” “NO, not right now.” “NO, I don’t feel like it.” “NO, I’d rather not.” “NO, but I hope you can find someone else.” And you don’t have to explain. NO means NO, period.

When you are saying NO, you can be kind but firm—or, if necessary, just firm! With very persistent people, a little attitude is OK (see illustration).

Unfortunately, some people are actually too dangerous to get close to. That’s why it is so important to permit children and teens a loud NO in any holding situation, with no questions asked. Most of the time, the person is safe—but why take an awful chance?

In short, the rule for safe holding is very simple: Everybody gets to say NO!

(I have been a fan of the word NO for a long time. In 1996, I wrote a poem about it, which was published in Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul.)



Being held at the right time is comforting and healing. But holding can turn into control if it happens too often, or goes on too long. That’s why “unholding”—in other words, letting go—is so important.

In her book Gently Lead, Polly Berrien Berends has an essay titled “Unhugs.” Here is how it begins:

“A child needs to be both hugged and unhugged. The hug lets her know she is valuable. The unhug lets her know that she is viable. If you’re always shoving your children away they will cling to you for love. If you’re always holding them closely they will cling to you from fear. A spiritual perspective helps us become aware of an underlying life-supporting force and makes it easier to recognize which is called for, hugs or unhugs.”

This wisdom applies to adults as well as children, and to holding as well as hugs. Whenever you think someone needs comforting (including you), it’s a good idea to ask the question: What is really called for here? Holding or unholding?

Sometimes the answer is obvious—when you’re in the emergency waiting room, for example. At other times, things can get tricky. Do you hold an ex-boyfriend if he is in distress? Conversely, do you really need to be held by him (and only him)? How do you decide?

You might try this. If you tend to forget about other people’s needs, ask your heart what would be right for the other person. If you tend to forget about your own needs, ask your heart what would be right for you. Honestly ask whether you should choose holding or unholding, and humbly listen for the answer.

“Love is the wisdom of life that knows when connection can heal and when separation will make life flourish. Love is the capacity to use the powers of holding on and letting go in the service of life.” Rebecca Ann Parker, Proverbs of Ashes

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