No…..this blog is not about Tupperware. Or shipping. Or getting locked up.
It’s about a favourite and oft-used word by coaches, therapists, and yoga instructors alike.
It’s about psychological containment, or the ability to hold and manage our emotions, thoughts, and experiences in a safe and constructive way.
My new obsession with this word started at a recent retreat hosted and organised by the ever-energetic Lisa O’Neil. I’m a big fan of Lisa, and the second she offered the opportunity to go on retreat with her and a group of fellow students of TLBS, I accepted.
I had no idea what I was up for, other than I’d be whisked away to the beautiful Mana retreat in the Coromandel, New Zealand for three nights of restfulness and “rolling around on the floor” as Lisa described. After six months of solid travel and client facing delivery, it sounded like just what I needed.
Wow – I never knew how comfortable I could get lying on the floor!
Karla and Neal two do magical things with bolsters, blankets (soooo many blankets), cushions, muslins, and more blankets.
They helped make a nest on the floor, wrap myself up snugly, support myself with props and fall into a state of blissful semi-consciousness where I was free to explore the deep inner space of my mind and soul.
In the teachings and practices they shared with us, they used the word “containment” a lot.
Containment of the self. Containment of the space. Containment of others.
This word was introduced to me first in my Masters of Org Psych. It was a favourite word of the instructors to explain the role of leaders in organisations.
Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion originally coined the term containment to describe the capacity to internally manage troubling thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
It is a psychological process through which we create a sense of safety and stability within ourselves, allowing us to navigate life’s challenges with greater resilience and ease. Think of it as a container that holds and contains emotions, preventing them from overwhelming us or spilling over into other areas of our lives.
Containment is what mothers do when they hold their crying children. They literally hold their child and interpret their emotions for them – is it pain? Hunger? Sadness? Fear? What do you need? And then they fix it with a Band-Aid, a kiss, a talk, or a tickle. Mothers do this until such a time as we can hold our own emotions and sort ourselves out.
But sometimes, even as adults, those emotions are still too big. Sometimes they leak all over the place.
Sometimes we need therapists who can contain the space for us to work through emotions buried from the past.
Sometimes we need coaches who can hold a space for us to dream up a better future.
Sometimes we need friends who can hold a space where we can normalise our everyday experiences (oh…so sometimes you’d rather stab yourself in the eye than make another school lunch?! LOL!!).
Sometimes we need colleagues who can contain a space for us to work through what can seem like impossible goals in impossible times.
And sometimes we need yoga instructors who can contain an environment where It’s OK to simply stop and do NOTHING.
In all these examples, leadership is required. To lead is to contain – yourself and others – so that we can work through the inevitable emotions that are conjured every time we are required to evolve. Which, nowadays, is always.
Neal and Karla were leading. They were creating a safe and supportive environment for others whilst simultaneously helping us build that capacity within ourselves.
Who contains the space for you? What spaces do you need to create for yourself? For others? And who do you need to bring into your life to help you expand your containers? To make them deeper and wider so the emotions you hold can get bigger without breaking you?
I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to go to the Coromandel in NZ and do nothing. Apparently, doing nothing is just as important as doing something. That is a container worth keeping in the Tupperware drawer.