Monday, October 25, 2021

Containment [Word 9: The First 100 Words]


Word 9 – Containment

Container – a space with a capacity to hold and be filled.

Containment – the action of keeping something harmful under control or within limits; an aspect of resilience; the capacity to manage internally troubling thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to stress.

Containment – the energetic space between a client and counselor; the atmosphere of the therapeutic relationship that conveys a sense of safety, allowing the client to safely move comfortably through emotions.


Just looking at the listing of definitions for /containment/ illustrates the depth of meaning this word holds in psychology and everyday life.

When Sharon gave me the word /containment/, I went with the first definition, making a quick trip to a local Container Store, a place filled with creative ways to hold or store any type of item.  I roamed the large store one Saturday afternoon going up and down rows of plastic tubs of all sizes and colors, noting glass jars, trying to decide what fit the word “container” best. I ended up choosing a jar with a metal lid.

When I arrived home, I filled the jar with hearts that I had cut from paper using my exacto knife a few months ago. Each heart had a circle carved out of the middle, a picture of how my heart felt.  I envisioned those who grew up in nurturing homes had full hearts without a hole.

I took the hearts and loosely stitched across the circle inside the heart, leaving space for further growth and attachment. I figured since I was indeed making progress along the path of wellness, I could make the heart resemble a more complete picture. I put all of these hearts in the jar to contain the healing that had happened. 

On a whim, I decided to Google, “psychological meaning of the word containment,” not expecting anything to appear. Instantly, many articles surfaced and my definition of the word expanded in new and amazing ways.

Containment in a therapy setting refers to the energetic space between the counselor and client and is a powerful influence affecting growth and wellness, as well as reception of all that occurs in life or in the counseling session.

Many times in counseling situations, strong emotions can emerge as life events are explored.  “Scraping the bottom of the pot” so to speak, a term Sharon often used with me, gets to the core  history and meaning of many personal topics. These emotions can be difficult to manage or contain. 

During sessions, strong feelings of anger, being adrift, abandonment, rejection and other difficult emotions often surfaced. The energy of these emotions filled my body, like someone was pouring a hot carafe of each emotion into a hole at the top of my head. 

Often, with the weight of emotion from our sessions, walking out the door of Sharon’s office was physically difficult. However, I knew if I could reach my car, one of my favorite places of containment, I could sit within the security of the vehicle and feel enveloped or contained until I could take enough deep breaths to restore my grounding and balance, and anchoring in the present. 

Once I delved into the idea of containment, I noticed places around me offering a visual of what containment looked like. For example, one afternoon I was walking the Monon trail, going across a bridge over a small creek leading into the White River. I noticed how the banks of the creek were containers for the water, giving boundaries to the flow, and letting the water carve a path eventually leading to the river. Pausing when I crossed the bridge over the creek and looking at the banks, I enjoyed the visual sense of containment.

Soon, I began to see my hands as a place of containment. My hands are like the banks of a river on either side of me to give containment, right and left, present, holding, especially when the lid slips off the pot and my emotions overflow. Like the banks of the creek hold the water in its boundaries, my hands help hold back the flood of emotion that may come in the counseling session.


An online article in Somatic Therapy, “The Power of Containment” by Gwen McHale (August 4, 2016) explains further: “Those dealing with intense emotions need enough containment to provide banks to the river of our expression so we can stay in relationship to our experience and ourselves, and not get washed away in the suffering. Our ability to find containment for ourselves is learned in the very early days of life.  Containment is offered by a parent as the young child needs another person to hold them, to be present to them, and to provide a safe space within which they can feel their feelings and know themselves. When needs for holding and containment are not met in these early days, there can be breaches in containment. Some of the resulting characteristics include, being easily overwhelmed, underlying fear or anxiety, feeling unable to cope, difficulty forming relationships, insecure attachment styles, and lack of a clear sense of self.”

Unfortunately, I demonstrated all of these impairments! I have to work hard on a continual basis to provide myself helpful containment when I get overwhelmed. 

A few of my practices of containment include sitting in my car, an enclosed space where I can be alone and take a lot of deep breaths. I also have a small basket in my office where I can put flowers, leaves, letters I receive, a new pencil, or any item that has meaning for me. This visual container with treasured items helps me feel a sense of being contained. Often, I take a pencil and draw a row of straight lines within the confines of a sheet of paper. Other times, I draw four connected lines to create a square. I picture myself in the middle, full of emotion. Having the square around myself offers a visual representation of containment and brings peace in the moment. 

The need for containment doesn’t always come from an emotionally deprived background. All people deal with emotions. Some emotions are strong and can get out of control. Learning how to manage them is essential for living a peaceful and productive life. Consider a few “containers” you can call upon quickly when you feel the need for containment. Making a list will help your awareness. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Toddler Table Waits

On my porch,

A toddler table waits,

White painted wood,

Two chairs with a heart carved into the back. 


My neighbor walked the table down the sidewalk 

To my house,

A refurbished discard from her sister

Whose children were too old

To squeeze into the small chairs under the short table,

This place where art and learning

Come together


I handed her the check, thanking her,

Excitement in my voice.

Carrying it inside,

The next step in getting ready

For my fifteen-month old grandson’s first visit

To my house.


I pictured my little one

At the table

Working puzzles,

Coloring, looking at books 

Eating a snack. 


But the Delta variant. 


Increasing numbers.

A visit postponed

To steer clear of 

Long layovers in large busy airports.

Cross-country travel is too much of a risk. 


The tiny chairs and table in my dining room remain empty.

Sadness enters my space and takes a seat,

Canceling excitement and joy.


I had visions of the little one busy at the table.


Watching him with crayons and markers in hand,

Random scribbles on paper

To make a remembrance of the visit.

Working puzzles his mother and aunt played with

When they were just as small.

Eating oranges and crackers, grinning with each bite,

A snack for energy, fuel for more fun at the table.


My visions stay visions for now.


The family will come sometime 

A date not yet known or planned.


Airline tickets valid for a year...are waiting.

Table and chairs...are waiting.

Crayons, markers, paper and puzzles in the cupboard...are waiting.

My arms...are waiting 

For a reunion of love with these dear ones far away.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Flawed [Word 4: The First 100 Words]


Word 4 – Flawed

/flawed/ – blemished, damaged or imperfect in some way; having a weakness in character; broken, torn or damaged

Words I associated with /flawed/: compassion, value, hope, hold


“Your word this week is ‘flawed,’ Sharon said, reaching under the couch in her office and handing me a canvas. Right away, I noticed a small rip in the canvas in the right hand corner.

“Look, Sharon, the canvas is torn. Did you see the tear when you bought the canvas or did something make the hole after you arrived home?” I asked.

“Knowing my perfectionistic personality,” Sharon laughed, “I would not have purchased this if I’d seen the hole in it!” By accident the canvas seemed just right for the word of the week.

I smiled and carried the flawed canvas out her office door. In my mind, I carried the word /flawed/. Already, it was triggering unpleasant feelings of my past.

As I began to brainstorm what I might do with the flawed canvas, I thought: 

Although the hole is tiny, the canvas has value.

I have compassion for the canvas even though it’s not perfect.

I can make something beautiful. 

Maybe the hole is for light to come through. As John 1:5 says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the light was not overcome.’

The canvas is me. I am flawed. I have compassion for the canvas and for myself.

I can paint the canvas black and leave the hole for light.

I can cover the canvas with pictures of myself and make it a sign of John 1:5 and hope.

Along with these ideas, I also remembered a few lines in Leonard Cohen’s song,

“Ring the bells that can still ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

The word /flawed/ took me deep into my past. Growing up, I never felt like I fit in with my classmates, partly because I wasn’t allowed to make my own choices and be the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t able to pick out the shoes I wanted to wear in elementary school. Each year, my parents purchased a pair of Buster Brown leather shoes for me to wear. They were durable and lasted for the entire school year. They were ugly. No one else in the school wore ugly, brown leather shoes.

My parents also limited my experiences. I felt stifled, not allowed to explore topics that interested me. I wanted to embroider, do crafts, and read a variety of books, all of which were inaccessible to me.

I was 14 years old when I finally had my hair cut professionally. My mother always cut my hair in a bob and it looked terrible. My friends had shoulder-length hair and I wanted to let my hair grow out like theirs. My mother purchased or made the five outfits I rotated to wear to school each week. I had no choices in what I wore or how my hair was styled.

The word /flawed/ accurately described my internal and external state, reinforced by continued neglect. I felt awkward and uneasy when I interacted with friends at school. I was uncomfortable speaking to boys. Unable to explore the things that interested me or make choices to keep myself looking stylish, I felt I must be imperfect or damaged in some way. 

Along with all of this, my brother was treated very differently. He chose his clothes and hairstyle, was encouraged to attend enrichment programs, received awards for science projects, played on the high school tennis team, and had a wide circle of friends. These things reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. If only I could have these same opportunities, I thought, I too could forge ahead with self-confidence.

How did I eventually choose to illustrate the word /flawed/? I began by gathering a few black and white school pictures of myself in elementary school and junior high, making xerox copies of each one. I removed the border of the picture, and then cut the picture into triangular pieces. In the shapes, my eyes were disconnected from the rest of my face. My chin and nose were cut diagonally.

I arranged all of the pieces on the canvas like a collage. The canvas looked like a mis-matched puzzle, none of the pieces going together. The arrangement of these fragments reflected the scattered state of my mind during the years represented.

By hand, I sewed all of the photo fragments onto the canvas. Sewing on canvas was much more difficult than sewing on fabric. The canvas was thick. Pulling the needle through required a lot of strength. It took two hours for me to sew everything together.

When I finished, I looked at the canvas. The sad, angry, and disappointed feelings I experienced long ago emerged. I took a deep breath.

I suddenly remembered the hole in the canvas, now covered with remnants of my school pictures. Thinking about how even a tiny hole can let light through also helped me remember how I was aware of God’s presence during those terrible years of childhood. I knew the comforting presence of God in my heart when I prayed at home and at my school desk. At the time, I didn’t think about the possibility of God removing me from my home or putting me with another family where I could flourish. I just knew the reality of God’s sustaining presence.

I wrote John 1:5 at the bottom of the canvas. Although my knowledge of the nature of God was not broad in childhood, I did know God was bringing comfort, giving me a blanket of love that no one else seemed to provide.

Illustrating a bleak time in my life on an 8 x 10 canvas helped me discover and express old feelings.  Looking at the disheveled pictures reminded me how broken I felt emotionally and socially, yet aware at the same time of how God was giving me daily strength to persevere.

The canvas with a rip was the perfect thing to illustrate /flawed/. My childhood was indeed flawed, and the flaw allowed the light of God to come through.