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All *Healthy* Relationships Have This (Part Two)

You've already learned about the first component to healthy relating. If you haven't already, please refer to this post.

The second critical ingredient to fulfilling connection is a term called containment. Containment builds upon attunement in many ways and I've found you can't really have containment without the presence of attunement. Containment is the sense of someone communicating, explicitly or implicitly, I can bear you.

I've heard it described like this:

When someone provides adequate containment, they are able to see you without grimacing. They can touch you without yanking their hand away. They can taste you without spitting you out. They can smell you without pinching their nose. You aren't too gross; you aren't too much. You are bearable. You are not too much to hold.

Containment is this sense of someone's ability to engage you without losing themselves in the process. Containment is being able to not be offended by your intensity or your neediness because who you are doesn't define the other person. It's the sense of not needing you to be like me but rather giving you the freedom to be whoever you are in my presence.

When you were little, did your parents find you enjoyable? Or were you too smelly, too sticky? Could your mom not bear to look at you when your hair was greasy and you were dirty from playing so much?

What about your physique? Were you parents able to tolerate your weight gains, your height changes? How was it received when your body began to develop as you entered into puberty? Many women find that their female bodies were perceived as dangerous and tempting, while men were at times ridiculed for statures that were too small or too big.

Are you sensing how rare excellent containment really is? Our society is rife with reasons why we are not worth holding exactly as we are, and yet we must be held in order to thrive. This, in many ways, is why therapy exists. Therapists are containers, as massive as the ocean (and striving to become bigger) to easily hold all that you are.

Are you hearing how harmful it is when you tell someone about how you are struggling lately and they change the subject? That communicates that your groanings, your complaints, your anguish are all too much.

To be human is to be in agony at times. It is to be in disarray, to be in disrepair. And if we are accepted in these places, we begin to heal. Can you begin to accept that when you feel too big/small/crazy/intense/anything else, it's less about you and more about the messages being communicated to you? You were meant to be held in your grossness. In your smelliness. In your heaviness.

Oftentimes, we need to kindly, yet clearly, train those whom we love to hold us with better containment. I needed to tell a loved one, "when you do this it makes me feel like I am too much." And your loved ones need to hear that too. They need to hear you give feedback:

"It makes me feel like a burden when you try to fix me right after I say I'm struggling. If you were to say, 'that sounds awful; can you tell me more about what it has been like for you to shoulder this?"

"When I told you I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know if I could take it anymore, you looked like you'd seen a ghost. And then you quickly told me it would all be okay. I like that you tried to reassure me, but I need space to talk about my overwhelm without it making you feel like you need to save me. Can you rest assured that my pain is not your responsibility?"

These are two examples of countless options. The main point is that you have an invitation to teach those you love how to better love you. Does that sound like a daunting or doable task?

This is part two of a three part series. Stay tuned for part three.


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