How identifying ‘healthy containers’ for our emotions can improve our relationships

We can all get overwhelmed by emotion. We can all get triggered by external events — whether it’s the war in Ukraine or an altercation at the local shop. Often this can result in a ‘flooding’ of emotions…emotions we don’t know what to do with.

At times like these, we often look to distract ourselves. But if we can’t, we are likely to look for a ‘container’ to put our difficult feelings in. This ‘container’ can be any number of things: from a glass of wine to scrolling on Instagram. Whilst there is nothing inherently bad about either, if we find ourselves turning to them more frequently to contain ourselves; it can become problematic.

For many of us, our house is the ultimate container. A place to feel physically safe. However, from my work with survivors of domestic abuse, this is not always the case. Similarly, during lockdown, many people found the enforced confinement [to their own home] incredibly difficult.

Of course, not all containers have the potential to be destructive. Meditation, yoga, walking in nature, hot showers, cold water immersion…are just a few of a long list.

Therapy itself is often viewed as a source of containment. In some specific psychotherapies, a container is offered as either an object or as the therapist themselves.

For example, in EMDR, we offer clients a metaphorical container to put unprocessed emotions in. This is a way of keeping our clients safe until our next processing session. I invite my clients to visualise a storage receptacle: to give it a size, shape, weight, etc.

In psychotherapy, the therapist is often viewed as the container…someone to hold the client’s feelings and traumatic experiences whilst they are worked through.

One of my trusted questions — of myself and my clients — is to ask “what do you notice?” What do you notice about: how you feel, where you feel it, what you do with those feelings…because when we notice, we can start to make changes. For example, you might notice that when you feel triggered by something that makes you feel angry, you eat. Or, you might notice that when you feel triggered by something that makes you feel sad, you reach for the wine.

Breaking destructive patterns can improve our relationships — with ourselves and others — and finding healthy containers can improve our wellbeing.




Therapist, Coach, Writer, Runner.

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Susie Masterson

Susie Masterson

Therapist, Coach, Writer, Runner.

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