This week I listened to a colleague having a mother – son conversation. It sounded beautiful, yet after the call was finished my colleague described how difficult it had been. I could only say that whatever was going in their world that had caused the difficulty, sons will forever love their Mothers, come what may. It might take time for relationships to become sorted, but they nearly always do. And this is the weekend when both sons and daughters have the opportunity to show their Mothers this love. I believe this special relationship, (a Mother and her child) the Mother, provides the safe ‘container’ we all need in order to learn, fail, succeed and develop as independent individuals.
In psychoanalytic theory, the term ‘container’ is associated first and foremost with the development of the concept of projective identification. It was Melanie Klein who introduced the idea of containment, and Wilfred Bion who referred to it as an inter-personal phenomenon.
In the mother – child relationship, the child projects into the mother parts of the self that are intolerable and full of anxiety. The mother becomes a ‘container’ for the projected parts of the child. Where the mother is aware of what has been projected into her and does something to alleviate her child’s distress, it is possible to say that the mother has contained what was projected. And this is precisely what I witnessed in my colleagues telephone call to her son.
For me I believe this process of mother – child relations can be seen in the therapeutic encounter, and likewise, it can be seen in the way organisations such as our School are able to handle conflict, disappointment, jealousy, and other high expressed emotions.
I have written elsewhere about this, and used another one of my favourites thinkers Donald Winnicott and his notion of the ‘good enough mother’ when thinking about the organisation providing containment. In an organisational sense a ‘good enough container’, is one that can) like a mother or therapist, contain the anxiety-arousing parts that originate both within that container, and/or projective identifications originating in the organisations environment. Given the turbulence and changes occurring within our School, College, University and operating environment, the need for us all to contribute to providing a space that provides, emotionally, psychologically and psycho-dynamically, a ‘good enough container’ has never been more important.
Many thanks to all of you who, showed in lots of different ways last week, that you were there for me.