“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
In trying to find a title that captured the essence of this blog I tried a number of permutations of what roughly said “Safe Containers Detoxify Evil” but they all seemed awkward and nothing I formulated felt quite right—then while searching scripture and meditating “Prince of Peace” popped into my thoughts.
In the upper reaches of the cognoscenti of psychotherapy a “good container” or “safe container” is someone who takes in potentially toxic emotional states like rage, fear, confusion or despair and does not reflect them, share them, or react with horror. They contain these emotional states inside of themselves and in a sense detoxify them—sort of like a water purification plant for the raw sewage of another’s emotional detritus. And I say “upper reaches” because not even every therapist understands the concept. But being a safe container is one of the counselor/psychotherapist roles. Clients open up when they feel like it’s safe, and when they know that the emotions they share with the therapist are not going to be spewed back at them as it often is in day-to-day life. I do this fairly well as a professional—in my personal life, not so much.
Good containers are folks who listen silently, and are emphatically attuned to what they are hearing. They do not offer trite advice or bludgeon you with some verse from scripture. They are “with us” in almost the same sense that Jesus is with us (Mt. 28:20). We can sense their secure embrace of our feelings. They are not people who as soon as you share with them some feeling immediately send the same one back. Example: you either tell them (or look like) you’re having a bad day and they let you know one way or another that they’re having an even worse one. Good containers absorb other people’s pain and anger and do not reflect it. But in defense of poor containers, sitting in empathetic silence is a herculean task when your every impulse is to give the feeling back or offer cheap advice. Bouncing an emotion back, or spreading it to others, is usually done unconsciously thru the mechanism of projective identification. Projective identification is creating the same feeling in another that is inside of us—spreading toxic emotions like a virus. Example: Another driver frustrated by your driving glares and throws you a finger. You go home and without even thinking say something critical to your spouse; they yell at your kid who later pops a playmate, and so it goes—a ripple effect of toxicity.
The quotes from the Sermon on The Mount prefacing this blog are some of the best statements I can think of about good container-ship. Jesus, and how he lived, is the gold-standard, and should be the reference point for every Christian’s behavior. Jesus was not only a safe container for emotions but he also detoxified pure evil. Often, Jesus did this quite directly by casting out demons, but sometimes he just “contained” and neutralized others emotions (and evil). Consider his dialog with the Pharisees in the Temple Treasury found in John 8:48-59. They are obviously enraged by the things Jesus is telling them and they engage in name calling (lunatic, demon-possessed, etc) and ultimately try to stone him. He reacts by “containing” their feelings inside of himself and continues to tell the truth. Also, consider the last few days of His life—at no point did he strike back physically or verbally, and the way he died caused the Roman centurion to utter, “Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47), or in Matthew’s version: “Surely he was the Son of God!” (27:54)
Resolution for 2014: To be a peacemaker—to be worthy of the title: Son of God.