Containment can be a very valuable tool for anyone dealing with overwhelming emotions, thoughts, feelings, memories,
or urges. It is a way to manage disruptive thoughts, feelings, situations, and other triggers that can lead to
flashbacks, pain attacks, explosive behaviors, self-harm, and dissociative episodes.
Containment can also be used to store positive thoughts and feelings that can be drawn upon in difficult times to
assist you with coping. There are a variety of things you can use for your positive containment store.
- Affirmations from self and others
- Special cards or notes
- Pictures of loved ones or pets
- Special poetry or writings,
- Ideas for self-soothing
- Ideas for creative outlets
- Drawings or other special art.
For the containment store you can use any type of box or container. Try to be creative, such as collaging or drawing
positive images on a wooden box for your positive containment store.
The primary purposes of containment are:
- prevent you from feeling overwhelmed
- increase your ability to cope with stressors
- decrease dissociative episodes
- prevent potentially dangerous behaviors
- allow you to feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions.
People often confuse containment with "stuffing feelings." It is important to know that these concepts are not the same
thing. Containment is a temporary method to manage disruptive thoughts, feelings, or situations, until it is the
appropriate time to deal with them.
For example, it would not be helpful to process a flashback just prior to going to bed but it may be helpful to discuss
it with your therapist the next day.
Containment allows you to feel more in control of the situation, rather than feeling out of control. "Stuffing your
feelings" is a method that encourages denial and not dealing with situations. This strategy often results in long-term
Many people initially find the skill of containment difficult to grasp; however, with practice it is something that you
can apply to your life daily to improve you quality of living. It is extremely important that you practice containment
daily. You should initially do this practice when you are not feeling overly stressed. As you gain increased
understanding of you triggers and waring isgns, you can begin to use containment ot prevent potentially dangerous
- Step One:
- The first step in learning containment is to begin to recognize disruptive thoughts, feelings, and situations.
There are a variety of ways in which you can accomplish this. You may choose to keep a journal or log of events,
such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and dissociative episodes. You can use this to assist you in identifying problem
areas specific for you.
- Step Two:
- It is also important for you to learn to identify both internal and environmental factors that occur prior to the
behavior occurring. These factors are referred to as triggers.
- Step Three:
- After you have begun to identify potentially overwhelming factors, the next step is to decide what types of
containment strategies you will use. Most people have to experiment with several methods until they find one that
works well for them. Remember that the goal is to contain thoughts or feelings until it is a safe time to deal with
Strageties that you may choose to use are:
- Journal and then put your journaling aside.
- Write down your thoughts feelings, or situation and then put it away until you can talk about it with someone you
trust (ex: therapist's office, glove compartment, trunk of car, box, closet, etc.).
- Use imagery to visualize putting away the thoughts and feelings until you feel safe to deal with them. Examples
include: safe place, computer, boxes, jars, a safe, a room, a desk. Use your imagination.
- Use actual boxes, jars, or other containers. Try making a negative containment store.
- Use distraction skills (soothing music, deep breathing, meditation, getting involved in another activity).
- Use self-talk or affirmations. Draw from your positive containment store.
Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital. (2003). Containment [patient informational handout].