Bion developed the concept ‘containing’ to describe how through projective identification (see entry, projective identification) one person contains psychic bits of another (Cartwright, 2013, 2014). Often the concept is used incorrectly to refer to the ‘holding environment’ (see entry, good enough mother (holding environment)). And it is through the dynamic interplay between the container (i.e. parent, caregiver) that the infant’s ego is built up and in therapy a patient projects unwanted, anxiety-ridden, and split off bits of self (i.e. the intolerable parts of affects, self, sensory experience, memory and objects) into the mother/analyst/container to be digested and metabolized. It is then available in a new form before it can be reintrojected (Brown, 2013). Bion (1970) offered three categories of the container-contained relationship: (1) commensal (where two objects share a third to the mutual benefit of all three and where the relationship is inoffensive and promotes coexistence); (2) symbiotic (where one depends on another to mutual benefit and where there is confrontation and growth); (3) parasitic (where one depends on another to produce a third, which is destructive to all three and where envy becomes a function of the relationship) (p. 78). It is with the third category, where reciprocity is lacking between the container and the contained, that difficulties arise.
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