Family Constellations and Containment

One of the key learning experiences for me on my training with Barbara Morgan was about “containment” – which it turns out was what I’d needed all my life. Using the family constellations containment exercise, I learned that being with myself meant I was more able to be with others. Being contained meant I could be a container for others and hold what is happening in a group. Attuning to others and experiencing their boundaries, or their lack of boundaries, has helped me to become a facilitator. Read on for more information about family constellations and containment.




If you feel spaced out, disconnected or upset in a workshop (or in fact any situation), you can recognise these signs to show you that you need containment.

  • Ask a person to sit either side of you, with the whole side of their body touching yours. The outside of their arm should touch yours, and their legs should be touching the side of yours all the way down to the feet. They are containing you, not restricting you.
  • If things going on around you in the environment are impacting you, or if you are very sensitive and overly influenced by those containing you, it can help to cocoon yourself in a blanket as well. Think of them as a support for you, don’t concern yourself with what is going on for them.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly, and keep your feet firmly on the floor. After a while, you should feel heart rate slowing. You will gradually feel yourself coming back into your body.
  • Bask in the comfort of this for a few minutes and let the feeling of safety sink deeply into your bones. Allow your body to be grounded and contained.
  • When you are ready, the people either side of you can move away but you should still feel the calm of them having been there.

Being contained makes us more able to be with others as we experience being with ourselves. If you don’t have a spare couple of people to help you with the containment exercise, an armchair can be a great substitute, and I recommend  investing in a good armchair and trying the exercise at home!



Deeper learning


Using our awareness of how things are changing for us physiologically gives us information about our reactions in stressful situations. As babies, we needed to be held to feel secure in order to be settled, and later, to go out into the world. If we didn’t experience this containment from our mothers as infants and young children, we may have a greater need for containment as adults. Parents receive such conflicting advice about how to be with their children – one health professional may tell us to leave the baby to cry in another room while our instinct tells us to hold the child, but our confidence is eroded by external forces and a child may not experience the containment that makes her feel safe and in fact protects her from danger. When a mother is recovering from the trauma of giving birth, she can be even more susceptible to external advice and lose confidence in her inner wisdom. In my case, I was born in hospital and taken to the nursery. I was returned to my mother every four hours for feeding. Unsurprisingly, my mother didn’t produce enough milk and after a week I was becoming dehydrated and undernourished. There was little or no containment in my early infancy, as was the case for so many of us born in the 60s and 70s.

What do you know about your experience of containment as an infant and young child?

How do you think this has affected your ability to be in the world and be with yourself?

Family constellations and containment

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