The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


4 April 2020| Theme: Corona Virus

Corona and Container  

We are at home, we are working from home, or we are working ourselves over the edge because there is – or there seems to be – so much to do.
Life energy is being drained or blocked…
What we do, is making unspeakable sense or feels meaningless…
The upcoming future is laughing in the face of the plannable future…

How we respond to the seemingly unthinkable and unexpected situation depends on the strength and stretch of our containers. The container of our family, the container of our team or organization, the container of our society and our personal container.

A container is like a kind of elastic band around the boxing ring; it holds us together. We can step outside of it, move between the elastic bands around the ring, and we can step into another container.
If a container is powerful enough, people within the container can process new information and new situations without either being paralyzed or panicking together. The people within the container keep in touch with each other, they can continue to feel and think, they can continue to make decisions, they can continue to learn from what they experience every day and let go of what was.
When the container is not strong enough, each of the family members or team members will handle the new and sometimes radical situation in his or her own way. People turn inward, feel alone or start to panic, feel powerless or get angry. In short, the family or team becomes fragmented. It falls apart into sub-systems. And much or all of the potential of the whole is lost.

What can we do in turbulent times?
Build containers.
What makes a container of a family, team or society strong and flexible? If the members within the container can actually look each other in the eye for longer than a few seconds. Yes, look each other in the eye. Literally. Beyond the impulsive reaction to look away. Beyond the sacrificial: “I’ll do it.” Beyond: “It will be all right.” Beyond: “Together we are strong.” Beyond the destructive power of the incisive event and hostage situation.
Where does that leave you? In the no-man’s land where all human beings are equal.

What else do we need? That the person with the smallest container is protected.
How do we do that? By seeing and acknowledging that this person has the smallest container at that moment in time. Without feeling pity and without wanting to help. Just by acknowledging. This allows the person to be part of the system again and may slightly open up her or his container.
It is a misunderstanding to think that the person with the smallest container is the weakest in the group. The person with the smallest container in specific situations might well be the strongest person in the group.
Container building can be done by the leader, but it is everyone’s responsibility. Responsibility in the sense of: if one person in the container has the courage to start container building, regardless of who it is, that is the beginning of an upcoming response to unexpected and dramatic events.

Three seconds of shameless courage to look each other in the eye and see what’s there.


Jan Jacob Stam


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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

For up-and-coming and established leaders. An initiative of the Bert Hellinger Institute.