Lessons from a Care Worker: Shopping in the Container Store

Tupperware stacked. Public domain image.

In times of high stress and collective trauma (oh, you know, what we’ve been living for at least 7 years straight… compassion for us) sometimes older narratives of stress and trauma get pulled to the surface too. We might be aware that these are getting triggered. Or we might be less aware.

It’s helpful to bring these to awareness. As therapist Margaret Foley says, “If we have unprocessed material deep inside, we have two choices. We talk it out, or we act it out. We reenact what we have not resolved.”

These unresolved reenactments can become large narratives in our present-moment lives, but they are out of place and out of time. Or they might weave within our present-moment situations. Have you ever felt that your reaction to a present challenge is a bit oversized and disproportionate to the moment? Older stories and older emotions might be getting triggered too.

Within all of this, sometimes we look for people — close loved ones (frequent) or people of less personal significance (less risky) to play roles in our reenactments. We cast them as characters in the drama, and they serve as placeholders to hold these stories. They become containers to store our old emotions. But this can really harm relationships too.

Common containers include:

The role of the rescuer. We cast people as characters to save us. We want to be seen in our vulnerability (valid) but become dependent upon others for our feelings of safety. We externalize that need because we struggle to feel safe internally.

The role of the villain. We cast people in the character of scapegoat, attempting to funnel our pain into them and send them off. This is really an attempt to rid ourselves of our own anger and pain.

The role of the stand-in. We cast people into the character of a significant person in our lives. We begin to engage this person with the emotions we actually have for our mother, or father, or sister, or brother, or estranged friend, or person we miss, or person who wounded us.

I speak about all of this as a care-worker. I see this happening so frequently in this era of time. This comes from a natural place of wanting to heal pain, and it makes sense for this to happen after years of collective trauma. Of course, this would unearth old narratives. I also speak about this as person who lives in this era of time, witnessing and feeling my way through all of these things too. The challenge is, people aren’t asking to find themselves in the cast list of our internal storylines — unless, they themselves, are reenacting their own traumas by stepping into these roles too (that happens also!)

We can add care to others, but we aren’t rescuers.

We can make mistakes, but we aren’t villains.

We can care about the emotions people have for significant individuals in their lives, but we can’t become the stand-ins for those particular people.

This might bring some initial relief, but it also doesn’t work. We have to actually process the unprocessed material and storylines.

That’s the harder, but more life-giving work. Sending care to all of that.

Renee Roederer

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