Containing yourself

When to stay in your box and when to come out and play?  It’s a bit of an art.  Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

I’m not a great fan of the psychology of self-containment.  It is too often used by people who want to control others.  ‘Contain yourself!’ says someone who wants to silence another person.

Having said that, there is a place, in self-development, for learning to operate on a fixed playing field, instead of leaking all over the place.

As always, there is a middle ground to be found.


There is the middle ground between managing something yourself, and speaking out.

In a job, for instance, there is the employee who asks their boss about everything.  It seems that no issue is too small to be asked about, and the boss may have to spend inordinate amounts of time answering questions.  If the employee can learn to choose when to manage an issue themselves, and when to ask someone else, the workplace is likely to be more harmonious.

Equally, in a relationship, the friend who is incessantly dependent on a response from the other, can become very tiring to know.  Again, knowing when to speak, and when to remain silent, is a bit of an art, but can improve the atmosphere.


There is also the middle ground between holding your own counsel, and openly arguing.

Before political elections, for example, a voter has to decide how to conduct themselves online.  Too much proselytising can put people off; equally, complete silence doesn’t really contribute to the debate.

Another way of looking at it, is that you want your best and most cherished views to be appreciated by others.  Why would you want to become annoying to others, therefore, in your conduct?


Finally, there is the middle ground between a learning approach and a teaching or preaching approach.

When exploring the world with young children, for example, a parent or guardian has to find a tone which helps the young to learn without killng their joy.  Ways can be found to learn together, without the child feeling that they are  the ignorant recipient of rules or information.  Equally, sometimes, guidance has to be clear to avoid danger.  It’s a balance.


Maybe have a think about how you manage the balance between keeping your own counsel, and speaking out.  Perhaps in some cases you are very shy, and therefore would like to learn to put forward your views without shame.  On the other hand, perhaps in other cases you can’t resist constant communication, and are at risk of annoying or overwhelming others.  If so, perhaps you would like to learn to keep quiet and let others have their say.

Try to notice when you are too secretive, and when you are too open.

Effective humanity is not, usually, about being a sealed container.  However, it is about the balanced management of the ground between isolation and overwhelm.  You will know whether you are getting it right or wrong.  When you get it wrong, you will generally feel less peaceful.  When you get it right, life will seem to run more smoothly.



Being appropriately self-contained is a matter of balance.  A balance between:

  • at times managing things yourself, and at other times speaking out
  • at times keeping your own counsel, and at other times arguing your case
  • at times taking a collaborative stance, and at other times being firmer about rules
A wise person makes good judgements about these things, depending on the situation.