Wilfred Bion and The Importance of Not-Knowing


The image is a common one: a child crying due to some unseen force. The mother enters and, through words or touch, soothes the child to the point that he ceases to cry and goes on being. What happened here? Sometimes the child will be soothed without even the slightest touch from the mother (no changing of a diaper or offering of the breast), and yet something material has changed within the baby. For Bion, what happened is that the child’s experience was contained by the mother (Szykierski, 2010). The child has not yet been able to put his experience into thoughts for himself, and has therefore used the mother’s thinking ability to make his experience more palatable. Bion believed that, through the mother’s presence and reverie (which is to say, her ability to perceive what is going on for the child), she can take in the child’s experience, use her mental capacity to digest the child’s intolerable experience, and give it back to the child in a form that he can now tolerate. The mother has now contained the child’s experience (Brown, 2012). The child is then left in a much more manageable state


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