⌬ Lecture №14 | Object Relations: Winnicott [OPTIONAL!]

Social | Psychoanalytic | Work

Jan 6 2022 • 51 mins

Hi,

Welcome to the fourth in a series of podcast lectures, which will focus on the work of Donald Winnicott. This lecture follows lectures on the work of Melanie Klein and Ronald Fairbairn, and I'll be referring back to concepts I talked about in those prior lectures. So, while it is not essential to have listened to those prior lectures, I think this lecture will make more sense (the maximal amount os sense) if you have.

Having said that: I want to make something clear right away. I really like Winnicott. He is my favorite in-Lacanian psychoanalyst.

Here are a few of the many reasons I think Winnicott, and his work, is so cool.

  1. He is funny: The footnote about a revolver in a paper on technique.
  2. The story about "inner cows"
  3. He says wonderfully beautiful poetic things.
  4. "For my patients, who have paid to teach me."
  5. "It is a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found."
  6. He was not afraid to be an emotional man.
  7. He was sad for what I think are the right reasons.
  8. He would speak in ways that were understandable.

Hopefully, this has piqued your interest in the work of this wonderful thinker.  Let's get started...

Winnicott was a pediatrician

Winnicott was a pediatrician before he became a psychoanalyst. So he knew a lot about how parents (in particular mothers and infants interacted). Some things Winnicott noticed:

  1. When a baby is born it is 100% dependent on the mother to survive.
  2. Even though the mother and infant are separate bodies, for a time they are still linked by a powerful mental and emotional bond that is not like any other bond.
  3. He believed that if this bond was supported by others (fathers, other family members, society, etc.) the result would be the development of a healthy person.
  4. He also believed that this bond could not last, that at a certain point the mother and baby would need to separate more. (The baby needed to stop depending on the mother's capacities and start the process of developing its own capacities --such as soothing, eating, talking, etc.) Winnicott knew this would be difficult for both mother and baby, and, again believed the mother and baby needed to be supported throughout this separation process.

In many ways, Winnicott (and Klein who supervised Winnicott) brought the figure of the mother into psychoanalysis, which had been very preoccupied with the figure of the father. (See the Oedipus complex.)

Next we will do an overview and summary a few of Winnicott's concepts of:

  1. The infant's fantasy of omnipotence experienced as if it were real
  2. The good-enough mother (i.e., the good-enough parent, or good-enough clinician, teacher, friend, etc.))

Fantasy of omnipotence

By making her breast (or bottle) available at the right moment, the mother (or mother substitute) enables the infant to believe that she (or he) has ‘created their own world out of their own need’. The baby then experiences an ‘illusion’:

The infant needed to experience this fantasy as real so that it could feel safe, secure, and not be flooded with adrenalin and cortisol as it developed. However, after a certain point this fantasy needed to be left behind.

Failure & the good-enough mother

Winnicott discusses what he calls environmental failure at various stages of the child’s (emotional) development. At the earliest stage of infancy, when the child is in a state of ‘absolute dependence’ on the mother, such failure can have very serious effects on later development.Winnicott recognised that ‘the ordinary devoted mother’ was not perfect and would, therefore, inevitably make mistakes in the care of her infant. What she would then do, however, was to make repairs and readjustments in her interaction with the infant.

The not good-enough mother (or social worker) can't tolerate negative spontaneous behaviors

He describes the situation of ‘not good-enough mothering’ as one in which the mother (consciously or unconsciously) is unable to respond adequately to her infant’s spontaneous behaviour (true self), but tends to impose her own wishes and desires (e.g. for an ‘ideal’ child). This may lead the infant to an adaptation on the basis of ‘compliance’ (false self) and later, in adulthood, to the loss of a sense of personal autonomy and integrity.

Moving away from parent/child relationships for a moment – This still happens a lot in many clinical relationships! The effect is the patient creates a "character" they play to please the clinician. (The same way a child plays the part of the sort of child they think their parent wants them to be.)

True self & False self

However, a degree of false self co-exists with the true self in everybody. Like all defences, a sense of falseness canbe protective of the true self, but it may also become pathologically powerful’ and, at times of stress, lead to breakdown and the need for psychotherapeutic help.The true self is perhaps Winnicott’s most complex idea. He describes it as a necessarily hidden, private and secret part of the personality. It is connected ‘in the person’ with ‘aliveness’ and it is that ‘which gives the feeling of real’.

Capacities

  1. Concern & Guilt - The child can experience emotions like hate, act them out, and then feel bad (guilty) and try to repair what damages have been done by the hate.
  2. To be alone - We have to be able to be together before we can be alone.
  3. Creativity - The capacity to create enough of what we need and want within the constraints of our lives. One of the ways that Winnicott saw a capacity for creativity is in the creation of transitional objects.

The ‘Transitional Object’

A security blanket or other special object that a kid and use.

Winnicott saw analysts and therapists as transitional objects, and that meant patients would make the analyst or therapist into what they needed them to be (i.e., transference).

If all went well, eventually the patient would not need the analyst or therapist, and they could abandon them as a transitional object.

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