01 June 2008

Love and Hate

D.W. Winnicott argues that the developing child requires a good enough parent who cannot be destroyed by that child. I think what he means is this: as long as the child feels s/he has complete control over an object, and that it can be made to appear and disappear at the child’s will, then the child learns no sense of a world outside; with the world subject to the child’s will, the world is not separate from the child. Not being separate from the child, there is nothing to be done with the object: the object is the child. However, an object that is not the child can be played with, made into something else, and used creatively. The object must have enough integrity not to be whatever the child wishes it to be. The broom must remain a broom in order to be my child’s horse. And as long as it is not capable of being destroyed by the child, the object belongs to the world and can be continually, repeatedly and creatively used. If, however, the child can destroy the object, then the object belongs not to the world, but to the child, and can’t be used.

The good enough parent must be able to be used and not destroyed.

At the same time, Winnicott talks about hate in the countertransference. Sometimes, the analyst hates the analysand, and then what? And here is what I think I understand: Winnicott, it is told, took in a foster child who was particularly difficult. And when the child acted out in unacceptable ways—angering Winnicott—he would take the child and place him outside the door. And he would tell the child that whenever he wanted to come back in, he should ring the bell and he would be readmitted without qualification and without question.

By putting the child out of the door, Winnicott was expressing his hate for the child, but the unequivocal acceptance in permitting absolute re-entry expressed unqualified love. Paradoxically, he couldn’t express the love without the hate.

All this thinking about my children.


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