D. W. Winnicott on Object Survival and Transformation

A summary of The use of an object and Relating through Identification-1969

In this paper D. W. Winnicott discusses the importance of the child’s ego relatedness. Winnicott moves away from the Freudian instinct satisfaction to the whole ego-relatedness of the child. He discusses the transformation from object-relating to object-use. (it’s important to note that ‘use’ is not being used in the sense of exploitation but rather as a positive phenomenon of being able to conceptualize the object as external.)This transformation Winnicott, explains is the foundation of reality-testing and relates to external objects as an independent entity. Once there is there is the establishment of shared reality the subject can relate to the outside object as a separated ‘not –me’ object and thus object ‘use’ takes place. The term object-use refers to the child being able to relate to the object as an external phenomenon and as a resourceful environmental reality independent of the child’s subjectivity. The term object-relating refers to the symbiotic relationship that the child has with the environment as if it is his own projection and his creation and thus the environment is a part of him. The child begins life with ‘object relating’, as if the mother is his creation and an extension of his subjective self. There is no responsibility or capacity for concern for others because they’re all perceived as a part of him. The child begins life with the primary narcissistic beliefs and the unconscious belief in his omnipotent self. The child feels as if he nurtures himself and as if his mother is part of him. When the child is in this phase reality is dependent on the child’s fantasy and his illusions. With the good enough mothering and attuned holding environment the child’s ego develop a sense of subjectivity and reality; he develops the capacity to see things as ‘not-me’. With gradually frustration the child begins to differentiate self from other and reality begins to exist in its own right. Then the child begins to ‘use’ the object as an external phenomenon. The transformation from objects leaving the subjective reality to the external reality happens with the in the transitional space and with the ‘killing off’ of the child. The child kills the subjective-object and thus it begins to exist without him. The symbolic killing is done with the child’s anger and hatred toward the object which then starts to become it independent entity. Perhaps the gradual frustration triggers the anger which ‘kills away’ the object, which then begins to survive in its own right. Winnicott uses the term ‘Object Survival’ to capture this transformation that the object goes through. Winnicott explains that in order for the child to be able to ‘use’ the object as a reality, object survival is necessary. The objects need to make sure not to retaliate against child in order for the separation to be successful. Retaliation just increases its dependency on the object and doesn’t allow the separation to take place. This transformation happens in the psychoanalytic session of the borderline and psychotic patient as well. The analysand perceives the analyst as a part of himself and as a subjective phenomenon. As long as the analyst is part of the internal world of the patient ‘no real change’ can take place because the entire process is part of him. Only after the client becomes angry and is able to kill off the analyst, and the analyst survives without retaliating, is the patient able to see the analyst as an independent entity and thus he is able to become an external reality. And then reality testing is returned to normal. This process of going from object relating to object use is fundamental for the child to establish the me not-me differentiation. The confirmation of the whole me and the not me gives the child the ability to concern and the ability to test reality. The transformation takes place with the anger and killing of the object which allows the object to become real. Once reality is established the child can love and enjoy the real and true reality. The child can feel real and feel the realness of the environment. Realness is key in the separation-individuation.


2 thoughts on “D. W. Winnicott on Object Survival and Transformation

  1. Hello Eli,

    I am a psychology student in University right now, and have studied D.W. several classes through. I love how you follow up on his work in your postings. What gives you such a fascination for psychology? I am glad you happened upon my blog, so that now I can read yours! Cheers. ~Christina

  2. Thanks Christina, for joining my blog and for commenting, I truly appreciate it and it means a lot to me. It feels great to know others are still interested in in-depth-psychology, although it’s somewhat out of style. You asked what fascinates me about psychology, so I will try to answer. The truth is I really enjoy all in-depth learning that penetrates the depth of my mind. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s like a good exercise for my brain and it feels good to use it to its full capacity. After studying an article I need to give it over to others. I can’t just keep it inwards. I feel propelled to give it over to others so its kind of a form of connecting with others. Freud would say I am moving from Ego libido to Object libido, which is healthy and a normal dynamic(at least I hope so). I feel others unconsciously benefit from my knowledge and appreciate it although people don’t always acknowledge the benefits. It also helps me with ‘Listening’ to stay reflective and NOT intervene, which is a huge thing for me. It helps me understand people (and myself) and not interrupt them. It always fascinated me to understand how myself and others operate and how to ‘get along’ without getting entangled or stuck. In addition I feel philosophical thinking has always been a strong point for me (as oppose to mathematics which I’m not that good at) so it kind of reflects well for me. Maybe you can call this primary narcissism. Thanks again and I hope i did justice to your question,

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