D. W. Winnicott on THE CAPACTIY TO BE ALONE 1958

SUMMARY OF THE CAPACTIY TO BE ALONE 1958

D.W. Winnicot begins the paper by declaring that ‘the capacity to be alone’ is one of the most important phases in the development of the ego. He adds that the manifestation of ‘silence’ in the clinical setting may actually be a positive example of this achievement. The silence can imply the attainment of ‘the capacity to be alone’ and not a manifestation of resistance to participate in treatment. Although in the past ‘being alone’ were discussions of persecutory fears for engagement and the wish for schizoid-ness, nevertheless we are going to focus on the opposite side of being alone. We are going to focus on the positive aspects of this ‘ability’ and developmental ‘capacity’ to be ‘able’ to be alone.

(When we refer to ‘being alone’ we obviously do not mean the merely physical being alone, we mean the appreciation and the capacity of the psychological state of being alone with one self.)

Rickman develops the phrases ‘two-body’ and ‘three-body’ relationships. These phrases of two-body and three-body have an actually relational difference. The relational difference can be divided up between the early psycho-sexual stages of the oral and anal (and for Klein the paranoid and depressive positions) which are two-body relationships and the later phase of the genital phase and the Oedipus complex which is a three-body relationship. The oral and anal are of a dyadic two-body relationship and the genital-phallic phase which introduce the Oedipus complex is in essence a triadic relationship.

The essence of a two-body and three-body relationship implies the premise of a ‘one-body’ relationship. Only after the one body relationship is established can he go on to build a two and then a three body relationship. The one-body relationship can be defined as the primary narcissistic relationship with one self. This primary relationship often becomes re-infused with the secondary narcissism, the return of the libido to the ego. The capacity to be alone is of the characteristic of this primary one-body relationship.

There is a fundamental and essential component that lies in the capacity to be alone; which is the capacity to be alone in the presence of another person. The capacity to be alone is actually originated with being with another person. The other person is needed as the foundation and completeness of the individuals ‘capacity to be alone.’ The presence of the other infuses the singular elements into unity which later has the capacity for ‘aloneness’.
The capacity to be alone is accomplished in the matrix of another person. In order to be fully ‘alone’ one needs to be alone in the ‘presence’ of another. The ability of aloneness is completed in the presences of another. The two are actually ‘alone’ with each-other. It’s the ‘me and not-me, mother and child dyad that gives the singularity and the capacity for aloneness to each individual.

There is a difference between the id-relatedness which is based on the instinctual relational desire and the ego-relatedness which is based on one’s whole personality to another person. The id-relatedness would resonate with the word ‘loving’ the connection built on the erotic instinct. However ‘Liking’ would be suited for the ego-relatedness which speaks to the whole united person in relation to another person.

The capacity to be alone entails the ability to tolerate ambivalence between the erotic and aggressive impulses. With the combination of erotic and aggressive impulses in the service of masturbation helps the child accepts his individuality and recognizes himself as the third person in the Oedipus complex.

To use Klein’s terminology the capacity to be alone would mean the internalization of the good object. The internalized of the good breast or penis creates the internal confidence to be ‘alone’ with oneself. The good object protects the individual from the persecutory bad objects and allows unity to take place.

In the beginning the immature raw ego borrows the supportive mother object as a crutch for his ego support. With the interjection of the supportive mother object the ego gains the strength to be alone even the mother is not present.

The development of ‘I am alone’ entails three phases. First there is an ‘I’. ‘I’ – means shaping raw instincts into a form a unit. Then comes ‘I am’ which is the next phase of the development which entails the protective life and the security of the ‘I’. The protective environment comes from the mother’s primal preoccupation and attunement of supporting the infant’s ego. The last phase is ‘I am alone’ which entails the awareness of the mother’s continuous existence as a separate entity.

Ego-relatedness is when the whole personality is involved. The id-impulses can strengthen the egos unity if the id-impulses are felt within the framework of the ego, however when they control the subject they destroy the development of the ego.

The capacity to be alone also enables the ability to let go of all orientations and
and integration and allow one to be and feel their true self. It is the ability for the active person to let go of his agenda and activities and just feel, play, and experience with no orientation. In this playful ego-relatedness one can also reach the climax of an orgasmic play and friendship.It allows one to be and feel their true self. It is the ability for the active person to let go of his agenda and activities and just feel, play, and experience with no orientation. In this playful ego-relatedness one can also reach the climax of an orgasmic play and friendship.

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6 thoughts on “D. W. Winnicott on THE CAPACTIY TO BE ALONE 1958

  1. Hey Eli,

    When another person has to ‘be present’ for aloneness to be achieved, is that another way of saying that if there was only one thing, it know any different? In other words, if there was only one thing, there’d be no need to make a distinction? But since there are more than one, by definition, we must be in the presence of another in order to demonstrate our ability to be alone?

    1. Mug,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think it’s more. I think being alone in the presence of another actually strengthens the ‘aloneness’. It actual create an in-depth capacity for ‘aloneness’ through being oneself while still being surrounded by others. The fact that others are there, put a challenge on the individual and on his aloneness, and through the ability to stay with oneself ‘despite’ the others presence he strengthens his alone-ness.

      1. Okay, I can see that. Sometimes I fall into the trap of always looking for ‘deeper’ meaning in simple concepts. I see what you’re saying, and agree. I’ve known (and been like this myself) tons of people who can’t just be still around others. That observation alone adds credibility to the concept. (That being, that the more rare thing is the more advanced, mature thing.)

  2. It is interesting that I ran across these posting. It was also helpful that I did. I recollected some of the reason’s I was unable to be alone in my own mind or even in an apartment, which sometimes might reveal the landscape of the mind. After viewing the Exorcist I found it impossible to live alone physically or even with my own thoughts. Every time Tubular Bells played on the radio, paranoia reared it’s ugly head. Joining the Army to make sure there were lots of people around compounded the problem. It seems trying to leave the mind somewhere else for relief was the only answer. This however can be dangerous to the self too and more problems can arise. Films like Last House on the Left, Willard and other horror films contributed to the paranoia in the mind and it then dictated the mental life. Early childhood entanglements revealed films like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die or Donavan’s Brain that also gave rise to paranoia in the early childhood. Abusive environments and people can contribute to the creation of paranoia aside from television. It all can prevent the capacity to be alone with one’s self. Thanks for posting this.

    1. You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting. When we find a personal experience are learning becomes a part of us, so I’m glad you were able to relate personally. Yes, I believe the things we watch give content to our mind and can create a blur between reality and imagination.

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