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Playing and Reality
理論家 Theorists  /  B. D. W.  Winnicott  溫尼考特

Playing and Reality

 Original Hypothesis

 Application of the Theory

 Clinical Material

 The motive to pursue the subject of playing

 Play and Masturbation

 Transitional Phenomena

 Playing in Time and Space

 Theory of Play

 Winnicott's summary

 Original Hypothesis

(1) Infants, as soon as they are born, tend to use fist, fingers, thumbs in stimulation of the oral erotogenic zone.

(2) After a few months infants of either sex become fond of playing with dolls, and that most mothers allow their infants some special object and expect them to become addicted to such objects.

(3) There is a relationship between the two sets of phenomena that are separated by a time interval; a study of the development from the earlier into the later can be profitable.


A. The First Possession
Inadequacy of Usual Statement of Human Nature

“My claim is that if there is a need for this double statement, there is also need for a triple one: the third part of the life of a human being, a part that we cannot ignore, is an intermediate area of experiencing , to which inner reality and external life both contribute ” (2).

staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby's inability and his growing ability to recognize and accept reality/ studying the substance of illusion

-- allowed to the infant, inherent in art and religion, yet the hallmark of madness when an adult puts too powerful a claim on the credulity of others, forcing them to acknowledge a sharing of illusion that is not their own.

 not referring exactly to teddy bear, blanket, or the infant's use of the fist.


Development of a Personal Pattern
  Transitional phenomena: some thing or some phenomenon, e.g.) a bundle of wool, the corner of a blanket, a word or a tune, that is a defense against anxiety.

Transitional object: “ there is no noticeable difference between boy and girl in their use of the original ‘not-me' possession , which I am calling the transitional object” (4).

→ it is “related backwards in time to auto-erotic phenomena and fist and thumb- sucking, and also forwards to the first soft animal or doll and to hard toys. It is related both to the external object (mother's breast) and to internal objects (magically introjected breast), but is distinct from each”. (14)

“Sometimes there is no transitional object except the mother herself. Or an infant may be so disturbed in emotional development that the transition state cannot be enjoyed, or the sequence of objects used is broken” (5).


Summary of Special Qualities in the Relationship
  (1) The infant assumes rights over the object, and we agree to this assumption. Nevertheless, some abrogation of omnipotence is a feature from the start.

(2) The object is affectionately cuddled as well as excitedly loved and mutilated.

(3) It must never change, unless changed by the infant.

(4) It must survive instinctual loving, and also hating, and, if it be a feature, pure aggression.

(5) Yet it must seem to the infant to give warmth, or to move, or to have texture, or to do something that seems to show it has vitality or reality of its own.

(6) It comes from without from our point of view, but not so from the point of view of the baby, neither does it come from within; it is not a hallucination.

(7) Its fate is to be gradually allowed to be decathected, so that in the course of years it becomes not so much forgotten as relegated to limbo. By this I mean that in health the transitional object does not “go inside” nor does the feeling about it necessarily undergo repression. It is not forgotten and it is not mourned. It loses meaning, and this is because the transitional phenomena have become diffused, have become spread out over the whole intermediate territory between “inner psychic reality” and “the external world as perceived by two persons in common”, that is to say, over the whole cultural field (5).

→ play, artistic creativity and appreciation, religious feeling ...
→ transitional object as a term for the root of symbolism in time; it gives room for the process of becoming able to accept difference and similarity. (6)


B. Clinical Description of a Transitional Object
Example of two brothers:

X: difficult to wean, strong attachment to the mother herself, rabbits as comforter → mother-fixated

Y: a little bit of the wool (soother, a typical example of a transitional object)


C. Relationship to Internal Object (Klein)
The transitional object is not an internal object (which is a mental concept) – it is a possession. Yet it is not (for the infant) an external object either.
D. Illusion – Disillusionment
the good-enough mother (not necessarily the infant's own mother)
It stands in contrast with the "perfect" mother who satisfies all the needs of the infant on the spot, thus preventing him from developing. Instead, the good-enough mother tries to provide what the infant needs, but she instinctively leaves a time lag between the demands and their satisfaction and progressively increases it. Faced with expressions of infantile rage, she waits a while, then she contains the rage gently but firmly. Her fundamentally warm, loving attitude remains in place whatever the infant does, and even when she herself experiences irritation, annoyance, or anger. She never retaliates, never takes revenge on her child. Her basic attitude overrides any mistake she makes and is bound to make. She is a master in handling negative reactions in a constructive, healing fashion. The good-enough mother's behaviour can be described with another Winnicottian concept, namely "graduated failure of adaptation". Her failure to satisfy the infant need's immediately induces the latter to compensate for the temporary deprivation by mental activity and by understanding. Thus, the infant learns to tolerate for increasingly longer periods both his ego needs and instinctual tensions. (Winnicott, 1977, p. 246)
( Molnos, A. (1998): A psychotherapist's harvest

to give the baby the feeling of omnipotence/ the mother's eventual task is to gradually disillusion the infant. According to Winnicott, part of the mother's early role is to instill a sense of omnipotence in the infant by providing his or her objects there at the moment and in the place where the baby hallucinates them. The primary example of this occurs when the mother anticipates the infant's need for the breast and provides it more or less where and when the infant tries to summon it into being. Infantile omnipotence is the origin of the confidence with which the child will later explore the world once it has come to distinguish between his or her body and his or her objects. ( http://www.uchicago.edu/research/jnl-crit-inq/issues/v27/v27n1.burgin.html )

Relief from the strain of incomplete reality-acceptance is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, imaginative living, creative scientific work, etc.).


 Application of the Theory
  Example: the boy's preoccupation with string
 Clinical material
  a woman patient with war trauma, traumatic separation from parents because of evacuation, now overtaken by fantasying (the railway journey game with the analyst)


 The motive to pursue the subject of playing

“Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist” (38).

The job of the psychotherapist: “[…] bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play” (38.)


 Play and Masturbation  

Playing needs to be studied as a subject on its own, supplementary to the sublimation of instinct

In Winnicott's observation, when a child is playing, the masturbatory element is essentially lacking. → We might have missed something by connecting the two phenomena too closely.

What Winnicott says about playing applies to adults, too.

Examples: in the choice of words, in the inflections of the voice, and in the sense of humor.


 Transitional Phenomena

The meaning of playing is renewed following the concept of transitional phenomena, from the use of a transitional object to a person's capacity for cultural experience.

Playing has a time and a place; it is not inside, nor is it outside. It is not part of the not-me, which is outside magical control.

To control the truly external world (what is outside), one has to do things. Doing things takes time. “Playing is doing” (41).


Playing in Time and Space
  A potential space is denoted for the place of playing:

-- Initially, the potential space is between the baby and the mother or mother-figure.

--Playing is universal. It leads to growth, health and group relationships. Psychoanalysis is a highly specialized form of playing.


 Theory of Play

A The infant and the object are merged with each other.

B The object is repudiated, re-accepted and perceived objectively. The process is highly dependent on a mother or mother-figure who is prepared to participate.
-- Confidence in the mother makes an intermediate playground, where the baby experiences the feeling of omnipotence. The playground is a potential space.

C.  The key to this stage is “being alone in the presence of someone” (47).
-- During this stage, the child plays, assuming someone reliable is available when remembered after being forgotten. The child feels this person reflects back what happens in the playing.

D.  The child allows and enjoys an overlap of two play areas, that of the mother's own playing and the child's.

Illustrative Case:
A girl was first treated when she was six months old. During the period from nine-month-old to one-year-old, she continues to have fits. Winnicott lets the baby play the game of biting and throwing away spatulas. The baby then fingers her toes and seems to discover that while spatulas can be thrown away, toes cannot be pulled off. After the last consultation, the baby has not experienced any fits. The improvement has been maintained without medicine.


 Winnicott's summary

A.  The content [of playing] does not matter. What matters is the near-withdrawal state, akin to the concentration of older children and adults.

B.  There is a direct development from transitional phenomena to playing, and from playing to shared playing, and from this to cultural experiences.

C.  Playing belongs to the potential space between (what was at first) baby and mother-figure.



Work Cited

Winnicott, D. W. Playing and Reality. New York: Routledge, 1971.

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