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Rappaport, D. (1998). Destruction and Gratitude: Some Thoughts on “the Use of an Object”. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(3):369-378.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(3):369-378

Destruction and Gratitude: Some Thoughts on “the Use of an Object”

David Rappaport, C.S.W.

Throughout his career as a psychoanalyst, Winnicott maintained a pediatric practice in London. In his four decades of work, he saw thousands of children, parents, and grandparents (Newman, 1995). This provided him with two distinct advantages over his analytic colleagues. First, it spared him economic dependence on referrals to his psychoanalytic practice, perhaps emboldening him to take revolutionary positions vis à vis his theoretical predecessors. Second, his medical practice afforded him the opportunity to observe the critical role the actual environment plays in the emotional life of young children. Running through all of his accounts of development there are descriptions of psychic resources the mother must supply for her baby to become a spontaneous, creative person with the capacity for uninhibited and authentic engagements with others.

In “The Use of an Object” (1969), Winnicott focuses on the provision of maternal survival. He argues that as the baby develops a dawning awareness of the mother's independent existence, he confronts his dependence on her. Troubled by this turn of events, the baby attacks an internal image of the mother and expects to destroy her. If the actual mother stands her ground lovingly by continuing to offer nurturing and soothing, however, the baby is forced to notice that external and internal affairs do not necessarily correspond. Here, survival is an offering through which the actual mother introduces the child into the world of separate objects that may reliably withstand his fantasized destruction of them. According to Winnicott, the mother's endurance determines the boundaries of the child's destructiveness. Eigen (1993) explains that survival relieves the child of the burden of omnipotence and pulls him out of the aloneness and narcissism of the early psychic landscape in which projective-introjective cycles obscure the definitions of self and other.

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