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Kuriloff, E. (1998). Winnicott and Sullivan: Playing with the Interpersonal Model in a Transitional Space. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(3):379-388.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(3):379-388

Winnicott and Sullivan: Playing with the Interpersonal Model in a Transitional Space

Emily Kuriloff, PSY.D.

Often when they are angry, injured, or both, patients liken therapy to prostitution. They say that they pay only to “use” the analyst in a most intimate way. “Using” is unpopular in our culture, implying exploitation and a lack of consideration for others (Bromberg, 1995). Winnicott, however, in his poetic if obtuse style, gives the term new meaning in “The Use of an Object and Relating Through Identifications” (1969). Suddenly, selfishness is as a gift from mother, who lets herself be ruthlessly treated by the infant whose destructive impulses need to be tolerated without retaliation or loss. The child is thus disabused of his infantile omnipotence and appreciates that the couple have separate centers of subjectivity, rather than baby remaining in an entangled, reactive role with mother. Mother's availability in this benign cycle of impulse and endurance frees the baby to become his own agent, uninhibited by his imagined bind to and with mother. When this fails to occur, according to Winnicott's distinction in terms, the child “relates” as the omnipotent creator and destroyer of self and other; thus people are not “used” for what they have to give that is new and unique, but are mere objects for the child's own projections. Such a history, and consequent reparations via the analyst's affect tolerance and survival, are Winnicott's indications and stance for treatment.

Emphasizing the environmental response to the child's ruthlessness includes Winnicott conceptually within Greenberg and Mitchell's (1983) paradigm of the “relational school of psychoanalysis.”

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