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Hamilton, V. (1996). On the Otherness of Being: Winnicott's Ideas on ‘Object Usage’ and the ‘Experience of Externality’. J. Child Psychother., 22(3):383-391.

(1996). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 22(3):383-391

On the Otherness of Being: Winnicott's Ideas on ‘Object Usage’ and the ‘Experience of Externality’

Victoria Hamilton

Winnicott inherited, and stretched to its limits, a concept of mind in which individual subjectivity precedes awareness, perception and knowledge of the external world and other people. He was faced with the well-known philosophical problem of ‘other minds’: how do we know what is going on in the minds of people who are separate from, and different from, ourselves? Traditionally, analysts since Freud have tried to give an account of how this trafficking of information takes place by reference to two mental mechanisms: projection and introjection. A number of related concepts cluster around these two over-arching concepts: projective identification, primary and secondary identification, incorporation, internalization, empathic immersion and externalization. Each specifies in considerable detail the complex ways in which we come to feel for, and understand, other people as well as ourselves.

Winnicott's thinking did not fit easily into this framework which is why, perhaps, he talked so much about paradox and transitional phenomena. He worked in the ‘in between’, in the ‘third area’, that is neither inner nor outer but which participates in both. Winnicott turned to Heraclitus, to Schultz cartoons, to the paintings of Francis Bacon, to try to get across his unusual ideas. He wanted to describe the movement between outer and inner. In retrospect, we can say that he was hampered by the currency in which psychoanalytic debate took place during the four decades between 1930 and 1970. Nevertheless, he used what was available so that he could ‘contribute in’ to the psychoanalytic and social culture of his time. Winnicott enjoyed talking about his ideas and hearing what other people had to say about their experience. He plucked the unique out of the ordinary.

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