Newman on Winnicott

By Mary Montaut

Inaugural Lecture of the Proposed Winnicott Study Group, Dublin

Alexander Newman, who was the founder and first Director of the Squiggle Foundation in London and now directs Winnicott Studies in Bristol, was in Ireland in February to give the inaugural lecture of the proposed Dublin Winnicott Study Group using ACCEPT/Newpark Counselling Training Centre in Blackrock, Co. Dublin for the first one. Newman, who worked with Winnicott between 1967 and 1971, also trained at the Society of Analytical Psychology in London and at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, giving him an exceptionally broad view of psychotherapy. It was illuminating to hear him discussing some of the fundamental tenets of the British Object Relations School at the very same time as commenting from his personal experience on the controversies which surrounded them – the disagreements with Klein, the points of comparison with classical Freudian analysis, the contrasts with Lacan. Although Newman told us that he would not be delving into Winnicott’s biography, the richness of his insight into Winnicott’s texts made me feel that his knowledge of the writer informed his whole approach. He presented the texts to us with great modesty, always returning to Winnicott’s words and dwelling on them, with asides and comments from his own life and practice which brought the texts to life for his listeners.

In his first lecture, Psychotherapy as Seeing, he gave us his personal working definition of psychotherapy: “Psychotherapy takes place through a series of meetings during which, over a limited period, the therapist, as a consequence of experiences with others and from previous experiences including mother/father and of course their training and own analysis, struggles to change and transform himself so that the other person also experiences (sees) transformation as a living, bodily possibility. This form of psychotherapy relies primarily therefore on the infinite counter-transference experiences, leading to the uses and meanings of transferences, leading to the re-experiences and new experiences which tend to heal. It offers the opportunity through dreams and unconscious communications of all kinds to re-write one’s autobiography in detail having come to one’s senses anew.”

He explored the importance of mirroring in mothering and in psychotherapy; in Winnicott’s words, “holding, handling and presenting the world” as the vital components in “good enough mothering”. Newman told us that he works with psychotic people all the time – “I am a last resort,” he explained, “and sometimes, it works.”

His second lecture, Depression as an Achievement, presented a much more challenging aspect of Winnicott’s writing, which is first of all to see Hate as an achievement. “Depression comes later – hate should be there right from the start,” Newman asserted. Quoting from Winnicott’s paper, Hate and the Counter-Transference, he outlined another vital aspect of mirroring. “A mother has to be able to tolerate hating her baby without doing anything about it. She cannot express it to him. If for fear of what she may do, she cannot hate appropriately when hurt by her child, she must fall back on masochism, and I think it is this that gives rise to the false theory of natural masochism in women.”

Newman pointed out that there is also masochism in being a psychotherapist and gave us a case study of his own to counterpoint his reading of Winnicott. His own hatred of his patient, “giving her back what she had brought” or mirroring her, was fearlessly explored. Again he compared this with Winnicott: “The mother cannot be sentimental (by which Winnicott means, denial of hate, evasion of the human capacity to hate, being “nice”, as if any of us were) because babies cannot stomach the infinite power of their own hate. A baby needs hate to hate, say Winnicott. He suggests the mother hates the baby before the baby hates the mother – that’s when things are going well. The kind of hatred that arises when things are not going well is different.” And at this point, Newman looked at us listening to him and asked us, as if he was offering a treat, whether we would like to hear the first eighteen reasons why a mother normally hates her baby from the word go. His listeners, bewitched perhaps by the extraordinary freshness and frankness of the lecture, all said Yes, like kids at a pantomime. And the eighteen reasons were given –

The baby is not her own mental conception:

The baby is not the one of childhood play (father’s/brother’s):

The baby is not magically produced:

The baby is a danger to her body in pregnancy and at birth:

The baby is an interference with her private life, a challenge to her preoccupations:

To a greater or lesser extent, a mother feels that her own mother demands a baby so that her baby is produced to placate her mother:

The baby hurts her nipples even by suckling which is at first a chewing activity:

The baby is ruthless, treats her as scum, an unpaid servant, a slave:

She has to love him, excretions and all, at any rate until he has doubts about himself:

He tries to hurt her, periodically bites her and all, we say, in love:

He shows disillusionment about her:

His excited love is cupboard love, so that having got what he wants, he throws her away like orange peel:

The baby at first must dominate: he must be protected from coincidences, life must unfold at the baby’s rate, and all this needs his mother’s continuous and detailed study:

At first he doesn’t know at all what she does or what she sacrifices for him and especially he cannot allow for her hate:

He is suspicious, refuses her good food, makes her doubt herself, but eats very well with his aunt:

After an awful morning with him, she goes out and he smiles at a stranger who says, “Isn’t he sweet?”:

If she fails him at the start, she knows he will pay her out and for ever:

He excites her (sexually too) and frustrates her – she must not eat him or trade in sex with him . . .”

(From Hate in the Counter-Transference)

Newman plainly enjoyed the vivid response of his listeners to this list of reasons and his account of his own work enhanced our appreciation of Winnicott’s meaning. His patient, Ann, “hated and despised” him, even “trod on” him. He stressed the vulnerability of the therapist – “as vulnerable as the mother.” The work of therapy is to “attempt to initiate the natural processes that characterize the behaviour of any mother with her infant. And if I’m right, it is the mother/infant couple that can teach us the basic principles on which we may base our therapeutic work when treating people whose early mothering was not good enough or was interrupted.”

He closed with a long quotation from one of Winnicott’s talks (published as The Child, the Family and the Outside World) which placed the idea of hate as an achievement in perspective for us: “By taking each infant through this vital stage in early development in a sensitive way, the mother gives time for her infant to acquire all sorts of ways of dealing with the shock of recognizing the existence of a world that is outside his or her magical control. If time is allowed for the maturational process, then the infant becomes able to be destructive (and, commented Newman temptingly, we could do another paper on Destruction as Achievement) and able to hit and kick and scream instead of magically annihilating that world or acting it out. In this way, actual aggression can be seen to be an achievement. As compared with magical destruction, aggressive ideas and behaviour take on a positive value and hate becomes a sign of civilization.”

References

D.W. Winnicott: Hale in the Counter-Transference in Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis, 1958, Tavistock, London.

D.W. Winnicott: The Child, the Family and the Outside World, 1964, Penguin.

Enquiries about Winnicott Studies should be sent c/o, 15 Ardmhuire Park, Dalkey, Co. Dublin.