Studies In The Theory Of Emotional Development

“The maturational processes and the facilitating environment: Studies in the theory of emotional development” written by Donald W. Winnicott is a fundamental book, which is created from collection of his published and unpublished papers on psychoanalysis and child development between years of 1926-1964. The book informs the readers about the maturation process of a human being step by step from early childhood to adolescence stage. The main theme of this book dates back to Freud’s theories to infancy. Winnicott mostly based his discussions on Freud’s basic concepts and he had taken Freud’s concepts as the frame of his references, however Winnicott did not based his discussions on Freudian concept. Through out the paper, it is observed that the ideas were based on between Winnicott’s and Freud’s ideas on maturational processes (Winnicott, 1965). In this astonishing collection, Dr. Winnicott analyses the maturational processes in three phases of developmental approach, theoretical approach and the technique in depth. The book is scripted in a straightforward language that people who are new to psychoanalytic study can benefit from its virtue. Furthermore, the aim of this review is to elaborate on theory of maturational processes in emotional development by analyzing Winnicott’s theories in support of different theories at of different theorists who studies the emotional development likewise. In order to accomplish this task, first the author and his theory will be introduced briefly. Subsequently, theories of other theorists will be presented and discussed in depth in order to contemplate the likeliness of maturational processes of human being and psychoanalytical therapy session.

The Author

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Donald W. Winnicott (1896-1971), Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and psychoanalyst received his first analysis from James Strachey. Before this event, in 1919 he read Freud in Brill’s translation of The Interpretation of Dreams. Strachey was attentive to Winnicott’s interest in children and child analysis by encouraging him to research about Melanie Klein. Afterwards, he had become Klein’s student and spent several years as her supervisee. Way to understand Winnicott, goes from Klein since Klein had pointed out the missing parts from Freud’s theory, the emotional development. His accomplishments of working with infants and children clinically, gave rise to psychoanalytic field, and led him to become the second important person after Klein in British Object Relations School. (Phillips, 1988, pp.153-154; Levine, 2006; Winnicott, 1971, pp.7-10). Winnicott’s original ideas had differed from Kleinians. According to Rodman, Winnicott differed from others since he was in close contact with mother and infants. He, also, described that Winnicott’s conflict with Kleininas was a turning point in his life, which led him to develop the theory of True Self (Levine, 2006).

Winnicott had published over two hundred papers and many valuable books including Through Paediatrics to Psychanalysis (1958), Therapeutic Consultations in Child Psychiatry (1971), The Piggle (1977), Play and Reality (1971) (Phillips, 1988, pp.153-154; Levine, 2006; Winnicott, 1971, pp.7-10). Play and Reality, one of his well known books, is improved version of his paper “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena” (1951), which discusses the importance of transitional stage in an individual’s life, and intense experiences that take place in art, religion and fantasy world. Lastly, Winnicott refers to this book the most (Winnicott, 1971, p.15). When Winnicott’s differentiation from Klein observed, one can assume that this process is Winnicott’s transitional phenomena from his supervisor to become an independent theorist.

Brief summary of the book

Part One: Papers on Development

Winnicott starts off the book from collection of papers on development. First, he explains the importance of the psycho-analysis and sense of guilt by stating “A psycho-analyst comes to the subject of guilt as one who is in the habit of thinking in terms of growth, in terms of the evolution of the human individual, the individual emotional growth “(Winnicott, 1965, p.15). Afterwards, Winnicott continues stating by sense of guilt is visible when the child enters to Oedipal Stage, since unconsciously the child is wishing his/her same sex parent to disappear and accordingly feelings of love and hate rises in this stage. After this stage, child enters to Superego and ego comes in terms with the superego, leaving anxiety to mature into guilt. Winnicott states that at this stage, child would feel sense of guilt related to masturbation. He continues by describing the individuals who acquired guilt feeling might suffer from melancholia and obsessional neurosis. The origin of guilt feeling arises from Oedipus complex, when the child starts to experience three way relationship (mother, father and child).

Next, Winnicott continues with the term capacity to be alone which is highly related with emotional development of an individual. It is basically experience of being alone in presence of another person, which helps children to build up his/her ego and contributes to build individual’s personality. Winnicott includes the importance of parent and child relationship by defining the holding environment. The infant is dependent to holding environment where the mother holds the infant physically, emotionally and in her mind. Following the mother and the infant will live together. The child is now a psychosomatic (psyche indwelling in the soma) being on its own. He sees all the objects, including his mother, as outside of himself. At this stage, the child’s ego moves on from the state of unintegration to integration and now he has gained the capacity to develop object relations. In other words, he has now passed on from a subjectively designed object to an on objectively perceived object relationship, which the infant can live with the father and mother together. Winnicott includes that the infant development should facilitated by good-enough maternal care in order for infant to survive. He continues stating that it can be said that infant’s ego is weak, however strengthen by his mother’s ego.

Further on, Winnicott states the importance for child to experience full dependency, relative dependency and independence, in order to integrate the ego. He includes the importance of ego strength that receives ego-support from the mother’s adaptive behaviour and love. Accordingly, Winnicott articulates the relation of needs of children to those of infants in health and crisis. Additionally, he points out the importance of the relationship between childcare that is provided by healthcare providers versus natural care that is supplied by the parents. Correspondingly, Winnicott discussed the development of the capacity for concern in children. His statement was concern was assumes to belong to the stage that is prior to Oedipus complex. The capacity for concern was part of two body relationship, between the mother and the infant. In order the infant to experience guilt or hold it in full expectation of an opportunity to reparation, he needs to develop capacity for concern.

Following this paper, Winnicott discussed infant’s growth from dependence towards independence. There are three categories in this issue. The first one is absolute dependence, which is the early stage of emotional development. The infant is dependent on the mother’s womb and care from the beginning. In this section Winnicott states that “This term ‘maturational process’ refers to evolution of the ego and of the self, and includes the whole story of the id, of instincts and their vicissitudes, and of defences in the ego relative to instinct” (Winnicott, 1965). In this state, the mothers go through a phase called “primary maternal preoccupation” where the mothers are preoccupied with the care of their baby starting from the last few weeks of pregnancy and couple of weeks after the birth. Their babies seem part of them and they are identified with the baby. Accordingly, the mothers know how their baby feels like or what their baby needs. In this situation, the mother herself is dependent. The next step is relative dependence where the infant is aware of the presence of dependence. In order to explain this phase, Winnicott stated that “when the mother is away for a moment beyond the time-span of his (or her) capacity to believe in her survival, anxiety appears, and this is the first sign that the infant knows”. The last step is infant’s journey to towards independence. Once the child passed the both phases normally, he/she will become eligible to meet with world and its hardships, since he/she will be able to observe what is already present in his(her own self. Lastly, this stage explains the attempts of the toddler child and of the child at puberty.

Part Two: Theory and Technique

In the second part Winnicott, dedicated himself informing the readers about the theories of child psychology and the techniques that is used in child psychoanalysis.

Winnicott starts with contributions of direct child observation to psycho-analysis. According to Winnicott’s direct observation, the baby must have a physical and psychological maturity in order to have a full emotional development. When these phenomena take place in psychoanalysis the analyst cannot date when it occurred. However, the analyst will be able to describe to patient’s early infancy. Furthermore, infant’s play become acknowledge in process of analysis. Play includes the personal growth of through imagination. Winnicott’s foremost crucial theory is transitional object and phenomena. In this phase, the normal developing baby adopts a piece of cloth or a teddy bear. For a while the child will subject this object to himself; he will carry it with him all the time and wants to have full possession of the object. Therefore, according to Winnicott, starting from infancy, the mother should tolerate and allow the baby to besmear this object, to harm it, to ruin it. If the mother is washing this object, or cleaning it, or mending it or sewing it, she is breaking up and destroying something. What the mother is destroying is the meaning the baby attaches to the object and to what she is doing to the object.

Winnicott explains that “concentration of environmental phenomena in which crystallizes out a person” (p.138), a mother, and within the mother the infant constitutes as anatomically and physically, later on at the birth date, the infant becomes a female or male individual. Winnicott states that there is no such thing as a newborn on its own, what you can see is the mother baby unity; which is called “nursing couple”. Where you find a baby you will find maternal care. At the beginning the baby exists only by means of the maternal care with whom the baby forms a whole. This care period is before the verbal period. The baby does not talk, in this period which is prior to presenting the baby with word symbols, the relationship between the mother and the baby is a “maternal empathy”. The baby is completely dependent and with what he receives from this dependency his ego develops and he paves the way for the construction of a separate self. When assumed that the development progressed normally with good enough initiation, true self operates steady and protects the being from the false self.

False self is described as the breakdown of the child’s illusion of omnipotence by the mother’s non-empathetic replies at early period results in serious psychopathological consequences. A child in such a situation will gradually develop a “false self”. He will give up his needs and demands and will quickly try to form himself according to the demands and expectations of the mother or others. He will observe himself and his surroundings all the time and trying to assess reality, he will be inclined to present a superficial concordance. The real self which has not developed, will be enveloped, encapsulated and hidden by false self. Real self is the source of needs and expressions itself. False self, on the other hand, is a continuous activity in order to create the positive surroundings the environment has not provided one with. In analysis of a false personality, Winnicott describes, “the fact must be recognized that the analyst can only talk to the False Self of the patient about the patient’s True Self” (Winnicott, 1965, p.151). He continues stating that in point of transition, the analyst and the patient should be in extreme dependence, when the analyst starts to get into contact with the “True Self”.

Winnicott discusses the importance of counter-transference within the therapy. Additionally, he stated the aim of psycho-analytical treatment is keeping alive, well, and awake. It is crucial to be aware of what, when, and how the patient states the certain statement or releases the emotion.

Following, Winnicott discusses how to train for child psychiatry, since it is a different field than psychiatry that is applied to adults. Child psychiatry is involved with the emotional growth of the individual child and his/her maturational processes which is provided by his/her environment and the issues that derives from child him/herself. Accordingly, child psychiatry requires additional education of type which is provided by Psycho-Analysis and Analytical Psychology. Winnicott continues by stating the importance of psychotherapy of character disorders and he elaborates by discussing them in terms of maturational processes. Lastly, he concludes by stating the importance of dependence in infant-care, in child-care, and the psycho-analytic setting.

The Critique of the book

When the main issue is the maturational process, it is crucial to acknowledge Freud’s theory since almost all of the theories stemmed from it. According to Freud, in infancy and childhood, the individual’s anticipated concern is survival issues, which are experienced through nursing and the mother’s activities with infant’s body, following infant’s fantasies about birth and death. Also, the infant will experience these issues through the sexual bond with its parents. Later on the infant will experience, pleasure principle where he/she demands all of his/her needs to be accomplished immediately (id). With reality principle, the infant realizes some gratifications are that problematic, however the infant will realize it is worth to wait for them (ego) (McWilliams, 1994; Mitchell & Black, 1995). Freud’s drive theory states that the child will go through psychosexual stages of oral, anal, phallic and latency stage (where superego develops). Therewithal, Winnicott values the theories of Freud and based the fundamental of his theories from his. However, Freud states that patient’s problems stems from secrets, gaps in memory, while Winnicott believes that the patient is “shaping and molding the analytic situation to provide the environmental features missed in childhood” (Mitchell & Black, 1995, 133-134). According to my observation, even though Winnicott had developed a different style of maturational processes than Freud’s, still he based his ideas on his drive theory. Freud’s maturational processes of emotional development reciprocate my idea of maturation, since the stages are apprised when the children are observed from the frame of drive theory. Accordingly, I believe that Winnicott’s stages of theory builds up on Freud’s maturational stages with addition of mother-infant relationship reinforcement.

The dedicated theorists, Klein and Anna Freud, had different theories which concerned technical problems with regard to analyzing. Klein believed that children were analysable as long as their play was interpreted, while Anna Freud argued that small children are not analysable since they have weak ego and they cannot handle interpretations. (Mitchell & Black, 1995). Klein ‘s “play technique” of child analysis, which the child is offered with simple toys that represents his fantasy life (Klein, 1975). On the other hand A.Freud states that since Superego is the “heir of the Oedipus Complex”, the pre-oedipal child will be unable to obtain internal controls of his own erotic and aggressive impulses. Even though, Winnicott was influenced by Klein’s theory, he still acknowledged A.Freud’s view of giving importance of the child’s actual parents. On the other hand, Klein was insufficiently respectful of the role of parents and concentrated on child’s internal world of fantasy to the exclusion of external factors (Phillips, 1988). However, Winnicott’s benefaction to psychoanalytic theory was formulated to re-introduce the importance of the real mother in development. He gives the mother a relatively passive role, at least from the infant’s point of view (Katz, 1996). Winnicott believes that there is not only an infant there is a nursing couple between mother and the infant. When I think of these theories, I also, believe psychoanalysis cannot be applied to the children. I support Klein’s the play technique, however I believe that children are not ready to hear the interpretations, since they have not accomplished all of the developmental stages as A.Freud stated. Additionally, I disagree with Klein’s point of view of excluding parents, when working with children. Since the care of the mother and the environment is crucial in children’s development, I think parents’ contribution to the therapy session will be meaningful as Winnicott stated.

Stern disagrees on the existence of developmental stages as other theorists do. Stern makes an attempt to free infancy and psychoanalysis from predisposition of adult psychopathology. His position is that the infants from the start mainly experience the reality and their subjective experiences without suffering distortion or defences (Downey, 1988). In contrary of Winnicott’s developmental stages, Stern uses for senses of self, which are emergent self, the core self, the subjective self and the verbal self. According to Erten (2010), Stern emphasizes the importance of sense of subjective self as the crucial steps of development of the child. Erten states that, according to Stern I think, Stern was influenced by Winnicott’s theory of mother-infant relationship and applied to his own theory. In Stern’s system the mother and the infant are in a dual relationship, in other words in sync.

Stern (1985), and A. Freud (1965) were influenced by Winnicot (1971)’s transitional object and phenomenon by describing the importance of having a soft substance in process of differentiating from the mother. However, Stern’s view on this phenomenon is different than Winnicott’s. Winnicott believes that it is crucial for child to be left alone with the transitional object whereas Stern states it is normal for mother to enter infant’s play in this stage is normal and she should encourage the infant play with the transitional object. Once the infant gets acquainted with the toy, he/she should be left alone. He states that it is beneficial for development of self-regulation (Stern, 1985). Additionally, Erten (2010) includes that the child will start to take a journey from his inner world to external world as he will travel from subjectivity to objectivity. I think that Winnicott’s opinion seems more logical, since the transitional object should be an object that will help the child to differentiate from his mother in order to take steps in the journey of becoming an individual. I think that transitional object would replace the pleasure that the child is receiving from the mother until the child gets acquainted to his new situation.

Erten (2010) within Winnicott’s “holding” theory; the environmental mother will witness the child, through out his development by holding the child mentally. The mother will stand besides her child’s existence and will have an optimal dance with her child. By optimal dance, Winnicott meant that the mother will stand by her child’s side, while not abusing her child’s existence by interrupting him. In another words, the child should live his loneliness in presence of his mother. In my opinion, this optimal dance is similar to Stern’s idea of affect attunement. Affect attunement is described below:

“When the infant is around nine months old, however, one begins to see the mother add a new dimension to her imitation-like behavior, a dimension that appears to be geared to the infant’s new status as a potentially intersubjective partner. (It is not clear how mothers know this change has occurred in the infant; it seems to be part of their intuitive parental sense.) She begins to expand her behavior beyond true imitation into a new category of behavior we will call affect attunement” (Stern, 1985, p. 140).

In Stern’s theory, the mother follows the affect and behavior of her child in a compatible manner, while in Winnicott’s theory, the mother watches over her child without interrupting his being but still keeping a compatible manner mentally.

Additionally, Erten (2010) was able relate Winnicott’s concept of “capacity to be alone” with Bowlby’s attachment theory. He stated that the individual can form relationship which is free from separation anxiety, if he/she was able to securely attach to his mother in infancy stage. Erten continues by stating the infant who formed insecure attachment will be alone in both cases of when the mother departures (the baby is left alone) and when the mother arrives since he/she ignores the arrival of the mother due to her departure. The reason is as the object leaves (the mother), the baby feels abandoned in his/her subjective world and the anxiety will be stimulated according to frequency of mother’s departure. I strongly agree with Winnicott’s and Erten’s statements since the concept of “capacity to be alone” is also a way for child to relax in his own time. Accordingly, I believe that the child will learn to soothe himself without requiring someone’s attention.


In the book, The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development, Winnicott informs the readers about the developmental theory ranging from early childhood to adolescence, while he explains the crucial theories that contribute the emotional development of the individual. He concludes the collection by narrating the differences between child and adult psychiatry styles, while he states the possible psychiatric disorders that might stem from infantile maturational processes. The book consisted from the collection of Winnicott’s various papers.

Winnicott, a former Kleinian, began to separate from Klein as he started to form his own theory by observing infant-mother relationship. By focusing on this two-body relationship and basing on Sigmund Freud’s drive theory and nourishing his theories from Klein’s and A.Freud’s opinions, Winnicott formed different and useful theories about emotional development of individual. Unlike other theorists, Winnicott begins his theory starting from pregnancy period, when the baby is in the womb, instead of starting from the birth. He values the first relationship of mother-infant, the dependency period, immensely. Winnicott, rarely mentions the father’s role in his theories.

Winnicott, also, emulates infant-mother relationship with patient-therapist relationship. When it is considered, the concepts that he mentioned can be visible in therapeutic session. Such as, the patients prefer to have capacity to be alone and experience going on being state by being silent in the therapy room. On the other hand, the therapist maintains a holding environment by not interrupting the patient, by being by his side.

Finally, Winnicott’s current book of collection is a well rounded, detailed book which captures the reader and provokes spirit as the reader dives into the book. The new students of psychoanalysis and pupils who wants to be psychotherapist must read this book in order to apprehend the full journey of individual’s maturational processes.

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