Winnicott describes babies as ‘spontaneous’, meaning they don’t think about the way they act, they just do whatever they need to — which, if you’ve ever been around a baby, tends to be a lot of needing help and reassurance. Needing help and reassurance, Winnicott argues, is the essential stuff of our True Selves, which our good-enough mom does her best to make sense of and gratify. Nothing’s perfect, but as long as our parents are trying and are successful most of the time, that response strengthens our belief that if we cry out, then someone will hear us, understand us, and do their best to help us. This strengthens our trust that our most basic and honest needs and desires are okay — that we are relatable and our feelings are manageable. A person with this kind of reassurance grows up feeling confident enough to put their True Self out there in the real world, living openly, according to their heart.
But in some cases, children start out having spontaneous desires and needs, but their parent can’t respond sufficiently (maybe due to illness, or depression, or the demand of others’ needs)…In a case like this, the child will become what Winnicott calls compliant… This conformity to their environment is the child’s attempt to protect themselves from further inadequacy or disappointment — but it is a covering up of the original, true desire. This is the birth of the False Self.
— Danielle Trudeau, MA
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.
- T.S. Eliot,
The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not objects to be exploited.
~ Thomas Berry
We live in a society that puts a mask on us at a young age and tells us that’s who we are. Parents who are otherwise occupied are the norm. They have offspring who have to be fed, clothed and trained to work in “the system.” It’s not unusual for us to adapt to that system through a long cultivation of a false self. In the process, even if we’re aware of certain talents we have, we don’t learn to value them. Why would we if our early caretakers never even noticed them or if they did, discouraged us from devoting our lives to them?