Winnicott and Knox both speak to the infant’s developing sense of self and both are relational in the import for this ascribed to the environment. Winnicott wrote that only in play, being creative, can the individual discover [become] the self. Being creative is not about products of the body or mind, but rather a feature of total living. Play, for Winnicott, meant living in the potential space [sometimes called transitional space or the third], “an area that is intermediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the world that is external…” Winnicott exhorts the therapist to create an environment which allows for this third space in which to play. The good enough therapist provides repeated experiences that allow the patient to trust as well as enters into the arena of play with the patient.
While Winnicott recommends refraining from getting in the patient’s way to self discovery, for example, by the therapist being more interested in being clever, the one who knows or makes sense of, than in following the patient’s formlessness, his example seems to belie that his patient came alive from her formlessness (and his restraint from interpretation). Instead, she seems to complain repeatedly that she did not matter to him and only became enlivened after he actually shared the contents of his mind with her. [The mother develops her baby’s mind, and co-creates meaning,by having him in her mind, and by engaging the infant in reciprocal turn-taking.] It was when Winnicott reflects back, nearly two hours later, his patient’s experience to her does her experience take on meaning for her. [It befuddles me how Kohut failed to cite Winnicott when writing about mirroring.]
Knox writes that the infant’s sense of self first comes in to being by the meaning attributed to its actions by its mother. A child internalizes [develops its sense of self through] its mother’s attributions, positive or negative. Negative attributions, internalized, then, can generate a sense of a deficient self, with its concomitant shame. To bulwark a diminished self, grandiosity and narcissism may be self-protective as the child struggles to remain alive emotionally.
Knox, J. (2011). Dissociation and shame: shadow aspects of multiplicity. J. Anal. Psychol., 56:341-347.
Winnicott, D.W. (1956). D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock, Chapter 4. Playing: creative activity and the search for the self.