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The alternative to Being is reacting, and reacting interrupts Being and annihilates.

Donald Winnicott

DONALD WINNICOTT (1896 — 1971): Theorist, Psychoanalyst, Pediatrician


Donald Winnicott commented that the concept of False Self is ubiquitous — that True Self is understood by all. But, he asked, How did a False Self arise? What is its function? The False Self feels futile, empty, numb, and unreal; learned in early childhood, it is turned outwards to protect the True Self from exigencies of living. What is there that could be named True Self? He answered that the True Self is central — emanates from within and is an expression of the following:


The True Self is unique in the world.

The True Self feels creative, alive, and real.


The “good-enough mother” repeatedly meets the baby’s “spontaneous gesture” with love and acceptance. True Self grows strong enough that it can survive occasional breaks in the mother’s attunement. This is the baby’s “continuity of Being”.

If the mother’s response is usually negative, the baby will develop a False Self for the purpose of avoiding an implicit memory of painful feelings of needs not being met time after time. When these feelings are triggered a False Self will induce a behavior that distracts from the baby’s feeling of “breakdown”. As the baby becomes compliant to the caregiver’s needs, as an adult he remains compliant to the world or becomes rebellious, often hostile. The irony is that the solution to pain, the False Self, becomes a lifelong problem.

The False Self may be:

  • Extreme – False Self sets up as True Self but in relationships it fails because the whole person is missing.

  • Less Extreme — The True Self is acknowledged as a potential and has a secret life.

  • Move Towards Health — The False Self searches for a condition where True Self can emerge.

  • Toward Health — The False Self is built on identifications but is attempting to let True Self out.

  • In Health — The False Self is organized by polite and mannered society that supports True Self to be kind as well as aware.

The purpose of the False Self is to take care of the True Self. This allows the True Self to survive but never to live! Do you recognize your True Self? Your False Self?

It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.

— Donald Winnicott

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