More about Playing

Play, for psychoanalysts like Winnicott, is the ability to spontaneously express what emerges in the stream of consciousness, in the presence of an ‘other’. The first instances of play in human life are when a baby expresses himself spontaneously to the mother, making sounds and extending his limbs, and he gets a reciprocal response from the mother.

A fundamental characteristic of play, then, is the ability to become, in the next moment, something other than one is in this moment. This becoming is not forced, but natural. The psyche is in a constant flux, and playing enables the person to express this constant flux, rather than suppress it in favour of the demands of an external reality. This suppression splits the self into a ‘true self’, now suppressed, and a ‘false self’, now expressed, and existing in accordance with the demands of the outer world.

In adult life, play does not necessarily involve games, or even positive experiences. The ability to grieve a loss, through crying, expressing grief in writing, sharing it with another person, or just feeling it without shutting it out, is a form of play. It is a play between the self as a conscious, acting person and the self as a spontaneously arising stream of consciousness. When the two selves are one, we are playing. When the two selves are different, that is, when there is a part of us that is spontaneous and another part that controls this spontaneity, the former becomes the ‘real self’ and the latter the ‘false self’. What, in infancy, is a relation between the baby and the mother, now becomes a relationship between two parts of ourself.

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~ by tdcatss on November 25, 2012.

2 Responses to “More about Playing”

  1. I love Winnicott! I’ve been introducing students to him this term. I can’t believe I have seniors and grad students who have no idea who he was. I find the idea of liminal/potential space to be so very very helpful when thinking about therapy, yet even more so when considering ritual and ceremony. I imagine Winnicott would be surprised by the latter. Yet, our perception of the world and of psyche continues to change. I believe he would understand that.

  2. thanks for your comment michael. yes, i think this idea of the potential space – or transitional space, aren’t they the same? – is really interesting when understanding ritual. without transitional space ritual is a dead rigmarole. i also feel it is in some sense similar to buber’s idea of i and thou versus i and it, and shows us how a mutual openness between two beings – a seemingly simple phenomenon – can teach us so much and benefit us so much.

    i think winnicott did write something about this, so he may not be surprised, but i’m not sure.

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