The Holding Environment

Topics: R. D. Laing, Environment, Psychosis Pages: 28 (9654 words) Published: January 22, 2014

David Wasdell

A critical analysis of D.W. Winnicott’s papers in ‘The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment’, with particular attention to Winnicott’s thesis that anxiety originates in the breakdown of the post-natal holding environment.

Produced By: Meridian Programme, Meridian House, 115 Poplar High Street, London E14 0AE, Hosted By: Unit for Research into Changing Institutions (URCHIN), charity reg. no. 284542


[An analysis and critique of the analytic construct underlying the writing of D.W. Winnicott in his collection of papers entitle 'The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment', subtitled 'Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development', published by The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London, 1976. The volume is No. 64 in the International Psycho-Analytical Library Edited by John D. Sutherland PhD., F.R.C.P.E.] If Melanie Klein pressed the analysis of anxiety-defence mechanisms back behind the Oedipus complex into the earlier infant relationship with the mother, then Winnicott takes the process one step further. He traces the development of these anxiety defences to failures in the 'holding environment' as he calls it, in the very earliest stages of being babe in arms. This paper examines Winnicott's development of the Kleinian position and seeks to push the argument even further back. The thesis is developed that the nexus or heart of the primitive paranoid-schizoid defences against anxiety lies in the loss nucleus of parturition, or birth trauma. This, it is argued, is the original failure of the holding environment and thus the precipitating matrix of anxiety and thus of the anxiety defences. The concentration of psycho-analysis on experience of deviance from the norm has blocked the development of insight into this basic mechanism, which is of course general, applying equally to analyst and analysand. Implications of this insight are drawn out for the general theory and practice of psycho-analysis, for an understanding of the creation of symbolic constructs and religious systems, for the engagement in and understanding of group dynamics under conditions of regression, and for the possibility of human development based on the reintegration of the splitting encountered in birth, so leading to a more fundamentally integrated persona and a capacity for high level conceptual integration of the observed world. The study takes the form of quotation and comment taken basically in order from the papers which Winnicott wrote. Since these papers were assembled in date order in the book, there is a natural sequence to the development of thought. I have not at this stage sought to impose any other ordering of the material.


Essay 3: The Theory of the Parent/Infant Relationship (1960) Page 41
In psycho-analytic theory ego mechanisms of defence largely belong to the idea of a child that has an independence, a truly personal defence organization. On this borderline the researches of Klein add to the Freudian theory by clarifying the interplay of primitive anxieties and defence mechanisms. This work of Klein concerns the earliest infancy, and draws attention to the importance of aggressive and destructive impulses that are more deeply rooted than those that are reactive to frustration and related to hate and anger; also in Klein's work there is a dissection of


early defences against primitive anxieties, anxieties that belong to the first stages of the mental organization (splitting, projection, and introjection). What is described in Melanie Klein's work clearly belongs to the life of the infant in its earliest phases, and to the period of dependence with which this paper is concerned. Melanie Klein made it clear that she recognized that the environment was important in this period, and in various ways at all stages. I suggest, however, that her work and...
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