The Self Through Lenses
Human Development and the Family
4th December, 2013
The Self Through Lenses
Williams James first established the difference between the self as I, the subjective knower, and Me, the object that is known (James, 1891). Self can be understood as an inner realm of thoughts, emotions and desires, but also as the link between these inner realms and the external environment (Elliott, 2007). This concept of self has been evolving over time to include playing an important part in human motivation, perception, affect and social identity. Different theorists provide different lenses through which to view the concepts of self. Each unique lens lends to an integral view of the mechanisms behind the formation of the self. It is essential to consider the best of each. While Freudians used the terms Ego and Id to refer to the different functions of the self, Winnicott used the word ‘self’ to refer to both, as the true self and false self. Winnicott’s theory was somewhat based on his life that humans are not born with a clear sense of self, and thus have to search for and establish a sense of self as they go along (Winnicott, 1971). He believed that both the true self and the false self are required to exist side by side, as being in touch with others, as well as feeling in touch with ones own body and processes was essential to live a life of quality (Grolnic, 1991). The true self is that part that reacts spontaneously and without force. According to Winnicott, the development of the true self begins in infancy, in the relationship between the baby and the primary caregiver. The caregiver’s adequate responses to the baby are essential in the forming of the true self in the baby. The ‘good enough parent’ is well attuned to protecting the baby, and encourages confidence and curiosity, and thus the baby’s true sense of self. The baby’s reactions must be validated by the caregiver, allowing the baby to grow without needed to invest in defenses (Winnicott, 1971). The false self is a defense, and thus has importance in building survival skills from experience to be able to integrate safely into the environment (Winnicott, 1965). While the nature of the false self should not be underestimated, a false self that is more developed than the true self will tend to be too much in accordance with the structures in the environment, and could annihilate spontaneity or creativity. As the true self does, so does the false self develop in infancy according to the reactions of the primary caregiver to the baby. Environments that feel unsafe, or un-attuned caregivers will promote the baby’s need to establish a defense to protect itself. When the baby’s true self behaviors are not adequately validated by the caregiver, this defense of compliance with the environment comes up, rather than expressing innate spontaneity. Thus Winnicott's sense of self is reliant, from infancy, on the relationship between the baby and the caregiver being ‘good enough.’ This also leaves room to understand that the internal process toward the true self plays a large part in the determining of the false self. However a burgeoning false self will be so at the expense of the true self and the individual’s sense of creativity (Greenberg, Koole & Pyszczynski, 2004) It is interesting to view this sharply contrasted against Lacanian views of self, which only involve the recognition of the false self, as Lacanian mirroring implies the self is only a subjective experience to the environment that is a product of all our history (Strickling, 2013). Kohut, also a psychoanalyst, felt that the self is ‘conceptualized as mental system that organizes a persons subjective experience in relation to a set of developmental needs (Wolf, 1988)” and this self is the initiating area of the personality (Banai, Mickulincer &Shaber, 2005). Unlike Lacan, however, he states that the role of the caregiver is significant...
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