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(p. 185) The Depressive Position in Normal Emotional Development 

(p. 185) The Depressive Position in Normal Emotional Development
Chapter:
(p. 185) The Depressive Position in Normal Emotional Development
Author(s):

Donald W. Winnicott

DOI:
10.1093/med:psych/9780190271367.003.0039
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date: 21 January 2021

This paper is Winnicott’s account of the Depressive Position as a normal stage in the development of healthy infants, an achievement mostly belonging to the weaning age. It does not mean healthy infants pass through a stage of depression. Emotionally unhealthy, depersonalized babies lack the preconditions for this achievement. The mother holds the situation in time, so that the baby may experience ‘excited’ relationships and meet the consequences. Integration in the child’s mind of the split between the child-care environment and the exciting environment (the two aspects of mother) depends on good-enough mothering and the mother’s survival. The baby experiences this while the mother is holding the situation and the infant realizes that the ‘quiet’ mother was involved in the full tide of instinctual experience, and has survived. Instinctual experience brings anxiety and guilt but clinically children are sometimes without a sense of guilt, although they can go on to develop it. In the inner world of the individual who has achieved the depressive position there is on balance a reduced depressive mood and their reaction to loss is grief, or sadness. Where there is some degree of failure at the depressive position the result of loss is depression. The child who has reached the depressive position can get on with the problem of triangular interpersonal relationships: the classical Oedipus complex.

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