The False Self in Christian Contexts: A Winnicottian Perspective by ProQuest


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									Journal of Psychology and Christianity                                        Copyright 2009 Christian Association for Psychological Studies
2009, Vol. 28, No. 4, 315-325                                                                                              ISSN 0733-4273

                The False Self in Christian Contexts:
                    A Winnicottian Perspective
                                         Stephen Parker                  Edward Davis
                                                          Regent University

          The phenomenon of the false self has fascinated Christians and psychologists alike for decades. Object
       relations theorist D.W. Winnicott described the false self as an adaptive layer of personality that develops
       around a person’s true self and thus impedes authentic self-expression. He posited that a false self devel-
       ops in response to an inadequate or “not good-enough” environment. The current article explores how
       the Winnicottian false self may manifest and be maintained in Christian contexts such as local churches.
       Clinical and pastoral-care implications are discussed as well.

   The concept of the false self has captured the                     self (Winnicott, 1954/1958, 1955/1958,
imagination of popular Christian authors for                          1956/1958, 1959/1965, 1960a/1965, 1963a/1965,
decades (e.g., Benner, 2004; Eldredge, 2001; Fin-                     1964/1986), usually discussing it as a counter-
ley, 1978/2003; Manning, 1994; Merton, 1961).                         point to the false self. In fact, he once asserted:
Although such discussions often have psychologi-                      “There is but little point in formulating a True
cal overtones, they do not tend to revolve around                     Self idea except for the purpose of trying to
an explicitly psychological theory of the false self,                 understand the False Self, because it does no
such as the one offered by object relations theo-                     more than collect together the details of the
rist D. W. Winnicott (1896-1974). Using Winni-                        experience of aliveness” (Winnicott, 1960a/1965,
cott’s theory, this article seeks to deepen the                       p. 148). For Winnicott, the true self begins in the
popular-Christian discussion of the false self by                     “motility” (i.e., the spontaneous motor move-
providing a sustained psychological frame. Fur-                       ments) of the infant, which the primary caregiver
ther, it seeks to extend the psychological discus-                    ideally responds to (1956/1958). Winnicott
sion of the false self to an exploration of how                       argued that early personality development
Christian contexts (e.g., churches) may contribute                    occurs within the context of a mother-infant
to the false self’s manifestations and maintenance.                   “unit” that only later separates into two recogniz-
We aim to help Christian counselors and pastors                       able individuals (1952/1958).
understand the false self from a psychological                           During this early period, the mother plays a
standpoint, particularly its origins, manifestations,                 key role in her child’s development, optimally
and maintaining factors. We also hope to provide                      through providing what Winnicott called good-
practical suggestions for undermining and reduc-                      enough mothering (i.e., being attuned to and
ing Christians’ false-self expressions while foster-                  appropriately meeting the child’s needs). Accord-
ing and increasing their true-self expressions.                       ing to Winnicott (1960b/1965), what constitutes
                                                                      good-enough mothering varies according to
         Winnicott’s Theory of the False Self                         where the child is in his/her developmental pro-
  Winnicott (1960a/1965) sets his theory of the                       gression “from absolute dependence, through
false self within a developmental context—a                           relative dependence, to independence” (p. 42).
context which acknowledges the false self’s                           Over the course of this progression, good-
counterpoint, the true self, as well. According to                    enough mothering facilitates the child’s growth
Winnicott, the emergence of either aspect of the                      toward a healthy sense of self, as separate from
self is directly related to the quality and consis-                   yet related to its environment and its caregivers.
tency of a person’s early caregiving environment.                     In other words, children are aware of and devel-
                                                                      op a sense of their own interior life while
The True Self as Counterpoint
                                                                      becoming aware of and developing a shared life
  During his career, Winnicott wrote a good
deal on the nature and development of the true                    
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