Donald Winnicott

Donald Winnicott
Donald Winnicott
Born April 28, 1896(1896-04-28)
Plymouth, Devon, England
Died January 28, 1971(1971-01-28) (aged 74)
Occupation paediatrician, psychiatrist, sociologist and psychoanalyst
Known for Stages of development, holding environment, subjective omnipotence, objective reality, transitional experience, good-enough mother, true self and false self

Donald Woods Winnicott (7 April 1896–28 January 1971) was an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst who was especially influential in the field of object relations theory. He was a leading member of the British Independent Group (psychoanalysis) of the British Psychoanalytic Society, and a close associate of Marion Milner.[1] He is best known for his ideas on the true self and false self, and the transitional object. He wrote several books, including Playing and Reality,[2] and over 200 papers.[3]


Early life and education

Winnicott was born in Plymouth, Devon to Sir John Frederick Winnicott, a merchant who was knighted in 1924 after serving twice as mayor of Plymouth,[4] and his wife, Elizabeth Martha (Woods) Winnicott.

The family was prosperous and ostensibly happy, but behind the veneer, Winnicott saw himself as oppressed by his mother, who tended toward depression, as well as by his two sisters and his nanny.[1] He would eventually speak of 'his own early childhood experience of trying to make "my living" by keeping his mother alive'.[5] His father's influence was that of an enterprising freethinker who encouraged his son's creativity. Winnicott described himself as a disturbed adolescent, reacting against his own self-restraining "goodness" acquired from trying to assuage the dark moods of his mother.[6] These seeds of self-awareness became the basis of his interest in working with troubled young people.

He first thought of studying medicine while at The Leys School, a boarding school in Cambridge, when he fractured his clavicle and recorded in his diary that he wished he could treat himself. He began pre-med studies at Jesus College, Cambridge in 1914 but, with the onset of World War I, his studies were interrupted when he was made a medical trainee at the temporary hospital in Cambridge. In 1917, he joined the Royal Navy as a medical officer on HMS Lucifer.

Later that year, he began medical studies at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in London. During this time, he learned from his mentor the art of listening carefully when taking medical histories from patients, a skill that he would later identify as foundational to his practice as a psychoanalyst.