Winnicottian State Of Play & The Transitional Object - A Jungian Perspective

Donald Woods Winnicott was a towering figure in the field of Object Relations Theory and came up with creative ideas such as the transitional object and state of play. These theories are highly descriptive of the early stages of development of an adult ego and suggest a process in which new skills are learnt so as to be applied in real life.

Carl Jung made a clear distinction between one's public face (the persona archetype) and the ego-complex (as something closer to its Freudian definition). Modern theorists concur that for a healthy life an ego has to have good levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy, two qualities whose subjective values are largely determined by comparison to other individuals in the outside world. To increase self-esteem and self-efficacy  an individual will have to learn the skills perceived as necessary that will then become a part of their persona, identifying that person with a skill.

Winnicott shows that for there to be healthy learning, a child will go through a phase of uncertainty where the skill/object to be learned/conquered is projected onto a transitional object (eg. In children, a big pink teddy bear might initially be perceived as a threat which would then turn into an object of curiosity and finally into a possession but only when the child feels safe enough to interact with it due to the presence of a parental figure) in a state of play. This similar process can be seen when adults learns various skills as well albeit in the absence of a parental figure, but rather from a sense of trust and confidence in themselves. However, it is a well known fact that an individual's learning ability decreases with age with a peak learning curve seen in early childhood until late teens. Or is that the way it should be?

Jung showed that the child archetype in a prospective role is a representation of future potentialities and psychological maturation. Due to various pressures, as an individual grows up and matures he/she will identify less with the child archetype - disallowing the ego to enter seamlessly into a state of play or to perceive new experiences and skills as transitional objects impairing the rapid assimilation and mastery of new skills and ideas.

In today's fast paced world, in order to survive one needs to constantly be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. These can either be forced onto the individual arising from a sense of fear of being obsolete or can be approached with a sense of play - via one's positive child archetype. These new skills can then leak over onto the persona fueling constant rejuvenation and enrichment of one's public image boosting self-esteem and self-efficacy. Jung posited that the anima/animus archetype is a gateway or guide to the unconscious, but it is the child archetype that can truly act as a guide between the ego and the persona - almost like the opposite face of the anima/animus's golden syzygy.


  1. I don't think I can fully agree with this. Yes, you need to feed your eternal child, no doubt. But in this world, your eternal child is bound to be threatened. Hence, your Warrior must be strong. The warrior doesn't arise from a sense of fear. The Warrior is generally stimulated by certain things, sees that he has a lot to conquer and does so. If you feed ONLY your eternal child, yes, you will be happy and gay and trusting and innocent and that's wonderful. But circumstances can seriously threaten the eternal child for that you need the warrior. You need to be prepared to protect it from the shadow.

  2. Hey!

    What you're saying (something I fully agree with) is another post in itself!

    I'm just trying to show the link between Winnicott's ideas and Jung's as well as stressing on the importance of the Eternal Child. I'm not getting into how to keep alive the Eternal Child as yet :)