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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Varied Faces of Creativity: The Capacity for Creative Living and its Importance in Organisational Life

I start my talk with some reflections on the similarities and differences between three main directions (Freudian, Kleinian and Winnicottian) in psychoanalytic thought about creativity and its connection to destructivity. Then I focus on Winnicott's notion of 'the capacity for creative living'. This form of creativity is very different from artistic or scientific creativity. It is imbedded in the basic relationship between the primary caretaker and the baby, as well as in the way this relationship develops in time, and in the way aggression and destructivity are part of it. The capacity for creative living does not require specific and important talents, although in some way one could say that it is in itself a talent. It is part of a person's day to day ways of going about his day to day 'business'. It is just part of the way one looks at life and moves about it, even without being consciously aware of it. As such, it becomes an important attribute in the daily life of organisations, especially so in the functioning of work teams and in the relationship between managers and their co-workers.I illustrate the meaning and the implication of Winnicott's notion in practice, with the help of three examples. The first one belongs to the changing relationship between a mother and her young child; the second one comes from a learning group in the context of a residential, in-company training program; the third one is part of an organisational situation.In as far as that last situation initially leads to temporary chaos including the threat of disaster, it permits the discussion of the all important impact of destructivity on the capacity for creative living. Here, my views defer quite a bit from Winnicott's -as well as from other psychoanalytic theories.I certainly agree with Winnicott when he points to the importance of a mother's reactions to the primary, non-intended aggression and ruthlessness of her baby, and I also agree with the importance of the impression the baby gets about its mother surviving that aggression unharmed. But I do get a little worried when I have the impression that this ideas put forward by Winnicott, belong to the most often misunderstood psychoanalytic ideas that are around. Misunderstood just as well by mothers, as by so called 'psychoanalytically informed' managers, as sometimes even by analysts themselves. Often people seem to think that Winnicott implies that in order to be 'good enough' they have to stand whatever aggression and destructiveness comes their way, thereby acting as if they are not even touched by it. While in fact -and this becomes only indirectly visible in other context of Winnicott's writings- 'being able to stand and to survive' only means that one is capable of handling, containing, controlling the destructive attacks without becoming aggressive or destructive oneself. If we act as if we are untouched by what happens, we only become inhuman, with all the consequence this might entail, including the provocation of more aggression.On the other hand, while Winnicott seems hesitant to talk about primary destructiveness -with the exception of its non-intended form- I am inclined to think that destruction is a basic part of life and development, and as such has noting to do with the existence of a so called death instinct. At first it is exclusively connected with fundamental primary life functions, and to some extend it is not-intended. Very early in life it becomes visible in behaviour, and it is an important source of pleasure. Later on it becomes part of play and games. If we don't feel at ease with this destructiveness; if we are not sure of our capacity to restrain it; if we lose our trust in its possible constructive orientation, or if it becomes mixed-up with greed, envy, jealousy, hate and the like, all forms of creativity are hindered or disappear. The third example is a clear illustration of this process.In relation to the capacity for creative living, hate occupies a special position. Winnicott does not really say much about it, but apparently he thinks that, because of the fact that the first not-me object appears in the context of the disappearance of the primary illusion that we create our needed world, this not-me object is hated before it is loved. Exactly as Freud suggests when he talks about the passage from pleasure-ego to reality-ego. I have no doubt that this might happen, but I am also quite sure that if it happens, we are in for a lot of problems, if not for disaster, and that in this instance the capacity for creative living will not develop. At least not right away. It seems to me that for many children the disappearance of the primary illusion is not a source of hate, but the basis for amazement and wonder, and the start of inquisitive exploration of the 'real world', and of the influence they may have on it. And I am sure that it is only in the latter context that the capacity for creative living can really develop and flourish.