Surviving hate

This can be a disturbing experience – too much for some parents sadly. It was whilst struggling with the task of bringing up my own two daughters that the insights of Donald Winnicott into the value and importance of hate spoke directly to me. Love and hate are not opposites – they belong together and this is something of a surprise as one grows up.[1] Winnicott makes us think about hate, not as some unmentionable taboo that is unacceptable in a professional helper, but as a normal part of real human relationships, even or perhaps especially in the relationship between the mother and baby.

Also, as I have already described, we grow, learn and develop not through some nice mutually rewarding warm emotional sharing, but much more commonly through fighting, tussles, struggle and opposition. That is what the ‘terrible twos’ are reminding us, but it is all too easy to forget this when seeking to help adults who behave in some ways similarly. Indeed, the parent who cannot allow their children to fight them and who cannot demonstrate the potential of love to survive hate, will be doing their children a disservice. The same is true of the helping professions. I was very struck by the importance of surviving as a caring and listening presence for people who had no real experience of such a survival, whose relationships were characterised always by conditional love, love that only survived if the carer’s needs were met. ‘Survival’, I kept thinking was a real achievement. This only made sense if we were trying to come to terms with the hope for something more, and found instead, that we were grappling with the wish to finish contact with the client concerned. There were many apparently legitimate ways of failing to ‘survive’ for our clients. For probation officers, the most common solution was for the client to be sent to prison. Then we could pass the responsibility on to someone else (perhaps in our imagination the prison probation officer), heave a quiet sigh of relief and move on to some more promising client. I’ll return to this subject when I come to write more about organisations. ……………

[1] ‘Hate in the Counter transference’ in Through Paediatrics to Psycho Analysis; D W Winnicott (1958) Hogarth Press

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