The Human Idiom

“The true self is the inherited potential which experiencing a ‘continuity of being’, and acquiring in its own way and at its own speed a personal psychic reality and a personal body scheme.”

– Donald Winnicott

The Idiom & The True Self

The true self is aliveness itself.

“The spontaneous gesture is evidence of true self.  It is important to stress how this core self is the unique presence of being that each of us is; the idiom of our personality.  We are singular complexities of human being.

The true self exists before object relating.  It is only a potential, however, because it depends upon maternal care and facilitation for its evolution.  No human being is only a true self.  Each inherited disposition meets up with the actual world and one of the outcomes of this exchange between personality idiom and human culture is psychic life.

The psyche is that part of us which represents…the true self’s negotiation with the actual world.  Conflict is essential to the usefulness of the psyche which depends, in part, on the healthy balance of forces between the true self and the actual world.

The idiom of a person is more a set of unique possibilities  specific to this individual and subject in its articulation to the nature of lived experience in the actual world.  

– Christopher Bollas

The life of the true self is to be found in the person’s experiencing of the world.


The Unthought Known

“That inherited set of dispositions that make up the true self is a form of knowledge which has obviously not been thought, even though it is ‘there’ already at work in the life of the person who brings this knowledge with him as he perceives, organizes, remembers, and uses his object world.

How much of this knowledge is ever to be employed and brought into being depends entirely on the nature of this child’s experience of the mother and the father.  If the parents have a good intuitive sense of their child…that child will experience the object world as facilitating.

When this happens, we have children who take joy in representing themselves, celebrating the arts of transformation because they have experienced transformative parenting and know from the authority of inner experiencing that latent knowledge can be given its life.”

Christopher Bollas

The True Self & The Use of an Object

“Winnicott understand the therapeutic situation to be a potential space…the infant’s capacity to use an object followed on his ability to relate to an object.  

The concept of the use of the object assumes that the child has a fairly secure sense of his love for the object, so that hate is allowed without decomposing the ego or its objects…The survival of the actual object is both a relief and a new beginning.  The child now knows he can assume his love of the object in order to use it (in fantasy and in reality) without concern for its well being.

To live a life, to come alive, a person must be able to use objects in a way that assumes such objects survive hate and do not require undue reparative work.

This ruthlessness is necessary, and has something to do with…a thoughtlessness which is incremental to erotic intensity.  

Christopher Bollas

“The true self is the ‘kernel’ of our being, invested with a positive ruthless demand to realize its potential through the ‘use of the object’.  This is an important step forward in the deeper understanding of human character.”

– Christopher Bollas

The material on this page is taken from Forces of Destiny: Psychoanalysis & The Human Idiom, by Christopher Bollas.