Most often we tend to use the term ‘illusion’ to refer to deception or ideas or beliefs we hold in order to protect ourselves from threatening or unacceptable realities. Winnicott used the term in a very different way. For him, illusion was a necessary condition for the infant to reach or connect with reality. The infant, when hungry, fantasizes the mother’s breast coincident with the appearance of the actual satisfying breast. It is at the moment of illusion that the infant imagines that it has conjured up the mother’s breast. For Winnicott it is the infant’s desire for the mother’s breast that creates it (Phillips 2007, p. 83; Ogden, 2001), and it is in this way that for Winnicott (1958), ‘fantasy is more primary than reality, and the enrichment of fantasy with the world’s riches depends on the experience of illusion’ (p. 153), and is the principal source of the illusion. Most importantly, it is through her reliable and predictable presence that the infant makes contact with reality (Caldwell and Joyce, 2011) and the illusion gradually is replaced by a more realistic picture of the caregiver, her smells, affects and so on. Unlike Freud, Winnicott argues that the infant’s earliest experience of the external world is not through primary narcissism but through what he calls ‘primary creativity’.
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