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Every week, we invite you to explore a striking quote from a great psychoanalyst to reveal its depth and richness. These lapidary, often provocative formulas open up new perspectives on the intricacies of the human psyche. By deciphering these quotes with rigor and pedagogy, we invite you on a fascinating journey to the heart of psychoanalytic thought to better understand our desires, anxieties and relationships with others. Ready to dive into the deep waters of the unconscious?

“Hiding is a pleasure, but not being found is a disaster.” 

This quote by Donald W. Winnicott is taken from his last book, considered his testament, Playing and Reality, published in 1971. 

It is another one of those enigmatic quotes that, for our great pleasure, some psychoanalysts are fond of: its deciphering reveals the complexity of the human psyche. It emphasizes the importance of creating both virtual and physical spaces where we can hide to explore our individuality, accompanied by the desire to be found, in order to share a part of our subjective truth. 

Who doesn’t remember playing hide-and-seek as a child? Beyond its playful aspect, it allows children to also play with the boundary between play and reality. It is not just a moment of fun, but a way to learn to navigate between the inner world of childhood and the external one, to hide to be found as well as to find oneself. For Winnicott, play is essential to a child’s development since it represents a questioning of “what makes life worth living.” He added that “what opposes play is not seriousness, but reality.” 

The need to be hidden represents our quest for individuality and autonomy. It is the inner space where we cultivate our “true self,” the one that makes us feel and think “I am alive” or “I am myself.” This psychological hiding place is the laboratory of our identity, our creativity, where we freely navigate our thoughts, emotions, desires and aspirations, sheltered from others’ gaze and judgment. 

However, this joy of being hidden is only part of the equation. The other crucial aspect is the need to be found. It is a deeply rooted desire in our psyche, that of existing in relation to others. It is not simply about being physically present, but about being understood, recognized and accepted in our deepest essence. 

The example of the infant seeking their mother’s gaze, which we have already discussed, is particularly eloquent. This gaze is not just visual contact; it is a need for existential confirmation. Through their mother’s eyes, the baby sees themselves exist, feels recognized and loved as a whole being. It is the beginning of the self-construction process. From the initial fusion, the infant gradually moves away to start the separation-individuation phase, oscillating between the need to explore their environment and gain growing autonomy, and the need to be reassured by parental presence. 

But if the parents of this child are inconsistent, immature or emotionally absent, the development of a true self is hindered, giving way to a false self, with a performative tendency, aimed at retaining their attention. The true self thus finds itself hidden, trapped in a process with a primarily normative goal, unfavorable to the deployment of subjectivity and creativity, which can only flourish from a true self. Being trapped in a false self can lead, in the long run, to feelings of emptiness, inauthenticity and difficulties in establishing genuine intimate relationships. 

In adolescence, a new phase of development begins, with an intensification of the need for independence, balanced by an equally strong need for parental support and recognition. It is a period of tension between the desire to be different, to emancipate oneself, and the desire to belong, to be accepted, most often, by peers. For example, the adolescent who locks their bedroom door may trigger friction with anxious and misunderstanding parents. But it is, in reality, a necessary need in the construction of their identity because it is in this private space that they can discover and experiment with different aspects of their psyche, away from socioparental projections. 

The same goes for the artist or any creator who works alone on their work before unveiling it to the world. It is in a protected, hidden space that inspiration can flourish freely, that ideas take shape outside of external pressure, even if, according to Winnicott, the artist lives in the ambivalence of an “urgent need to communicate and the even more urgent need not to be found.” 

The “disaster” of not being found, recognized, loved, which Winnicott speaks of, can lead to suffering that may result in the development of a false self, serving as a façade conforming to external expectations, ignoring true desires, and adhering to the sociocultural norm of being conforming and appearing performant, even if, to achieve this, one resorts to all kinds of addictive and illusory crutches. 

Winnicott’s thought has profound implications at the therapeutic level: the psychoanalyst must learn to subtly navigate between respecting the patient’s defenses, accepting their need to be hidden, and the necessity of helping them rediscover their own vital drive. By agreeing to share their most intimate feelings and thoughts, the analysand plays the role of an adventurer discovering the unknown territory of their own psyche, facilitated by the transitional space offered by a therapeutic framework where their exploration can be done in complete safety.