Hide and Seek

It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found

D W Winnicott

As the warmer weather arrives, I’ve been spending a bit of time frequenting my local park. I recently noticed a few children playing the classic game of hide and seek. In the game I saw, one little girl had hidden so well, her friend couldn’t find her. I noticed as the girl remained hidden, her game playing excitement turned to distress and panic. Eventually she came out of hiding, helping her friend locate her. They both giggled in reunion. Witnessing this simple game, made me think that hide and seek is not really a game you want to win. We all want to be found, eventually. 

This incident also reminded me of one of my favourite quotes I learnt during my therapy training. This being the quote (as above) of the late Donald Winnicott, paediatrician, and psychoanalyst. His words perfectly reflect what I saw with the children playing. At first there was joy in the game itself, in finding the perfect hiding place, but when the child is not discovered, they are left waiting all alone, the game stops being fun and becomes something quite relationally complex. 

To hide

When we hide (metaphorically) we separate from those around us and create our own sense of space and privacy. Just as with hide and seek, there can be excitement and fun in exploring this new space we’ve created for ourselves. Our separation allows for greater independence and autonomy. 

To be found

When we’re discovered in our hiding place, we are brought back into our relationship with others. Someone held us in mind, noticed we were hiding and made the effort (successfully) to come and find us. There can be joy in this reunion. We feel found. We feel loved. The game of hide and seek teaches children that they can cope with temporary separation.

To remain hidden

But what happens if we’ve hidden ourselves and are never found? In words of Winnicott, it could be a psychological disaster. There could be significant impact if those around us are unable (for various reasons) to find us. Our true selves may remain in hiding, covered up by an adaptive false self. We miss out on that joy of the reunion, instead separation becomes something unbearable and to be avoided at all costs. 

In therapy

When we’ve not been found by our caregivers during our childhood, we can remain in hiding as adults.  This can cause issues as our authentic selves are not being seen or expressed. Instead, we end up operating in the world from our false self, being what we think people want us to be, doing what others want us to do. This is a recipe for long term resentment and depression.  We end up living our life against the flow of our true nature. 

A large part of the work in therapy is about uncovering our true selves. Reconnecting with that precious part that wasn’t found, accepted or tolerated when we were young. The therapeutic setting can prove safe enough to coax our hidden parts into the light and allow them to be seen and experienced. We can finally then start living an authentic existence, aligned to our wants, needs and values.  

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

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