Winnicott on Appetite and Emotional Disorder

The featured paper is ‘Appetite and Emotional Disorder’ by Donald Winnicott from 1936 which allows a glimpse into the thoughts of one of the prominent figures in psychoanalytic theory. From what I’ve read of Winnicott already, he was someone who wasn’t afraid to give his opinion and here he begins by writing about greed (and the ‘inhibition of greed’).

‘Greed means to me something so primitive that it could not appear in human behaviour except disguised and as part of a symptom complex’

He then goes onto write that in his experience of a continuum between a number of disorders including the feeding inhibitions of infancy and at later stages of development and identifies a number of critical events of some significance. Winnicott references a single other article and also cites a number of cases from his own experience and the reader must bear both this and the original year of publication of 1936 when putting this in context.

Winnicott writes about the recognition of oral instinct

I want to suck, eat, bite. I enjoy sucking, eating, biting. I feel satisfied after sucking, eating, biting

and then goes onto describe the oral fantasy

‘When hungry I think of food, when I eat I think of taking food in. I think of what I like to keep inside, and I think of what I want to be rid of and I think of getting rid of it’.

Then Winnicott elaborates further on this suggesting that thoughts are developed about what happens ‘inside oneself’ and also about the ‘source of supply’ – the mother. He refers to the ‘inner world’ consequently as the belly primarily and other parts of the body secondarily. Indeed Winnicott goes onto to give examples of children’s accounts of their inner world. A case series is then described. In case 3, Winnicott writes

It is not much of a guess to say that in unconscious fantasy she had eaten good and bad people, and bits of people, and that according to the love and hate involved she has been enriched and burdened respectively with intensely sweet or terrifyingly grotesque objects in her inner world

In case 8 he writes about the use of a spatula and relates this to ‘possessing a good internalized breast’ and further that by possession the idea is got ‘rid of’.  Winnicott relates some difficulties to the earliest developmental events in his conclusion but also remarks upon the ‘rich opportunity for observation and therapy’ that is available in clinical work. In summary therefore, Winnicott writes about the internalisation of good and bad objects, the ‘good internalised breast’, the inhibition of greed, the continuum of feeding conditions in his experience and the ‘inner world’. This is another interesting paper by Winnicott demonstrating the translation of clinical experience into model construction.


Donald Winnicott. Appetite and Emotional Disorder (Originally published in 1936). Republished in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. The International Psychoanalytical Library. 100. The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis. 1978.


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