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The Transitional Objects and Self Comfort

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember Linus from the Peanuts cartoon? He always carried around his little blue blanket. That was typical of what most kids do from about one year old up until approximately three or four years of age. It’s what is called a “transitional object.” The transitional object does not have to be a blanket. It can be a stuffed bear or some other toy that the child finds comforting. The transitional object is comforting when the mother is not around or at any other time. Most mothers try to wash it because it becomes dirty and smelly. Most kids hold onto it because the smelliness and dirtiness forms part of what feels familiar, safe and comforting. Do we, as adults, have transitional objects that we hold onto for comfort? Yes.

An adult transitional object may not necessarily have all the same features as that of a child’s. For example, dogs, cats and other pets, can serve as transitional type objects for adults. If you think about it, one of the things people enjoy about cats, dogs and other furry animals is that they can be stroked, hugged and held on your lap. Studies show that, among the benefits that these pets seem to have is that they lower blood pressure, help reduce the effects of stress and help people relax and feel better.

Pets are not precisely like the transitional objects used by children. Pets are alive, are not held for hours, are not tossed away and are not temporary. Children will hold the object, toss it, mouth it, bite it and, when the time comes, lose interest in it. That part of the reason why it’s called transitional. It helps the child move from one stage of development to the next. As the child grows and develops, other things become more interesting than the little blue blanket. However, we want to keep our dogs and cats around along as possible. It’s a lifetime commitment. We relate to the pet for it’s entire life span.

As adults, there are other types of objects that serve a similar purpose as transitional object used by children. It is common for adults to keep prized possessions owned by their parents when they were growing up. Dad may have passed away many years ago but wearing his watch is a comforting reminder of that relationship. On the popular reality program, Deadliest Catch, the captain of one of the boats gave his jacket to one of the young deck hands at the end of the season, as a symbol of recognition that he moved from being greenhorn or rookie, to a full and respected member of the crew.

It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that it is stress reducing to have these types of transitional objects. If you love pets and are not someone with allergies, then, such pets as dogs, cats, bunnies, and etc. are a wonderful way to reduce stress. That photograph of mom, jacket of dad’s, china-set you inherited, and other such things, are serve the purpose of reminding us of the happy parts of our childhood and helps comfort us when we are feeling stressed, depressed or very anxious. Some people call these “lucky charms.” Whatever they are called it’s good to have them.

What types of transitional objects do you have and how do they help you?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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