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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Transitional Objects and Self Comfort

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 23rd 2012

The Transitional Objects and Self ComfortDo 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

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Transitional Objects - - Feb 16th 2015

    My wife has a transitional object that she claims helps to calm her. She has been using it for over a year now. My only worry is it is not something that I would say is a "normal" thing to use. It's ticking from a blanket that came off the end, frayed and worn. It now is just a knotted up ribbon that is very dirty. I know that she deals with a lot of stress from work and has had some post tramatic stress since my motorcycle accident of 2 years ago and my heart procedure from a year ago. She is seeking help over these issues and has been a lot better in general. It disturbs me that she fixates on this ribbon object and I was just wondering if this is something I should be worried about. She hides it immediately when I enter the room.

    Stuffed Animal - Vanessa - Apr 24th 2012

    I've had stuffed animals around, like the beanie babies, to help when I feel inspired and want to write. It can be quite frustrating to find the right words but luckily, I have my purple turtle and my fuzzy dog to help me through.

    Over the weekend, I had an exam for my LPC license. I took my small stuffed dog with me. I didn't have to look at him but it was nice, knowing he was there for me.

    In the past, I've worked at a short term behavioral health facility and I've helped kids and adults to make stuffed animals and pillows of their own to take with them after they leave the facility. These objects are just so important.

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