Do you remember Linus from the Peanuts cartoon? Remember the Charles Schulz character Linus and his blanket? He dragged it around wherever he went, nibbling on its corner or curling up when the going got tough. He always carried around his little blue blanket. That was typical of what most kids do, from age one 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 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 on to it because the smelliness and dirtiness form part of what feels familiar, safe, and comforting. Do we, as adults, have transitional objects we hold on to for comfort? Yes.
An adult transitional object may not have all the same features as a child’s. For example, dogs, cats, and other pets can serve as transitional-type objects for adults. If you think about it, one thing 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 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 lose interest in it when the time comes. That is part of the reason 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. We relate to the pet for its entire lifespan. However, we want to keep our dogs and cats around long as possible. It’s a lifetime commitment.
As adults, other objects serve a similar purpose as transitional objects children use. 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 reminds him of that relationship. On the popular reality program, Deadliest Catch, the captain of one boat gave his jacket to one of the young deckhands at the end of the season as a symbol of recognition that he moved from being a greenhorn or rookie to a full and respected member of the crew.
We all must remember that having these transitional objects is stress-reducing. If you love pets and are not someone with allergies, such pets as dogs, cats, bunnies, and more, are a wonderful way to reduce stress. That photograph of mom, your jacket of dad’s, the china set you inherited. Other such things remind us of the joyous parts of our childhood and help comfort us when we feel stressed, depressed, or very anxious. Some people call these lucky charms. Whatever they are called, it’s good to have them.
What transitional objects do you have, and how do they help you?
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD