23 Oct Managing My Fears: Where’s My Blankie? Adult Transitional Objects by Sarah Frank, LMFT
It is quite normal for children to have stuffed animals, blankies, or other soft and comforting objects to help ease the transition from the safety of a caregiver to being alone or in unfamiliar situations. These seemingly magical talismans are referred to as “transitional objects”, a term coined by Donald Woods Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, who studied the psychology of infant and caregiver relationships. A transitional object ultimately helps a child to bring a sense of security and comfort with her into new places and social interactions.
As adults it might not be as necessary to have or depend on such objects but many of us still do to some extent. The objects might be representative of a romantic partner, maybe a shirt that smells like them to sleep with while they are away for an extended period of time. Or it could be something that connects us to a source of spiritual comfort, a rock from a special place in nature or a religious symbol worn on a chain. Whatever the object, it generally brings a sense of safety and comfort, helping us to go about our daily adventures as well as face particularly fearful situations.
As an Art Therapist I have found much success in helping others to more comfortably face or tolerate fears by creating tangible, visible objects that serve in much the same way as a teddy bear might. Part of the effectiveness of the transitional object is the meaning we imbue it with, thus it is helpful to set specific intentions for the object you are making or choosing. Consider textures, size, weight and portability, as this is something you want to have readily accessible in a time of need. It could be a bracelet or a molded piece of clay that fits in the palm of your hand. You might also want to consider smells and colors that are grounding and help you to feel soothed. Lavender, sage, and other herbal scents are known to have calming effects. Smell is the strongest of our senses associated with memory so this aspect could be especially important for conjuring feelings of safety or familiarity.
Whether worn, carried in a pocket or purse, hung from the rearview mirror, or displayed on a shelf at home, transitional objects can be helpful tools in channeling strength, courage, comfort, and security in a time of need.