Recovering from Trauma: Transitional Objects


Recovering from Trauma: Transitional Objects

Remember Linus from Peanuts who always had the “blankie”? It may seem cute since it is a little child on a cartoon show, but will it still be fine and cute when Linus is a full grown adult? May it could even border on disturbing?

The item referred to as “blankie” can either be called a transitional object, comfort object, or security item. Though it has different terminologies, it basically means providing psychological comfort – and it is not only for toddlers and little children.

Obvious transitional objects for children may include blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, etc…

But for adolescents and adults who need psychological comfort to handle difficult situations there are all kinds of transitional objects. A transitional object for an adult could be many things like a picture, candle, or even a pet. Anything comforting can serve this purpose.

Why do adults need transitional objects?

It is easy to understand why a little child needs a comforting item. But what about adults – aren’t they supposed to be able to handle stress more independently?

Looking again at the definition, a transitional object is an item that provides “psychological comfort” usually from an uncomfortable situation. This uncomfortable situation may have been from a traumatic experience, a painful memory, or an accident. A strong attachment with the transitional object can re-establish the feeling of safety during a potentially traumatic event.

As Susan Leigh states in one of her articles “Teddy is often a link to a carefree time when there was less responsibility, stress, demands on their time and energy. Having their old, frayed comfortable bear can take them back to a cosy childhood, a time of safety, security, comfort and well-being. Even for people who had difficult childhoods their teddy bear may have been their one reliable, dependable friend and ally”

The main objective of a transitional object is to reduce stress – especially if the situation is a traumatic one. These transitional objects are significant to the person because it offers them emotional memories. It is what experts call “Essentialism” – the idea that objects are more than just physical properties.

Transitional objects have sentimental value. If a person survives a traumatic experience – the item reminds them of the joy of what they have accomplished and what they went through. For some it is a memento, a nostalgic reminder, and it can even be therapeutic.

Examples of events requiring transitional objects –

Some police patrol cars have transitional objects for victims of shock. People who recently lost a loved one would wear or use a transitional object to remind them of the happy memories (e.g., a watch given by the moved on love one). Overseas workers who miss their families and love ones. Even hospitals have such objects to deal with patients (to help them fall asleep, to sooth disoriented patients etc.).

As we grow and mature we generally become more adept at soothing ourselves with or without transitional objects, and we also become more able to secure soothing from others. If these processes are blocked or do not progress, people may need assistance in developing these skills. It is possible that a good therapist may be able to assist in helping develop these skills to overcome trauma.

Wilma Derksen

Winnipeg Therapist

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