Try to go back in time to remember that one thing that gave you comfort when nothing else could. It might have been a soft baby blanket or a fuzzy stuffed animal. That thing was your transitional object.
Almost every newborn discovers an object to call his or her own and develops an attachment to it in as early as the first six months.
But as we grow older, talk of blankets and plush dogs ends because you’re supposed to outgrow them, right? Lucy told Linus he needed to outgrow his blue baby blanket, and Andy’s mom urged Andy to say, “So long, partner” to Woody and Buzz. (You cried during “Toy Story 3” for a reason — Andy was giving up transitional objects that meant the world to him.)
It turns out more young adults are siding with Linus and sticking with their transitional objects for the same reasons they had as kids.
But is it OK to hold on to a beloved comfort object that has been with you from the very beginning?
British psychologist and pediatrician Donald Winnicott created the term “transitional object” and conducted multiple studies on the power they had on children. He worked with children and adults to show that the object is most used when transitioning from one state to another, whether it is used in a metaphorical sense or a literal one.
Chicago native Lilah Taber, 22, recently moved to Los Angeles and took her comfort object with her.
“I still hold on to my baby blanket. I’ve had it since I was born,” Taber said. “I was never really embarrassed to bring it around because I never really brought it around publicly. It’s always just traveled with me as I’ve gotten older.”
Taber said she keeps her blanket by her bed for its comforting presence.
“I live super far from my family, since they live in Chicago and I’m in California and am in a long-distance relationship, so it’s a little piece of home when I’m feeling lonely,” she said.
Vivian C. Seltzer, psychologist and professor of human development and behavior at the University of Pennsylvania, viewed young adults’ keeping transitional objects as a generational pattern.
“Millennials are having this feeling of moving from one place to another instead of a home. This is a time of being alone and going away to school or a new job,” Seltzer said. “A new place (means it’s) more common to take along an old friend with you that reminds you of the old thing you once had.”
Kids leave high school for college and can easily become overwhelmed with the workload, new found freedom, part-time jobs and social lives. Child clinical psychologist and New York professor Stanley Goldstein said one third of his Intro to Physiology class, of mostly freshmen, brought their transitional objects to school with them.
“It’s nothing unusual,” Goldstein said. “It gives them safety in an environment that is unfamiliar. We still have fears, and whatever helps us face these fears, it’s OK. We feel the need to define everything because something is a little peculiar or strange, and that doesn’t mean it’s an illness nor needs treatment.”
Psychologist and author David Palmiter, said people hold on to things comparable to transitional objects, like a business’s first dollar or a family member’s photo kept in a wallet, because it’s symbolic or signifies a transition in a person’s life. Palmiter said that if someone experiences trauma or a significant loss, a transitional object is commonly used to ease the experience.
“There isn’t really a mandate to give it up,” Palmiter said. “It will naturally become less important or used when they no longer need it.”