A comfort object, transitional object, or security blanket is an item used to provide psychological comfort, especially in unusual or unique situations, or at bedtime for small children. Among toddlers, comfort objects may take the form of a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a favorite toy, and may be referred to by English-speaking toddlers as blankey and lovey.
Comfort objects for therapy
Emergency vehicles and police patrol cars are sometimes equipped with stuffed toys, to be given to victims involved in an accident or traumatic shock and provide them comfort. Paramedics are trained to treat physical shock with a wide array of blankets designed to preserve heat, blood, and wounds for life threatening traumas.
Often charities will provide comfort objects such as blankets and quilts to survivors of disasters.
Psychologists are experimenting with the use of heavy thick fleece blankets to replace restraints such as straitjackets. They have noted through experiments with children who have autism that weighted blankets have a desirable soothing effect to help calm agitated patients.
In child psychology
In human childhood development, the term transitional object is normally used. It is something, usually a physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. Common examples include dolls, teddy bears or blankets.
Donald Woods Winnicott introduced the concepts of transitional objects and transitional experience in reference to a particular developmental sequence. With "transition" Winnicott means an intermediate developmental phase between the psychic and external reality. In this "transitional space" we can find the "transitional object."
When the young child begins to separate the "me" from the "not-me" and evolves from complete dependence to a stage of relative independence, it uses transitional objects. Infants see themselves and the mother as a whole. In this phase the mother "brings the world" to the infant without delay which gives it a "moment of illusion," a belief that its own wish creates the object of its desire which brings with it a sense of satisfaction. Winnicott calls this subjective omnipotence. Alongside the subjective omnipotence of a child lies an objective reality, which constitutes the child’s awareness of separateness between itself and desired objects. While the subjective omnipotence experience is one in which the child feels that its desires create satisfaction, the objective reality experience is one in which the child independently seeks out objects of desire.
Later on the child comes to realize that the mother is separate from it through which it appears that the child has lost something. The child realizes that it is dependent on others and thus it loses the idea that it is independent, a realization which creates a difficult period and brings frustration and anxiety with it. In the end it is impossible that the mother is always there to "bring the world" to the baby, a realization which has a powerful, somewhat painful, but ultimately constructive impact on the child. Through fantasizing about the object of its wishes the child will find comfort. A transitional object can be used in this process. The transitional object is often the first "not me" possession that really belongs to the child. This could be a real object like a blanket or a teddy bear, but other "objects," such as a melody or a word, can fulfill this role as well. This object represents all components of "mothering," and it means that the child itself is able to create what it needs as well. It enables the child to have a fantasized bond with the mother when she gradually separates for increasingly longer periods of time. The transitional object is important at the time of going to sleep and as a defence against anxiety.
In a later stage of the development the child no longer needs the transitional object. It is able to make a distinction between "me" and "not-me," and keeping inside and outside apart and yet interrelated. This development leads to the use of illusion, symbols and objects later on in life.
Winnicott related the concept of transitional object to a more general one, transitional phenomena, which he considered to be the basis of science, religion and all of culture. Transitional objects and phenomena, he said, are neither subjective nor objective but partake of both. In Mental Space, Robert Young has provided an exposition of these concepts and has generalized their role into psychic phenomena in adult life.
Research with children on this subject was performed at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee by Richard H. Passman and his associates. Among other findings, they showed that security blankets are appropriately named — they actually do give security to those children attached to them. Along with other positive benefits, having a security blanket available can help children adapt to new situations, aid in their learning, and adjust to physicians' and clinical psychologists' evaluations. Passman's research also points out that there is nothing abnormal about being attached to them. In the United States, about 60% of children have at least some attachment to a security object.
Use by adults
Japanese adults use comfort objects to cope with modern stress.
Stuffed animals may be given by emergency medical services workers, police, and others to victims of disasters such as fires and crime. After the September 11 attacks, writes Marita Sturken in Tourists of History, "the Oklahoma City National Memorial sent six hundred teddy bears and then the state of Oklahoma sent sixty thousand stuffed animals to New York, which were distributed to children in schools affected by 9/11, family support organizations, and New York fire stations."
Many adults consider the comfort that security blankets provide as essential to their mental and emotional well-being.
In popular culture
The term security blanket was popularized in the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, who gave such a blanket to his character Linus van Pelt. Linus called it his "security and happiness blanket," in Good Grief, More Peanuts printed in 1956. However, the concept of a comfort blanket existed prior to Peanuts. In a November, 1954 Review Report article, writer "Bev" wrote about her daughter: "Security blanket. My younger child is one year old. When she finds a fuzzy blanket or a fleecy coat she presses her cheek against it and sucks her thumb." Since 1920, blankets which clipped onto sleeping infants to prevent them from rolling out of bed and keep the body covered were dubbed "Security blanket fasteners."
The most common popular name for such a blanket is blanky – sometimes banky, if a child has not acquired the ability to pronounce complex onsets – with terms including wubby (popularized by the 1983 film Mr. Mom) and wink. A security blanket was also featured quite prominently and used by main character, Leopold Bloom, portrayed by Gene Wilder in the 1968 Mel Brooks comedy The Producers, and its subsequent, 2005 musical remake The Producers in which the character is played by Matthew Broderick.
The appropriateness of a 27-year-old adult sleeping with a comfort blanket was discussed on the British television chat show, The Wright Stuff, on 29 November 2010. It was revealed that people who sleep with comfort blankets are in fact more independent than those who do not. The theory is that children who use a comfort blanket are more likely to detach themselves from their parents because of the increase in security which the blanket provides.
- Iannelli, M.D., Dr. Vincent (Dec. 12, 2004). "Security and Comfort Objects". About.com. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Young, R. M. (1994). Mental Space. London: Process Press. ch. 8
- Young, R. M. (1989). "Transitional phenomena: production and consumption," in B. Richards, ed., Crises of the Self: Further Essays on Psychoanalysis and Politics. London: Free Association Books, pp. 57-72.
- "Study: Dogs, Robots Cheer Elderly". Fox News. March 3, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Security Blankets for Adults Kathi's Mental Health Review, March 25, 2002
- The recent history of such comfort objects, particularly teddy bears, as well a critique of their comfort-providing function can be found in Marita Sturken, Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumption from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), here p. 7.
- Do You Still Have a Security Blanket? Dr. John Grohol, PsychCentral, October 13, 2010
- 35 percent of British adults sleep with bear United Press International, February 21, 2012
- Abram, J. (1996). The Language of Winnicott. A Dictionary of Winnicott’s Use of Words, Karnac Books, London
- Dell’Orto, S. (2003). W.D. Winnicott and the transitional object in infancy. Pediatric Medicine Chirurgic 25(2), 106-112.
- Mitchell, S. A., Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond: A history of modern psychoanalytic thought. New York: Basic Books.
- Passman, R. H. (1977). Providing attachment objects to facilitate learning and reduce distress: The effects of mothers and security blankets. Developmental Psychology, 13, 25-28.
- Passman, R. H. (1987). Attachments to inanimate objects: Are children who have security blankets insecure? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 825-830.
- Passman, R. H., & Halonen, J. S. (1979). A developmental survey of young children's attachments to inanimate objects. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 134, 165-178.
- Passman, R. H., & Lautmann, L. A. (1982). Fathers', mothers', and security objects' effects on the responsiveness of young children during projective testing. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 50, 310-312.
- Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Playing and Reality, Routledge, London
- Young, R. M. (1989). 'Transitional phenomena: production and consumption', in B. Richards, ed., Crises of the Self: Further Essays on Psychoanalysis and Politics. London: Free Association Books, pp. 57–72.
- Young, R. M. (1994). Mental Space. London: Process Press.
- Creature Comforts, People and Their Security Objects by Barbara Collopy O'Halloran and Photographed by Betty Udesen.