Daphne Merkin

My Virginia Woolf Doll

The New York Times | July 7, 2010. 

I have always been fascinated by the concept of the transitional object—that first possession, be it a stuffed animal or a blanket or other favorite toy, that an infant becomes attached to, declaring it as his or her own, staking a claim. The phrase originated with the great British child psychiatrist, D.W. Winnicott, who coined it in a 1951 paper that was given at a meeting of the British Psychoanalytical Society, titled Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena—a Study of the First Not-Me Possession. Although other terms exist for this phenomenon, including “comfort object” and “security blanket,” I think the term “transitional object” carries with it a greater psychological import, alluding as it does to the developmental progress of the infant away from the mother and toward the world. It also suggests, according to Winnicott, the child’s beginning awareness of an objective reality, outside the “subjective omnipotence” with which it is originally endowed, in which the mother and infant are viewed as one and a wish is experienced as creating the object of its own desire. The power of a transitional object is not to be underrated; according to one survey, 35 percent of British adults still sleep with a teddy bear.

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