Childhood Comfort Items Adults Secretly Keep

Childhood Comfort Items Adults Secretly Keep

Almost everyone has fond memories of a special “lovey” from their childhood—a blanket, a teddy bear, or a doll. What few people admit is that they still have their special cuddly object. The childhood comfort items adults secretly keep might be hiding in plain sight or stashed in a drawer. British psychologist Donald Winnicott called these items “transitional objects.” According to his theory of child development, these items become important as children begin to “individuate,” or develop a sense of themselves as independent persons, separate from their mothers. The comfort object, often a baby blanket or a stuffed animal, becomes a symbol of the soothing presence of a mother, the primary person that answers a baby’s needs in infancy.

It turns out that many adults hang on to transitional objects through major life changes, such as taking on a new job, moving to a new city, or going off to college. Some adults take on new transitional objects over the years, and a wallet-sized family photo, a souvenir keychain, or a fidget gadget might take the place of that “stuffie” or “bwankie.” However, a recent study found that 40% of American adults still sleep with a teddy bear, and often that bear is the very same one they’ve had since toddlerhood.

For decades, conventional wisdom dictated that adults should outgrow their comfort objects, and for many years adults kept comfort items secret. More recent opinions hold that there’s nothing wrong with hanging on to a childhood comfort object and that the emotional bond an adult retains with a sentimental object is very real. This attachment comes from a psychological phenomenon called “essentialism,” which is the belief that these special objects are more than just the sum of their physical parts and materials. Parents encounter essentialism in very real ways whenever they attempt to switch out THE lovey to give it a wash, foisting what they think is an identical replacement on what they assume is an unsuspecting child. The switcheroo rarely works, and parents may find that a freshly laundered lovey isn’t worth the tears and trauma of separation from a beloved security object.

While many adults no longer feel the need to keep their attachment to a childhood comfort object a secret, these attachments can become a problem if they interfere with adult relationships. A human significant other doesn’t want to play second fiddle to an inanimate security object. Adults who find they get more comfort from a stuffed animal than from their human partner should recognize there is a problem in the relationship. Avoiding social events or travel because bringing a fuzzy friend along would be weird is also a red flag. If the item that is supposed to make life less stressful is actually imposing limits on experience, that can be unhealthy.

Some adults swear that their special stuffed animal helps them get a better night’s sleep. A stuffed teddy, lamb, or llama is certainly preferable to drugs or alcohol as a sleep aid. Self-comfort is an important life skill, and introducing a security blanket to a toddler at an appropriate age can foster that skill. Adults no longer need to keep comfort objects secret. These objects can be great sources of comfort in times of loneliness or stress when family or friends aren’t nearby. However, if the object comes between an adult and their social relationships or limits normal life activities in other ways, something is going on that might require some professional help. Like stuffed animals, therapy needn’t be kept secret either.

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