When it comes to items that bring comfort, for some people it doesn’t get much better than a childhood blankie.
If you are one of those people who have continued to cling to the same blanket or stuffed animal from early childhood, chances are your "lovey" is showing some real wear and tear. If you don’t want to risk putting it through the washing machine, it probably doesn't smell the greatest, either. But it could very well make you feel secure and comfortable as you cuddle between the sheets each night.
The question is, where does that sense of attachment comes from? And, can it interfere with your personal relationships as an adult?
Understanding Transitional Objects
In child psychology, blankies, stuffed animals and other comfort items that children cling to are referred to as “transitional objects.” These items are believed to comfort children as they move through some of the most difficult life transitions, with the first big transition being when babies start to see themselves as independent of their mothers or other caregivers. Babies will eventually sleep in their own beds, soothe themselves to sleep, and leave the home for preschool, early dance classes, or time with a babysitter.
Through these transitions, their chosen transitional object provides comfort and gives a sense of continuity and stability. These items are often used to help children express their emotions and handle trauma, and in those cases, the stuffed animal or blankie could take on even greater meaning. The item brings comforts and reduces stress, so it makes sense that some children may not want to let go of their transitional object. Some of life’s biggest transitions come later in life, and adults often need just as much comfort and reassurance as a child.
Transitional Objects in the Adult World
Some people assume that the term “transitional object” designates an item that is eventually released. It is there for an important transition, and then the child no longer needs it and eventually loses interest. For many adults, childhood objects are replaced by items more appropriate to adulthood. For instance, a stuffed dog in childhood is later replaced by a real dog. Childhood blankies may get stuffed in a closet or lost but the adult clings to a soft quilt or king-sized comforter that they find comforting.
While it isn’t known how many adults still sleep with their childhood blankies or stuffed animals, some research has shown that it may be around 30% or higher. It’s likely that these items will become less important to most adults as they make strong connections with humans and experience the comfort of pets, children and other adult items. For those who continue to find comfort in their childhood blankie, it’s considered healthy as long as the adult is still bonding and forming appropriate relationships with other humans.
For example, you may sleep cuddled up with your blankie when you’re single and then move it to a designated spot on the nightstand when you move in with a significant other or get married. This is a normal transition that makes room for a human whom you find just as comforting as the old blankie.
Of course, it’s important to release your grip on the blankie a little as you settle into a long-term human relationship. Your partner doesn’t share the long-term emotions that you have attached to the item, and he or she may notice the smell and tattered fabric more than you do. There comes a time when every adult must embrace a human partner between the sheets rather than a blankie, but that doesn’t mean that there is no room in your big-girl or big-boy life for that old item that symbolizes comfort and security.