D. W. Winnicott on Transitional Object and Transitional Space

Summary of the key concepts of Transitional Objects Transitional Phenomena

Winnicott explores the phenomenon of the ‘intermediate area’, the transitional phenomena, the area of human experience, meaning,  the area where the experience transpires. This area is the connection between the inner reality and external reality and the bridge between the subjective experience and objective reality. The transitional area is between the   inner reality which contains the child’s illusion of creation and control of others and the external environment which includes the ‘not me’ concept and the external objective reality.  This ‘transitional area’ needs specific emphasis and concentration. The transitional area can be maneuvered with an object that helps the child stay with a sense of self while starting to engage and reach out into the not-me area. This object is the transitional object which partially represents ‘me’ and ‘not me’ simultaneously, without becoming part of me or going ‘inside of me’ or becoming the actual external breast. It doesn’t belong to an inside illusion or a hallucination nor does it become an internalized object.  The transitional object can slowly be replaced by the whole ‘intimidate environment’ of the culture after its usage was accomplished and decathected. In healthy situations it doesn’t require mourning or repression because its transitory nature never allowed it to become part of the self or part of the other. The significance of the transitional object is in the transition from pre-symbolic to symbolism. Symbolism implies a clear differentiation between fantasy and fact and it representation, and the transitional object is the object that gives opportunity for this differentiation to begin, although its workings begin while the child is pre-symbolic. It connects, yet separates the internal from the external simultaneously. In Freud’s language the transition phenomena will be conceptualized as the journey from the pleasure principle to the reality principle.

This transition can only happen with the effort of the devoted mother who adapts and is attuned to the infant’s needs.  The attunement allows the infant the opportunity to stay with his fantasy, illusion, and hallucination of creating the external, while paradoxically allowing the infant to de-illusion. Gradually the mother can allow failure and incomplete adaptation, to create frustration; this frustration is a healthy thing. It allows the infant to conceive a separation of a separated mother from its own magical illusion. Thus the infant can become aware of reality and differentiate between its own hallucinatory magical thinking and an external real mother. Otherwise with ongoing complete adaptation and preoccupation the external mother becomes aligned and enmeshed with the illusion, causing a oneness with the illusion, and not allowing the illusion to eventually become disillusioned.  In addition the frustration gives the sense of reality and realness allowing the motility to come forth. The frustration becomes a challenge for the growth of the motility.

The creation of the omnipotent illusion and hallucinations, results from the propelling force of the infants instinctual needs for the breast, which results in a creation of an internal phantasy breast (M. Klein). Then when in reality the mother adapts and acts accordingly and gives the infant her breast the illusion is confirmed and his magical control is asserted that he can actually create the external. Only after the healthy confirmation of the illusion can the process of disillusionment begins. The transitional object can be placed in the realm of this illusion and work with it, expand it, and then transcend it. The process of reality can only be partially accepted, allowing the individual is playful and creative.

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3 thoughts on “D. W. Winnicott on Transitional Object and Transitional Space

  1. One of the most important concepts put forth in psychoanalytic thinking…Offers a way to structure one’s thinking about attachment – and about relationships…I wrote a short letter for a journal many years ago that touched on this idea…around thoughts of play. Rudy

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