Professor Gaddini's use of the idea of precursors, so that she is
able to include in the whole subject the very early examples of
fist-, finger-, and thumb-sucking and tongue-sucking, and all
the complications that surround the use of a dummy or a pacifier. She also brings in the maner of rocking, both the child's
rhythmical movement of the body and the rocking that
belongs to cradles and human holding. Hair-pulling is an allied
Another attempt to work around the idea of the transitional
object comes from Joseph C. Solomon of San Francisco, whose
paper 'Fixed Idea as an Internalized Transitional Object' (1962)
introduced a new concept. I am not sure how far I am in agreement with Dr Solomon, but the important thing is that with a
theor}' of transitional phenomena at hand many old problems
can be looked at afresh.
My own contribution here needs to be related to the fact that I
am not now in a position to make the direct clinical observations
of babies that have indeed been the main basis for everything I
have built up into theor}'. I am still in touch, however. with
descnptions that parents are able to give of their experiences
with their children if we know how to give them the chance to
remember in their own way and time. I am also in touch with
children's own references to their own significant objects and
in this chapter I give the original hypothesis as formulated in
1951. and [then follow this up with tWO clinical examples.
It is \-vell known that infants as soon as they are born tend to use
fist, fingers, thumbs in stimulation of the oral erotogenic zone,
in satisfaction of the instincts at that zone, and also in quiet
union. It is also well known that after a few months infants of
either sex become fond of playing with dolls, and that most
mothers allo\.\' their infants some special object and expect them
to become, as it were, addicted to such objects.
I Published in the lnlrrnutlonal Jolunal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 30+, Part 2 (1953): and
in D. W Winnicotl, CoJkmd Papm: Through Pcrdiotrici to Psycho-Malysis (1958a).
London: Tavistoclc PubliC:,llions.
introjeCled, between primary unawareness of indebtedness and
the acknowledgement of indebtedness ('Say: "ta" ').
By this definition an infant's babbling and the '.vay in which
an older child goes over a reperror}' of songs and tunes while
preparing for sleep come within the intermedia~ area as tran~
sitional phenomena, along with the use made of pbjects that are
not pan of the infant's bo~}' yet are not full}' recognized as
belonging to external reality. J
There is a relationship between these two sets of phenomena
that are separated by a time interval, and a stud)' of the development from (he earlier intO the later can be profitable, and can
make use of important clinical material thaI bas been somewhat
The first possession
Those who happen to be in close touch with mothers' interests
and problems will be already aware of the very rich patterns
ordinarily displayed by babies in their use of the first 'not-me'
possession, These patterns, being displayed, can he subjected 10
direct observation.
There is a wide variation (0 be found in a sequence of events
lhat starts with the newborn infant's fisl·in-mouth acti vities, and
leads eventually on to an attachment to a teddy, a doll or soft toy,
or to a hard toy.
It is clear that something is important here other than oral
excitement and satisfaction, although this may be the basis of
everything else. Many other important things can be studied, and
they include:
Inadequacy ofusual statement ofhuman nature
It is generally acknowledged that a statement of human nature in
terms of interpersonal relationships is not good enough even
when the imaginative elaboration of function and the whole of
fantasy both conscious and unconscious, including the repressed
unconscious, are allowed for. There is another way of describing
persons that comes out of the researches of the past two decades.
Of ever}' individual who has reached the stage of being a unit
with a limiting membrane and an outside and an imide, it can
be said that there is an inntr ftlliity to thai individuaL an inner
world lhat can be rich or poor and can be at peace or in a Slate of
war. This helps, bUI is it enough?
My claim is that if there is a need for this double stalement,
there is also need for a triple one: ~he lhird pan of the life of a
human being, a pan that we cannot ignore. is an intermediate
area of exptriencing, to which inner reality and external life both
contribute. It is an area lilaC is not challenged. because no claim
is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place
for the individual engaged in the perpetua.1 human task of
keeping inner and outer reality separate yet imerrelated.
It is usual to refer to ·realit)'~testing·. and to make a clear
distinction bct\vcen apperLeption and perception. I am here stak·
ing a claim for an intermediate state between a baby's inabilit)'
and his growing ability to recognize and accept reality. I am
The nature of the object.
The infant's capacity to recognize the object as 'not-me'.
The place of the object - otltside, inside, at the border.
The infant's capaCity to create, think up, devise. originate,
produce an object.
The initiation of an affectionate type of object~relationship.
I have introduced the terms 'transitional objects' and 'tran~
sitional phenomena' for designation of the intermediate area of
experience, between the thumb and the teddy bear, between the
oral erotism and the true object-relationship, between primary
creative activity and projection of what has already been
therefore studying the substance of illusion , that which is allowed
to the infant, and which in adult life is inherem in art and
religion, and yet becomes the hallmark of madness when an
adult putS too powerful a claim on the credulity of others, forcing
them to acknowledge a sharing of illusion that is not their own.
We can share a respect for illusory experience, and if we wish we may
collect together and form a group on the basis of the similarity
of our illusory experiences. This is a natural root of grouping
among human beings.
I hope it will be understood that I am not referring exactly (Q
the little child's teddy bear or to the infant's first use of the fist
(thumb, fingers). I am not specifically studying the first object of
object.relationships. I am concerned with the first possession,
and with the intermediate area between the subjective and that
which is objectively perceived.
Development ofa personal pattern
There is plenty of reference in psychoanalytic literature to the
progress from 'hand to mouth' to 'hand to genital', but perhaps
less to further progress to the handling of truly 'not-me' objects.
Sooner or later in an infant's development there comes a tendency on the part of the infant to weave other-than-me objects
into the personal pattern. To some extent these objects stand for
the breast, but it is not especially this paint that is under
In the case of some infants the thumb is placed in the mouth
while fingers are made to caress the face by pronation and supination movements of the forearm. The mouth is then active in
relation to the thumb, but not in relation to the fingers. The
fingers caressing lhe upper lip, or some other part, may be or
may become more important than the thumb engaging the
mouth. Moreover, this caressing activity may be found alone,
without the more direct thumb~mouth union.
In common experience one of the following occurs, complicating an auto-erotic experience such as thumb~sucking:
with the other hand the baby takes an external object, say
a part of a sheet or blanket, into the mouth along with the
fingers; or
(ii) somehow or other the bit of cloth is held and sucked, or
not actually sucked; the objects used naturally include
napkins and (later) handkerchiefs, and this depends on
what is readily and reliably available; or
(iii) the baby starts from early months to pluck wool and to
collect it and to use it for the caressing part of the activity;
less commonly, the wool is swallowed, even causing
trouble; or
(iv) mouthing occurs, accompanied by sounds of 'mummum', babbling, anal noises, the first musical notes, and
so on.
One may suppose that thinking, or fantasying, gets Hnked up
with these functional experiences.
All these things I am calling transitional phenomena. Also, out of all
this (if we study anyone infant) there may emerge some thing
or some phenomenon perhaps a bundle of wool or the corner of
a blanket or eiderdown, or a word or rune, or a mannerism that becomeEitally important to the infant for use at the time of
going to steep, and is a _defence against anxiety, especially
anxiety of depressive cype.]Perhaps some soft object or other
type of object has been found and used by the infant, and this
then becomes what I am calling a tIllnsitional object. This object
goes on being important. The parents get to know its value and
carry it round when travelling. The mother lets it get dirty and
even smelly, knowing that by washing it she introduces a break
in continuity in the infant's experience, a break that may destroy
the meaning and value of the object to the infant.
I suggest that the pattern of transitional phenomena begins to
show at about four to six to eight to twelve months. Purposely I
leave room for wide variations.
Patterns set in infancy may persist into childhood, so that the
original soft object continues to be absolutely necessary at bedtime or at time of loneliness or when a depressed mood
threatens. In health, however, there is a gradual extension of
range of interest, and eventually the extended range is maintained, even when depressive anxiety is near. A need for a specific object or a behaviour pattern that started at a very early date
may reappear at a later age when deprivation threatens.
This first possession is used in conjuction with special techniques derived from very early infancy, which can include or
exist apart from the more direct auto-erotic activities. Gradually
in the life of an infant teddies and dolls and hard toys are
acqUired. Boys to some extent tend to go over to use hard
objects, whereas girls tend to proceed right ahead to the acquisition of a family. It is important to note, however, that then is no
noticeable difference betwem boy and girl in their use of the original 'not-me'
possession, which I am calling the transitional object.
As the infant starts to use organized sounds ('mum', 'ta', 'da')
there may appear a 'word' for the rransitional object. The name
given by the infant to these earliest objects is often significant,
and it usually has a word used by the adults partly incorporated
in it. For instance, 'baa' may be the name, and the 'b' may have
come from the adult's use of the word 'baby' or 'bear'.
I should memion that r;omeJ;imes there is no transitional
object except the mother 'herseltjOr an infant may be so disturbed in emotional development that the transition state cannot
be enjoyed, or the sequence of objects used is broken. The
sequence may nevertheless be maintained in a hidden way.
Summary ofspecial qlJalities in the relationship
1. The infant assumes rights over the object. and we agree to
this assumption. Nevertheless, some abrogation of omnipotence
is a feature from the start.
2. The object is affectionately cuddled as well as excitedly loved
and mutilated.
3. It must never change, unless changed by the infant.
4. It must survive instinctual loving, and also hating and, if it be
a feature, pure aggression.
5. Yet it must seem to the infant to give warmth, or to move, or
to have texture, or to do something that seems to show it has
vitality or reality of its own.
6. It comes from without from our point of view, but not so
from the point of view of the baby. Neither does it come from
within; it is not a hallucination.
7. Its fate is to be gradually allowed to be decathected, so that in
the course of years it becomes not so much forgotten as relegated to limbo. By this I mean that in health the transitional
object does not 'go inside' nor does the feeling about it necessarily undergo repression. It is not forgotten and it is not mourned.
It loses meaning, and this is because the transitional phenomena
have become diffused, have become spread out over the whole
intermediate territory between 'inner psychic reality' and 'the
eXlernal world as perceived by twO persons in common', that is
to say, over the whole cultural field.
At this point my subject widens out into that of play, and of
artistic creativity and appreciation, and of religious feeling, and
of dreaming, and also of fetishism, lying and stealing, the origin
and loss of affectionate feeling, drug addiction, the talisman of
obsessional rituals, etc.
Relationship ofthe transitional object to symbolism
It is true that the piece of blanket (or whatever it is) is symbolical
of some pan-object, such as the breast. Nevertheless, the point of
it is not its symbolic value so much as its actuality. Its not being
the breast (or the mothery, although real, is as important as the
fact that it stands for the breast (or mother).
When symbolism is employed the infant is already dearly
distinguishing between fantasy and fact, between inner objects
and external objects, between primary creativity and perception.
But the term transitional object, according to my suggestion,
gives room for the process of becoming able to accept difference
and Similarity. I think there is use for a term for the root of
symbolism in time, a term that describes the infant's journey
from the purely subjective to objectivity; and it seems to me that
the transitional object (piece of blanket, etc.) is what we see of
this journey of progress towards experiendng.
It would be possible to understand the tranSitional object
while not fully understanding the nature of symbolism. It seems
that symbolism can be properly studied only in the process of
the growth of an individual and that it has at the very best a
variable meaning. For instance, if we consider the wafer of the
Blessed Sacrament, which is symbolic of the body of Christ, r
think I am right in saying that for the Roman Catholic com.
munity it is the body, and for the Protestant community it is a
subSlilUlt, a reminder, and is essentially not, in fact, actually the
body itself Yet in both cases it is a symboL
Clinical description of a transitional object
For anyone in touch with parents and children. there is an infinite quantity and variety of illustrative clinical material. The following illustrations are given merely to remind readers of similar material in their OVolTl experiences.
Two brothers: Contrast in early use ofpossessions
Distortion in tlse oftransitional object. X, now a healthy man, has
had to fight his way towards maturity. The mother 'learned how
to be a mother' in her management of X when he was an infant
and she was able to avoid certain mistakes with the other
children because of what she learned with him. There were also
external reasons why she was anxious at the time of her rather
lonely management of X when he was born. She took her job as
a mother very seriously and she breast-fed X for seven months.
She feels that in his case this was too long and he was very
difficult to wean. He never sucked his thumb or his fingers and
when she weaned him 'he had nothing to faU back on'. He had
never had the bottle or a dummy or any other form offeeding.
He had a very strong and early attachment to her herself, as a
person, and it was her actual person that he needed.
From twelve months he adopted a rabbit which he would
cuddle, and his affectionate regard for the rabbit eventually
transferred to real rabbits. This particular rabbit lasted till he
was five or six years old. It could be described as a comforter,
but it never had the true quality of a transitional object. It was
never, as a true transitional object would have been, more
important than the mother, an almost inseparable part of the
infant. In the case of this particular boy the kinds of anxiety
that were brought to a head by the weaning at seven months
later produced asthma, and only gradually did he conquer
this. It was important for him that he found employment far
away from the home town. His attachment to his mother
is still very powerful, although he comes within the wide
definition of the term 'normal', or 'healthy'. This man has not
Typical tlse of transitional object. X's younger brother, Y, has
developed in quite a straightforward way throughout. He now
has three healthy children arhis own. He was fed at the breast
for four months and then weaned without difficulty, Ysucked
his thumb in the early weeks and this again 'made weaning
easier for him than for his older brother'. Soon after weaning at
five to six months he .adopted the end of the blanket where the
stitching finished. He was pleased if a little bit ofthe wool stuck
out at the corner and with this he would tickle his nose. This
very early became his 'Baa'; he invented this word for it himself
as soon as he could use organized sounds. From the time
when he was about a year old he was able to substitute for the
end of the blanket a soft green jersey with a red tie. This was
not a 'comforter' as in the case of the depressive older brother,
but a 'soother'. It was a sedative which always worked. This is a
typical example of what r am calling a transitional object. When
Y was a little boy it was always certain that if anyone gave him
his 'Baa' he would immediately suck it and lose anxiety, and in
fact he would go to sleep within a few minutes if the time for
sleep were at all near. The thumb.sucking continued at the
same time, lasting until he was three or four years old, and he
remembers thumb·sucking and a hard place on one thumb
which resulted from it. He is now interested (as a father) in the
thumb.sucking of his children and their use of 'Saas'.
The story of seven ordinary children in this family brings Out
che follOwing points, arranged for comparison in the table
Value in history-taking
In consultation wich a parent it is often valuable to get informa~
cion about the early techniques and possessions of all the children of che family. This stans the mother off on a comparison of
her children one With another, and enables her to remember and
compare their characteristics at an early age.
Transitional Object
Type a/Child
Jersey (soother)
Dummy Donkey (friend)
Ee (protective)
late maturity
Developing well
Developing well
Developing well
• "'ddt<! nOlt' ThiJ W~l nOl duro but I han ltf, i' :os it wu. D. w.w.. 197 1,
The. child's contribution
Information can often be obtained from a child in regard to
transitional objects. For instance:
Angus (eleven years nine months) told me that his brother 'has
tons of teddies and things' and 'before that he had little bears',
and he followed this up with a talk about his own history. He
said he never had teddies. There was a bell rope that hung
down, a tag end of which he would go on hitting, and 50 go off
to sleep. Probably in the end it fell, and that was the end of it.
There was, however, something else. He was very shy about
this. It was a purple rabbit with red eyes. 'I wasn't fond of it. I
used to throw it around. Jeremy has it now, I gave it to him. I
gave it to Jeremy because it was naughty. It would fall off
the chest of drawers. It still visits me. I like it to visit me.' He
surprised himself when he drew the purple rabbit.
It will be noted that this eleven-year~old boy with the ordinary
good reality~sense of his age spoke as if lacking in reality-sense
when describing the transitional object's qualities and activities.
When I saw the mother later she expressed surprise that Angus
remembered the purple rabbit. She easily recognized it from the
coloured drawing.
Ready availability ofexamples
I deliberately refrain from giving more casermaterial here, par~
cicularlyas r wish to avoid giving the impression that what I am
reporting is rare. In practically every case~his{Qry there is
something to be found that is interesting in the transitional
phenomena, or in their absence.
Theoretical study
There are certain comments that can be made on the basis of
accepted psychoanalytic theory:
The transitional object stands for the breast, or the object
of the first relationship.
The transitional object antedates established reality~testing.
In relation to the transitional object the infant passes from
(magical) omnipotent control to control by manipulation
(involving muscle erotism and coordination pleasure).
The tranSitional object may eventually develop into a fetish
object and so persist as a characteristic of the adult sexual
life. (See Wulffs (1946) development of the theme.)
The tranSitional object may, because of anal erotic organ~
ization, stand for faeces (but it is not for this reason that it
may become smelly and remain unwashed).
Relationship to internal object (Klein)
It is interesting to compare the transilional object con~pt with
Melanie Klein's (1934) concept of the internal object. the tran-
sitional object is not an internal object (which is a mental concept) -
it is a jSSeSSion. Yet it is not (for the infant) an external objectll
The following complex statement has to be made. The infant
can employ a transitional object when the internal object is
alive and real and good enough (not tOO persecutory). But this
internal object depends for its qualities on the existence and
aliveness and behaviour of the external object. Failure of the
latter in some essential function indirectly leads to deadness or
to a persecutory quality of the internal object. 1 After a persis·
tence of inadequacy of the external object the internal object fails
to have meaning to the infant, and then, and then only, does the
transitional object become meaningless too. The transitional
object may therefore stand for the 'external' breast, but indirectly,
through standing for an 'internal' breast.
The transitional object is never under magical control like the'"
internal object, nor is it outside control as the real mother is. /
In order to prepare the ground for my own positive contribution
to this subject I must put into words some of the things that I
think are taken too easily for granted in many psychoanalytic
writings on infantile emotional development, although they may
be understood in practice.
There is no possibility whatever for an infant to proceed from
the pleasure principle to the reality principle or towards and
beyond primary identification (see Freud, 1923), unless there is
a good~enough mOlher. The good~enough 'mother' (not neces~
sadly the infane's own mother) is one who makes active adapta.
tion to the infant's needs, an active adaptation that gradually
lessens, according to the infant's growing ability to account for
Text modified here, though b;l.sW on the origin;l.l S!;l.tement.
failure of adaptation and to tolerate the results of frumation.
Naturally, the infant's own mother is more likely to be good
enough than some other person, since thb active adaptation
demands an easy and unresented preoccupation with the one
infant: in fact, success "in infant care depends on the fact of
devotion, not on cleverness or intellectual enlightenment.
The good-enough momer, as ( have stated, starts off with an
almost complete adaptation to her infant's needs, and as time
proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according
to the infant's growing ability to deal with her failure.
The infant's means of dealing with this maternal failure
include the follOWing:
The infant's experience, often repeated, that there is a
time-limit to frustration. At first, naturally. this time-limit
must be short.
Growing sense of process.
The beginnings of mental activity.
Employment of auto-erotic satisfactions.
Remembering, reliving, fantasying, dreaming; the integrating of past, present, and future.
If oil goes well the infant can actually come to gain from the
experience of frustration, since incomplete adaptation to need
makes objects real, that is to say hated as wen as loved. The
consequence of this is that if aJl goes well the infant can be disturbed by a close adaptation to need that Is continued too long,
not allowed its natural decrease, since exact adaptation resembles
magic and the object that behaves perfectly becomes no better
than a hallucination. Nevertheless, at !he start adaptation needs to
be almost exact, and unless this is so it is not possible for the
infant to begin to develop a capacity to experience a relationship
to external reality, or even to form a conception of external
JIIusion and the value ofillusion
The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her
breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were, under the baby's
magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in
general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is
nearly a fact of experience. The mother's eventual task is gradually
to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at
first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion.
In another language, the breast is created by the infant over
and over again out of the infant's capacity to love or (one can
say) out of need. A subjective phenomenon develops in the baby,
which we call the mother's breasl. 1 The mother places the actual
breast JUSt there where the infant is ready to create, and at the
right moment.
From birth, therefore, the human being is concerned with the
problem of the relationship between what is objectively perceived and what is subjectively conceived of, and in the solution
of this problem there is no health for the human being who has
not been started off well enough by the mother. The intermediate
area 10 which I am referring is the area that is allowed to the infant betwWl
primary creativity and objective perception based on reality-testing. The transitional phenomena represent the early stages of the use of illusion. without which there is no meaning for the human being in
the idea of a relationship with an object that is perceived by
others as external to that being.
The idea illustrated in Figure I is this: that at some theoretical
point early in the development of every human individual an
I include the whole technique of mothering. When It is said that the first
object Is the breast. the word 'breut' is used, I believe, to sta..nd for the technique of mothering as well as for the itctuitl flesh. It Is not Impossible for a
mOlher 10 be a. good-enough mother (In my way of putting it) with a bottle for
the actual feeding.
Figure T
Figure 2
infant in a certain setting provided by the mother is capable of
conceiving of the idea of something that would meet the growing need that arises out of instinctual tension. The infant cannot
be said co know at first what is to be created. At this point in time
the mother presents herself In the ordinary way she gives her
breast and her potential feeding urge. The mother's adaptation
to the infant's needs, when good enough, gives the infant the
illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds to the
infant's own capacity to create. In other words, there is an overlap between what the mother supplies and what the child might
conceive of To the observer, the child perceives what the mother
actually presents, but this is not the whole truth. The infant
perceives the breast only in so far as a breast could be created just
there and then. There is no interchange between the mother
and the infant. Psychologically the infant takes from a breastlhat
is part of me infant, and the motJler gives milk to an infant that is
part of herself. In psychology, the idea of interchange is based
on an illusion in the psychologist.
In Figure 2 a shape is given 1O the area of illusion, to illustrate
what I consider to be the main function of the transitional object
and of transitional phenomena. The transitional object and the
transitional phenomena start each human being off with what
will always be important for them. i.e. a neutral area of experience which will nO( be challenged. Of the {fansitiona] object it can be
S{ljd that it is a malter of agreement berween us and the baby that we will never
ask the question: 'Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from
without?' The important point is thot no decision on this point is expected. The
question is not to be formulated.
This problem. which undoubtedly concerns the human infant
in a hidden way at the beginning, gradually becomes an obvious
problem on account of the fact that the mother's main task (next
(0 providing opportunity for illusion) is disillusionmem. This is
preliminary to the task of weaning, and it also continues as one
of the tasks of parents and educators, In other words, this matter
of illusion is one that belongs inherently to human beings and that
no individual finally solves for himself or herself, although a
theoretical understanding of it may provide a theoretical solution.
If things go well. in this gradual disillusionment process, the
stage is set for the frustrations that we gather lOgether under the
word 'weaning'; but it should be remembered lhat when we
talk about the phenomena (which Klein (1940) has specifically
illuminated in her concept of the depressive pOSition) that cluster round weaning we are assuming the underlying process, the
process by which opportunity for illusion and gradual disillusionment is provided. If illusion-disillusionment has gone
astray the infant cannot get to so normal a thing as weaning.
nor [0 a reaction to weaning, and it is then absurd to refer to
weaning at all. The mere termination of breast~feeding is not a
We can see the tremendous significance of weaning in the
case of the normal child. When we witness the complex reaction
that is set going in a certain child by the weaning process, we
know that this is able to take place in that child because the
illusion.disHlusionment process is being carried through so well
that we can ignore it while discussing actual weaning.
Dellelopment afthe theory ofiflusion-disiflusionment
It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never
completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relat.
ing inner and aUler reality, and that relief from this strain is
proVided by an intermediate area of experience (cf Riviere,
1936) which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.). This intermediate area is in direct continuity with the play area of the
small child who is 'lost' in play.
In infancy this intermediate area is necessary for the initiation
of a relationship between the child and the world, and is made
possible by good-enough mothering at the early critical phase.
Essential to all this is continuity (in time) of the external emotional environment and of particular elements in the physical
environment such as the tranSitional object or objects,
The transitional phenomena are allowable to the infant
because of the parents' imuititive recognition of the strain
inherent in objective perception, and we do not challenge the
infant in regard to subjectivity or Objectivity JUSt here where
there is the transitional object.
Should an adult make claims on us for our acceptance of the
objectivity of his subjective phenomena we discern or diagnose
madness. If, however, the adult can manage to enjoy the personal
imermcdiate area withoUl making claims, then we can acknowl.
edge our own corresponding intermediate areas, and are
pleased to find a degree of overlapping, that is to say common
experience between members of a group in art or religion or
Anemion is drawn to the rich field for observation prOVided
by the earliest experiences of the healthy iofam as expressed
principally in the relationship (Q the first possession.
This first possession is related backwards in time to auto·
erotic phenomena and fist- and thumb-sucking, and also forwards to the first soft animal or doll and to hard toys. It is related
both to the external object (mother's breast) and to internal
objects (magically imrojected breast), bUl is distinct from each. _
Transitional objects and transitional phenomena belong to the
realm of illusion which is at the basis of initiation of experience.
This early stage in development is made possible by the mother's
special capacity for making adaptation to the needs of her infant,
thus allowing the infant the illusion that what the infam creates
really exIsts.
ThiS intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect
of its belonging to inner or external (shared)~lity, cOnStitUleS
the greater pan of the infant's experience, an~oughout life is
retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and
to rel~ion and to imaginative liVing, and to creative scientific
An infant's transitional object ordinarily becomes gradually
decathected, especially as cultural interests develop.
What emerges from these considerations is the further idea
that paradox accepted can have positive value. The resolution of
paradox leads to a defence organization which in the adult one
can encounter as true and false self organization (Winnicotl,
It is not the object, of course, that is transitional. The object
represents the infant's transition from a state of being merged
with the mother to a state of being in relation to the mother as
something outside and separate. This is often referred to as the
pOint at which the child grows up out of a narcissistic type of
object-relating. but I have refrained from using this language
because J am not sure ~hat it is what I mean; also, it leaves oue the
idea of dependence, which is so essential at the earliest stages
before the child has become sure that anything can exist that is
not part of the child.
Psychopathology manifested in the area of
transitional phenomena
I have laid great stress on the normality of transitional phenomena. Nevertheless. there is a psychopathology to be discerned in
the course of the clinical examination of cases. As an example of
the child's managemem of separation and loss I draw anemion
to the way in which separation can affect transitional phenomena.
As is well known, when the mother or some other person on
whom the infant depends is absent, there is no immediate
change owing to the fact that the infant has a memory or mental
image of the mother, or what we call an internal representation
of her, which remains alive for a certain length of time. If the
mother is away over a period of time which is beyond a certain
limit measured in minutes, hours, or days, then the memory or
the internal representation fades. As this takes effect, the transitional phenomena become gradually meaningless and the
infant is unable to experience them. We may watch the object
becoming decathected. Just before loss we can sometimes see
the exaggeration of the use of a transitional object as pan of denial
that there is a threat of its becoming meaningless. To illustrate
this aspect of denial I shall give a short clinical example of a
boy's use of string.
A boy aged seven years was brought to the Psychology
Department of the Paddington Green Children's Hospital by
his mother and father in March 1955. The other two members
of the family also came: a girl aged ten, attending an ESN
school, and a rather normal small girl aged four. The case was
referred by the family doctor because of a series of symptoms
indicating a character disorder in the boy. An intelligence test
gave the boyan IQ of 108. (For the purposes of this description
aU details that are not immediately relevant to the main theme
of this chapter are omitted.)
I first saw the parents in a long interview in which they gave a
clear picture of the boy's development and of the distortions in
his development. They left OUl one important detail, however,
which emerged in an interview with the boy.
It was not difficult to see that the mother was a depressive
person, and she reponed that she had been hospitalized on
account of depression. From the parents' account I was able to
note that the mother cared for the boy until the sister was born
when he was three years three months. This was the firsc separation ofimportance, the next being at three years eleven months,
when the mother had an operation. When the boy was four
years nine months the mother went into a mental hospital for
two months, and during this time he was well cared for by the
mother's sister. By this time everyone looking after this boy
agreed that he was difficult. although showing very good features. He was liable to change suddenly and to frighten people
by saying. for instance, that he would cut his mother's sister into
little pieces. He developed many curious symptoms, such as a
~ Publish~d
In Child Psychology dOd Psychlouy, Vol. I (1960); and In Winnlcott, The
MalUrolionol protfSS(S and tile Facllilallng EllI'lronmml (1965). london: Hogarth Press
and the Institute of Psycho-AnalysIs.
compulsion to lick things and people; he made compulsive
throat noises; often he refused to pass a motion and then made a
mess. He was obviously anxious about his elder sister's mental
defect, but the distortion of his development appears to have
started before this fattor became significant.
After this interview with the parents I saw the boy in a personal interview. There were present two psychiatric social workers and two visitors. The boy did not immediately give an
abnormal impression and he qUickly entered into a sqUiggle
game with me. (In this squiggle game I make some kind of an
impulsive line-drawing and invite the child whom I am interviewing to turn it into something, and then he makes a sqUiggle
for me to rum into something in my rum.)
The squiggle game in this particular case led to a curious
result. The boy's laziness immediately became evident, and also
nearly everything I did was translated by him into something
associated with string. Among his ten drawings there appeared
the follOWing:
a yo-yo string
a suing in a knot
another crop
another whip.
After this interview with the boy I had a second one with the
parents, and asked them about the boy's preoccupation with
string. They said that they were glad that I had brought up this
subject, but they had not mentioned it because they were not
sure of its significance. They said that the boy had become
obsessed with everything to do with string, and in fact whenever
they went into a room they were liable to find that he had joined
wgether chairs and tables; and they might find a cushion, for
instance, with a string joining it to the fireplace. They said that
the boy's preoccupation with string was gradually developing a
new feature, one that had worried them instead of causing them
ordinary concern. He had recently tied a string round his sister's
neck (the sister whose birth prOVided the first separation of thiS
boy from his mother).
In this particular kind of interview I knew I had limited
opportunity for action: it would not be possible to see these
parents or the boy more frequently than once in six months,
since the family lived in the country. I therefore took action in
the follOWing way. I explained to the mother that this boy was
dealing with a fear of separation, attempting to deny separation
by his use of string, as one would deny separation from a friend
by using the telephone. She was sceptical, but I told her that
should she come round to finding some sense in what I was
saying I should like her to open up the matter with the boy at
some convenient time, letting him know what I had said, and
then developing the theme of separation according to the boy's
I heard no more from these people until they came to see me
about six months later. The mother did not report to me what
she had done, but I asked her and she was able to tell me what
had taken place soon after the visit to me. She had felt that what I
had said was silly, but one evening she had opened the subject
with the boy and found him to be eager to talk about his relation
to her and his fear of a lack of contact with her. She went over all
the separations she could think of with him with his help, and
she soon became convinced that what I had said was right,
because of his responses. Moreover, from the moment that she
had this conversation with him the string play ceased. There was
no more joining of objects in the old way. She had had many
other conversations with the boy about his feeling of separateness from her, and she made the very significant comment that
she felt the most important separation to have been his loss of
her when she was seriously depressed; it was not just her going
away, she said, but her lack of contact with him because of her
complete preoccupation with other matters,
At a later interview the mother told me that a year after she
had had her first talk with the boy there was a return to playing
with string and to joining together objects in the house. She was
in fact due to go into hospital for an operation, and she said to
him: 'I can see from your playing With string that you are worried about my going away. but this time I shall only be away a
few days, and r am having an operation which is not serious.'
After this conversation the new phase of playing with string
I have kept in touch with this family and have helped with
various details in the boy's schooling and other maners.
Recently, four years after the original interview, the father
reported a new phase of string preoccupation. associated with a
fresh depression in the mother. This phase lasted two months; it
cleared up when the whole family Went on holiday, and when at
che same time there was an improvement in the home situation
(the father having found work after a period of unemployment).
Assodated with this was an improvement in the mother's state.
The father gave one further interesting detail relevant to the
subject under discussion. During this recent phase the boy had
acted Out sOmething with rope which the father felt to be significant, because it showed how intimately all these things were
connected with the mother's morbid anxiety. He came home
one day and found the boy hanging upSide down on a rope. He
was quite limp and acting very well as if dead. The father realized that he must take no notice, and he hung around the garden
doing odd jobs for half an hour, after which the boy got bored
and stopped the game. This was a big test of the father's lack of
anxiety. On the follOwing day, however, the boy did the same
thing from a tree which could easily be seen from the kitchen
window. The mother rushed out severely shocked and certain
that he had hanged himself.
The follOWing additional detail might be of value in the
understanding of the case. Although this boy, who is now
eleven, is developing along 'tough-guy' lines, he is very selfconscious and easily goes red in the neck. He has a number of
teddy bears which to him are children. No one dares to say that
they are toys. He is loyal to them, expends a great deal of affection over them, and makes trousers for them, which involves
careful sewing. His father says that he seems to get a sense of
security from his family, which he mothers in this way. If visitors come he quickly puts them all into his sister's bed, because
no one outside the family must know that he has this family.
Along with this is a reluctance to defaecate, or a tendency to save
up his faeces. It is not difficult co guess, therefore, that he has a
maternal identification based on his own insecurity in relation to
his mother. and that this could develop into homosexuality. In
the same way the preoccupation with string could develop into a
The follOWing comment seems to be appropriate.
I. String can be looked upon as an extension of all other tech·
niques of communication. String joins. just as it also helps in the
wrapping up of objects and in the holding of unintegrated
material. In this respect string has a symbolic meaning for
everyone; an exaggeration of the use of string can easily belong
to the beginnings of a sense of insecurity or the idea of a lack of
communication. In this particular case it is possible to detecl
abnormality creeping into the boy's use of string, and it is
important to find a way of stating the cbange which migbt lead
to its use becoming perverted.
It would seem possible to arrive at such a statement if one
takes into consideration the fact that the function of the string is
changing from communication into a denial of stparotion. As a
denial of separation string becomes a thing in itself, something
that has dangerous properties and must needs be mastered. In
this case the mother seems to have been able to deal with the
boy's use of string just before it was too late, when the use of it
still contained hope. When hope is absent and string represents a
denial of separation, then a much more complex state of affairs
has arisen - one that becomes difficult to cure, because of the
secondary gains that arise out of the skill that develops whenever
an object has to be handled in order to be mastered.
This case therefore is of special interest if it makes possible the
observation of the development of a perversion.
2. It is also possible to see from this material the use that can be
made of parents. When parents can be used they can work with
great economy, especially if the fact is kept in mind that there
will never be enough psychotherapists to treat all those who are
in need of treatment. Here was a good family that had been
through a difficult time because of the father's unemployment;
that had been able to take full responsibility for a backward girl in
spite of the tremendous drawbacks, socially and within the family, that this entails; and that had survived the bad phases in the
mother's depressive illness, including one phase of hospitalization. There must be a great deal of strength in such a family, and
it was on the basis of this assumption that the decision was made
to invite these parents to undertake the therapy of their own
child. In doing this they learned a great deal themselves, but they
did need to be informed about what they were dOing. They also
needed their success to be appreciated and the whole process to
be verbalized. The fact that they have seen their boy through
an illness has given the parents confidence with regard to their
ability to manage other difficulties that arise from time to time.
Added note 1969
In the decade since this report was written I have come to see
that this boy could not be cured of his illness. The tie-up with
the mother's depressive illness remained, so that he could nOl be
kept from running back to his home. Away, he could have had
personal treatment, but ill home personal treatment was
impracticable. At home he retained the pattern that was already
set at the time of the first interview.
In adolescence this boy developed new addictions, especially
to drugs. and he could not leave home in order to receive education. All attempts to get him placed away from his mother failed
because he regularly escaped and ran back home.
He became an unsatisfactory adolescent, lying around and
apparently wasting his time and his intellectual potential
(as noted above, he had an IQ of 108).
The question is: would an investigatOr making a study of
this case of drug addiction pay proper respect to the psychopathology manifested in the area of IransitionaI phenomena?
In the later part of this book I shall explore some of the ideas thal
occur to me while I am engaged in clinical work and where I feel
that the theory I have formed for my own benefit in regard to
transitional phenomena affects what I see and hear and what I
Here I shall give in detail some clinical material from an adult
patient to show how the sense of loss itself can become a way of
integrating one's self-experience.
The material is of one session of a woman patient's analysis,
and I give it because it collects together various examples of the
great variety that characterizes the vast area between objectivity
and subjectivity.
This patient, who has several children, and who has a high
intelligence which she uses in her work, comes to treatment
because of a wide range of symptomatology which is usually
collected together under the word 'schizoid'. It is probable that
those who have dealings with her do not recognize how ill she
feels, and certainly she is usually liked and is feft to have value.
This particular session started with a dream which could be
described as depressive. It contained straightforward and
revealing transference material with the analyst as an avaricious dominating woman. This leaves way for her hankering
after a former analyst who is very much a male figure for her.
This is dream, and as dream could be used as material for
interpretation. The patient was pleased that she was dreaming
more. Along with this she was able to describe certain
enrichments in her actual living in the world.
Every now and again she is overtaken by what might be
called fantasying. She is going on a train journey; there is an
accident. How will the children know what has happened to
her? How indeed will her analyst know? She might be screaming, but her mother would not hear. From this she went on to
talk about her most awful experience in which she left a cat for
a little while and she heard afterwards that the cat had been
crying for several hours. This is 'altogether too awful' and joins
up with the very many separations she experienced throughout
her childhood, separations that went beyond her capacity to
allow for, and were therefore traumatic, necessitating the
organization of new sets of defences.
Much of the material in this analysis has to do with coming
to the negative side of relationships; that is to say, with the
gradual failure that has to be experienced by the child when the
parents are not available. The patient is extremely sensitive to
all this in regard to her own children and ascribes much of the
difficulty that she has with her first child to the fact that she left
thiS child for three days to go for a holiday with her husband
when she had started a new pregnancy; that is to say, when the
child was nearly two. She was told that the child had cried for
four hours without stopping. and when she came home it was
no use for quite a long time for her to try to re·establish
We were dealing with the fact that animals and small children cannot be told what is happening. The cat could not
understand. Also. a baby under two years cannot be properly
informed about a new baby that is expected, although 'by
twenty months or so' it becomes increasingly possible to
explain this in words that a baby can understand.
When no understanding can be given, then when the mother
is away to have a new baby she is dead from the point of view of
the child. This is what dead means.
It is a matter of days or hours or minutes. Before the limit is
reached the mother is still alive; after this limit has been overstepped she is dead. In between is a precious moment of anger,
but this is quickly lost, or perhaps never experienced, always
potential and carrying fear of violence.
From here we come to the two extremes, so different from
each other: the death of the mother when she is present, and
her death when she is not able to reappear and therefore to
come alive again. This has to do with the time just before the
child has built up the ability to bring people alive in the inner
psychic reality apart from the reassurance of seeing, feeling,
It can be said that this patient's childhood had been one big
exercise exactly in this area. She was evacuated because of the
war when she was about eleven; she completely forgot her
childhood and her parents, but all the time she steadily main·
tained the right not to call those who were caring for her 'uncle'
and 'auntie', which was the usual technique. She managed
neller to call them anything the whole of those years, and this
was the negative of remembering her mother and father. It will
be understood that the pattern for all this was set up in her
early childhood.
From this my patient reached the position, which again
comes into the transference, that the only real thing is the gap;
that ;s to say, the death or the absence or the amnesia. In the
course of the ses'sion she had a specific amnesia and this
bothered her, and it turned out that the important communication for me to get was that there could be a blotting out, and
that this blank could be the only fact and the only thing that was
real. The amnesia is real, whereas what is forgotten has lost its
In connection with this the patient remembered that there is
a rug available in the consulting-room which she once put
around herself and once used for a regressive episode during
an analytic session. At present she is not going over to fetch
this rug or using it. The reason is that the rug that is not there
(because she does not go for it) is more real than the rug that
the analyst might bring, as he certainly had the idea to do.
Consideration of this brings her up against the absence of the
rug, or perhaps it would be better to say against the unreality of
the rug in its symbolic meaning.
From here there was a development in terms of the idea of
symbols. The last of her former analysts 'will always be more
important to me than my present analyst'. She added: 'You
may do me more good, but I like him better. This will be true
when I have completely forgotten him. The negative of him is
more real than the positive of you.' These may not be exactly
her words but it is what she was conveying to me in dear
language of her own, and it was what she needed me to
The subject of nostalgia comes into the picture: it belongs to
the precarious hold that a person may have on the inner representation of a lost object. This subject reappears in the
case· report that follows (see p. 49).
The patient then talked about her imagination and the limits
of what she believed to be real. She started by saying: '! didn't
really believe that there was an angel standing by my bed; on
the other hand, I used to have an eagle chained to my wrist.'
This certainly did feel real to her and the accent was on the
words 'chained to my wrist.' She also had a white horse whic.h
was as real as possible and she 'would ride it everywhere and
hitch it to a tree and all that sort of thing'. She would like really
to own a white horse now so as to be able to deal with the
reality of this white horse experience and make it real in
another way. As she spoke I felt how easily these ideas could be
labelled hallucinatory except in the context of her age at the
time and her exceptional experiences in regard to repeated loss
of otherwise good parents. She exclaimed: '1 suppose' want
something that never goes away.' We formulated this by saying
that the real thing is the thing that is not there. The chain is a
denial of the eagle's absence, which is the positive element.
From here we got on to the symbols that fade. She claimed
that she had had some success in making her symbols real for
a long time in spite of the separations. We both came to some·
thing here at the same time, which is that her very fine intellect
has been exploited, but at cost. She read from very early, and
read a great deal; she has done a great deal of thinking from the
earliest times and she has always used her intellect to keep
things going and she has enjoyed this; but she was relieved (I
thought) when I told her that with this use of the intellect there
is all the time a fear of mental defect. From this she quickly
reached over to her interest in autistic children and her intimate tie-up with a friend's schizophrenia, a condition that illustrates the idea of mental defect in spite of good intellect. She
has felt tremendously guilty about having a great pride in her
good intellect, which has always been a rather obvious feature.
It was difficult for her to think that perhaps her friend may have
had a good intellectual potential although in his case it would
be necessary to say that he had slipped over into the obverse,
which is mental retardation through mental illness.
She described various techniques for dealing with separation; for instance: a paper spider and pulling the legs off for
every day that her mother was away. Then she also had flashes,
as she called them, and she would suddenly see, for instance,
her dog Toby, a toy: 'Oh there's Toby: There ;s a picture in the
family album of herself with Toby, a toy, that she has forgotten
except in the flashes. This led on to a terrible incident in which
her mother had said to her: 'But we "heard" you cry alt the time
we were away.' They were four miles apart. She was two years
old at the time and she thought 'Could it possibly be that my
mother told me a lie?' She was not able to cope with this at the
time and she tried to deny what she really knew to be true, that
her mother had in fact lied. It was difficult to believe in her
mother in this guise because everyone said: 'Your mother is so
From this it seemed possible for us to reach to an idea which
was rather new from my point of view. Here was the picture of a
child and the child had transitional objects, and there were
transitional phenomena that were evident, and all of these were
symbolical of something and were real for the child; but gradually, or perhaps frequently for a little while, she had to doubt
the reality ofthe thing that they were symbolizing. That is to say, if
they were symbolical of her mother's devotion and reliability
they remained real in themselves but what they stood for was
not real. The mother's devotion and reliability were unreal.
This seemed to be near the sort of thing that has haunted her
all her life, losing animals, losing her own children, so that she
formulated the sentence: 'Alii have got is what I have not got.'
There is a desperate attempt here to turn the negative into a
last-ditch defence against the end of everything. The negative is
the only positive. When she got to this point she said to her
analyst: 'And what will you do about it?' t was silent and she
said: 'Oh, , see.' I thought perhaps that she was resenting my
masterly inactivity. I said: 'I am silent because t don't know
what to say.' She quickly said that this was all right. Really she
was glad about the silence, and she would have preferred it if I
had said nothing at all. Perhaps as a silent analyst I might have
been joined up with the former analyst that she knows she will
always be looking for. She will always expect him to come back
and say 'Well done!' or something. This will be long after she
has forgotten what he looks like. I was thinking that her meaning was: when he has become sunk in the general pool of
subjectivity and joined up with what she thought she found
when she had a mother and before she began to notice her
mother's deficiencies as a mother, that is to say, her absences.
In this session we had roamed over the whole field between
subjectivity and objectivity, and we ended up with a bit of a
game. She was going on a railway journey to her holiday house
and she said: 'Well , think you had better come with me, perhaps half-way.' She was talking about the way in which it matters to her very much indeed that she is leaving me. This was
only for a week, but there was a rehearsal here for the summer
holiday. It was also saying that after a little while, when she has
got away from me, it will not matter any longer. So, at a half-way
station, I get out and 'come back in the hot train', and she
derided my maternal identification aspects by adding: 'And it
will be very tiring, and there will be a lot of children and babies,
and they will climb all over you, and they will probably be sick
all over you, and serve you right.'
(It will be understood that there was no idea of my really
accompanying her.)
Just before she went she said. 'Do you know' believe when I
went away at the time of evacuation lin the war]l could say that
I went to see if my parents were there. I seem to have believed 1
would find them there.' (This implied that they were certainly
not to be found at home.) And the implication was that she
took a year or two to find the answer. The answer was that they
were not there, and that that was reality. She had already said to
me about the rug trat she did not use: 'You know, don't you,
that the rug might be very comfortable, but reality is more
important than comfort and no rug can therefore be more
important than a rug.'
This clinical fragment illustrates the value ofkeeping in mind the
distinctions that exist between phenomena in terms of their po_
sition in the area between external or shared realhy and the true
A case-history describing a
Primary Dissociation
thiS chapter I make a fresh attempt
show the subtle
qualitative differences that exist between varieties of fantasyin&lI .
am looking particularly at what has been called fantasying ancfr
use once more the material of a session in a rreaunem where the
contrast between fantasying and dreaming was not only relevant
but. I would say, central. I
The case I am using is that of a woman of middle age who in
her analysis is gradually discovering the extent to which
fantasying or something of the nature of daydreaming has
1 For discussion of this theme from another angle see 'The Manic: Defence'
{193S} In Winnicott (1958a).