The Fundamentals of the Transitional Phenomena

Written by Kathi Stringer

Winnicott has termed an area between fantasy and reality as the potential space in which the two rendezvous without consequences. How is this safe area possible? Let’s first examine dynamics of the transitional object.

The infant or toddler in his first true creative act will imbue an object with symbolic meaning as a defensive measure to carry-over the presence of mother or primary caretaker. This object is created by the baby and the acceptance of a symbol and is usually in the concrete form of a blanket, diaper or such soft article and usually represents mother’s maternal presence and softness. This aids the baby in the transition of relating to omniavailable mother as differentiated from self and others. Hence the term, Transitional Object.

Since the baby is still using splitting as a primary defensive mechanism, he is unable to integrate the idea that mother’s love still exists when unavailable. Subsequently, the transitional object performs as bridge as it will serve to comfort the baby until he can comprehend his reality in more abstract terms. In this way, the baby manipulates his possession, a part of himself and mother.

Later, concrete object transitions will move into the abstract transitional phenomena. This is an interim region between fantasy / reality and omnipresence / objectively. This potential space is what Winnicott viewed as play, an infinite intermediate area where external and internal reality are amalgamated. Correspondingly, this is a territory in which the subject can take on the identity of a fictional character interlaced with his own identity without fear or retaliatory consequences. It is though this play that one can explore and perceive self and his relation to others.

It has been speculated and argued quiet successfully that the potential space in the therapist office is play / illusion, (Illusion is a derived from the root, . in- + ludere, to play). This is seen and understood as the exchange / dialectic, the exploration between therapist and client in the safety of the office. On a higher, more sophisticated level, cultural and societal components enter into the transitional process in determining identity of self.