OUR USE OF OBJECTS – And Their Importance In Our Lives.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on October 29, 2012

Several weeks ago I wrote a post on our internal world and how it is populated (https://www.drceccoli.com/2012/08/our-internal-world-and-how-it-is-populated/). I was drawing attention to the powerhouse that runs our life. In that post I focused on the significant players in our lives and our relationships to them. Today, I would like to speak about the rest of the internal population: the objects and things that become meaningful to us because of the way that we use them and the meaning that we assign to them. In psychological parlance we refer to this as object use.

The objects that populate an individual’s internal world are personal, specific and idiosyncratic in their meaning and use. Take food for example. For some of us, food offers many pleasures in its preparation, tasting and sharing. It immediately connotes  being with loved ones and enjoying it together. For others, food is simply something that must be dealt with, fuel for the body and nothing more. For still others food can be a substance to be abused, used to excess, having more to do with getting a reliable fill, satiating something that is wanting or hungry for something other than food, and/or managing a feeling or an emotion that threatens to be overwhelming. And for yet another group of people, food can become something to do without precisely because it threatens to stir up pleasure and address the hungers within. Food as an object can be used in many ways. And so it is for other objects as well.

Take reading as another example. For some of us reading is a pleasure, a way to gain information, engage in an inner dialogue, experience various feeling states and travel to foreign lands. It can be a playful activity that stimulates our imagination and creativity. It can also become a way of escaping the routine of our lives, our problems and responsibilities, or worse, it can become a way of avoiding our life altogether. Reading, as an object can be used in many different ways.

Our use of objects comes about from our early ability to play and the opportunities afforded to us to do so. I am not speaking here of having many toys, but of having early relationships that encourage exploration, curiosity and play. Relationships that facilitate the exploration of the world, the self, and the self in relation. Such relationships create a facilitating environment that makes it possible to move from relating to an object- as in this is my toy car, it moves this way and that way, to using the object: In my toy car I am a drag racer who is unafraid to bang up my car because it is the conduit to my experience and I can use it any way I want to. The difference between relating to an object and using it involves being able to do with it whatever is needed, to really use it for our own purposes. In essence, it involves being able to use it how we need to and learn from our experience with it. Unless we have had early relationships that have facilitated trusting our “play” and our use of objects to elaborate parts of ourselves and discover our own creative possibilities, objects remain, well, just objects- things with little and/or limited meaning. Object usage requires that we be willing to destroy the actual properties of the thing while being aware of its properties and the possibilities they bring to our lives.

What is of import here is that the more we are able to fully use our objects the better off we are, as they provide potential venues to understand and elaborate our experience. I often see patients who are isolated and withdrawn, full of pain and unable to connect with others. Such patients are often unable to talk about their experience with others because they do not trust that those others will be able to help them with their burdens. They have not developed the ability to use another or an actual object in a way that helps them flesh out their experience. Instead they turn to objects and things, including people, to mitigate their experience, often requiring the objects in their world to be uni-dimensional and rigid, and serve only one particular function- escape, distraction, satiation etc. Unfortunately, this continues a spiral of isolation and a return to the use of objects for their escapist function.

When  you think about how you use the objects in your life, what do you come up with? Utilitarian? Creative? Playful? Elaborative? Restrictive? Compulsive? What objects help expand possibilities and which shut it down? Think about the history of your usage, how long has your relationship to a particular object been around, where did it derive its meaning? What does the way you use it tell you about you? Would it help to review this?

In my work I often focus on how my patients attribute meaning to the things and people in their lives. I know that at least some of those meanings come from their personal, relational history and how it has been internalized .  I then focus on how that plays out  in our interactions. I have come to understand that such (object) usage tells me a great deal about my patients internal world and their experiences in life. It also tells me a great deal about where reparation might be needed. Our relationship is usually forged from the internal players in their world colliding with those in mine, in a space where it is possible to play many different roles and speak in many different tongues opening new possibilities within old interactions and behaviors.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

emma June 26, 2018 at 7:13 PM

i like how it empathized the volume of objects and meaning of objects


Donna October 30, 2012 at 11:32 PM

Objects are loaded with symbolism, memories, sentimentalism, and that makes me consider all the people who have lost the objects of the heart in this storm, especially who have lost everything, and I feel humbled that I still have those things that connect me to my life–perhaps my father’s dog tags from WW II, or the saint’s scapular I once wore to protect me from harm.

Dr. Ceccoli, your wisdom could not have come at at more important time, and your reflections invite all of us to consider what we take with us through this life, and how we are able–or not– to allow others to become the talismans to shield us. Hopefully, we ( and I can only speak for myself) can have the humility and generosity to allow us to be truly unselfish enough to allow others to give.

For me, I hope that when I hold my father’s dog tags, I can still feel the comfort of his hands on my shoulders, telling me that I matter, that I can persevere—- that I can withstand anything.

Thank you, Dr. V.


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