At the end of last year, I was going through a particularly dark time in my life. I had just ended a relationship with my first Dominant (more on that in a later blog), and I was feeling sad and alone. My friends tried to reach out and let me know they cared, but I felt lost, unlovable.
A wise Dominant advised me to look up a friend from my past, someone I could trust.
I hadn’t talked to my friend in a long time. I wasn’t sure he would even want to speak with me. The Dominant, an experienced Daddy, reassured me that my friend still loved me no matter what and would always be there for me.
So I went to meet him, hugged him tight, and we sat down for a good long talk.
I had to get him out of my storage unit and dust him off a little bit first.
I am speaking, of course of my stuffie, Tig, a member of that tribe of companions to littles everywhere (and some bigs too, but I promised I wouldn’t say who).
A stuffie is a steadfast friend — someone to talk to who will understand when no one else will and comfort you when no one else can. It doesn’t matter that this friend is not flesh and blood but, as I remember a song from my childhood saying, stuffed with fluff.
But what are stuffies, really? Why do we have such an intense bond? How are they able to help us sometimes when it seems that no human can? I’m going to propose here a psychological explanation of the significance of stuffies. To do so is not to deny their powerful magic — rather, I’m exploring some possible mechanics thereof. I hope that providing insight into this special relationship can help littles and especially Daddies better make use of stuffies to strengthen their dynamics and help littles thrive. Please note that while I say Daddies for simplicity, of course I include Mommies and caregivers as well. Similarly I use female pronouns for littles; this is not intended to exclude other genders.
A Little Stuffie Goes a Long Way
What are stuffies? I believe that stuffies are far more deep and profound than their humble appearances suggest. The relationship between little and stuffie might recall to some a child with her teddy bear or Linus and his security blanket. Pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott had a term for this treasured possession: the transitional object. Winnicott wrote that 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 … that may destroy the meaning and value of the object.” (Winnicott (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena—a study of the first not-me possession, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 34:89-97.)
What does the”transitional” mean in the phrase “transitional object”? It means that this object exists (psychologically) in a space “between” spaces. Several of these in-between spaces are worth noting in terms of stuffies.
- The transitional object is both part of the self and a representation of the caregiver. A transitional object is a way to maintain a loving relationship with the mother when she is temporarily away. For a little, a stuffie may “stand in” for the Daddy when he is away or may represent the Daddy’s continued caring when he is angry (or when the little is angry with him). It’s a way to continue to experience a positive relationship even in the face of difficulty or challenging feelings. Stuffies in particular may also “carry” positive experiences of past relationships and especially past dynamics, maintaining positive bonds and the positive experiences of the self that went with them even after a dynamic has ended.
- The transitional object is “between” the inner reality of emotions and thoughts and the outer reality of the physical world and relationships. It is both fantasy and reality, both under the control and sharing experiences of the little and having an independent existence and thoughts of its own. A little may “try on” ideas or desires through a stuffie’s feelings or beliefs.
- The transitional object is both an expression of the self and has an independent existence. That is, the object is both part of the self and also experienced as having its own thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Stuffies provide insight and guidance that spring from an inner wisdom that can’t be accessed directly.
Whose Stuffie Is It Anyway?
Given these characteristics, how can stuffies best support the dynamic between Daddy and little? How can better understanding stuffies help Daddies support their littles?
- Keep good boundaries. While it might be tempting for a Daddy to impose his beliefs on a stuffie, such as suggesting that the stuffie shares a particular opinion, this should be done with extreme caution. Stuffies hopefully feel a great deal of affection and respect for their little’s Daddy, but a Daddy should not presume upon that goodwill. Remember, the stuffie is part of the little first and foremost, and she is the expert. There are some cases where a Daddy might have insight into a stuffie’s feelings, especially when there is tension between little and stuffie. For example, my Daddy friend reassured me that Tig would forgive me and love me when I was feeling guilty and ashamed. Note that losing a relationship with my Dom had given rise to those feelings in the first place. In that case the Daddy was able to repair my experience of myself by reconnecting me with my caring for Tig and the connection I felt through him to others who cared about me in the past. However, a Daddy should not manipulate by suggesting a stuffie wants something that the Daddy desires, such as a particular act or behavior. Stuffies may be a bridge between Daddy and little, but they exist as part of and for the benefit of the little, not the Daddy.
- Stuffies can provide information for Daddies about their littles’ experiences, feelings, fears and hopes, but it’s important to interpret information carefully. Remember that a stuffie both is and isn’t the little. Transference — the beliefs the little has about the stuffie and her experience of the feelings the stuffie has toward her — can give significant clues about how a little is feeling and how she is experiencing the world. Is a stuffie angry with her? Is she angry with the stuffie? Is there something a stuffie is afraid of or concerned about? Sometimes this might represent a real fear or concern that needs to be addressed logically. At other times it might be that the little wonders if the Daddy has a concern or fear about something. Addressing the relationship between stuffie and little can help work through tensions while maintaining a positive relationship between Daddy and little.
- Stuffies are an outlet for a little’s playful imagination. The rich interior life of a stuffie and conversations and play between stuffie and little gives the little a place to be, well, little. A stuffie is the only one (except maybe the Daddy) who will ever completely understand.
The Childlike Empress Is Not a Child
This last point brings up perhaps the most important thing we can learn from understanding stuffies: Stuffies give us a key insight into what it means to be little. The DD/lg dynamic can be controversial and is often misunderstood as being ageplay, with the little pretending to be or actually regressing into a child. Littles will repeat over and over that while they are childlike, they are not children.
I believe what littles are trying to express when they say this is that little space is at least akin to, if not indeed equivalent to, what Winnicott would call transitional space — that space between fantasy and reality into which children so easily slip, and for which we tend to lose the capacity for as adults. Littles (and perhaps their Daddies) are able to maintain their link to this transitional space of being me and not-me, part of reality and imagining alternatives, both completely oneself and continuous with a loved other. Winnicott proposed that other “adult” phenomena such as games, creative pursuits like art, and other symbolic expression are all developments of the early transitional object. Littles, as demonstrated in their embrace of stuffies, retain the ability to experience transitional phenomena in their purest form. Daddies, in turn, have the gift of holding that remarkable space and sharing with them in their experience.
At the End of the Day…
Stuffies, little space and caregiver/little dynamics can be misunderstood and stigmatized, yet they are powerful and transformative for those who have the capacity to experience them. I conclude with a quote from a book about one of the most famous stuffies/transitional objects, whose story also has a lot to tell us about what it means to love and be loved: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
“He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
As I write this I am holding Tig, his paws on my chest and his admittedly grubby nose inches from my face. In this lifestyle, we do things that seem very odd indeed when viewed from the outside, but we don’t mind how we look to other people, because we know what it is to be Real.
As always, remember: This is your life; live it your way!