Animal love.

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

As a child, I have always had some kind of emotional attachment to my toys, stuffed animals, blankets, you name it; but I figured it was something I would grow out of. I did, to some extent, but it’s something that‚s recently resurfaced majorly. I subconsciously give all my stuffed toys and action figures a “personality,” and feel genuinely guilty and sad if I neglect any of them (for example, if I drop them on the floor and leave them there for a day or two).

I don‚t talk to them or anything, but I project my strong “feelings” for them, and then everything is okay once they know how much I love them. (When I was a kid I would do this with everything of mine, blankets, keys, games, etc. Now I just do it with the things that have faces). This is really a problem because I find it EXTREMELY difficult to get rid of stuff, as I‚m afraid they will be mistreated or unloved if I give them away. I know this is absolutely ridiculous and a bunch of stuffed toys won’t “care” if they’re not loved, but I can’t force myself to get rid of anything. I’m honestly afraid that I’m going to become a hoarder.

Unfortunately, it doesn‚t stop there. There is another way this is manifesting: online. Facebook, for example, has a number of online mini games where you can raise animals and pets that I made the mistake of joining. I indulged myself in so many of these games at one point, it wasn’t until my boyfriend pointed out how much time they took up in my day that I realized I had to get rid of some of them. And I did, but there are still some I can’t bring myself to get rid of, but I don‚t even WANT to play them anymore. I have a virtual cat on the game Foopets, which is a realistic pet simulation game. I don‚t find myself interested in taking care of the cat anymore, but I still force myself to every day, sometimes more than once a day, because I can‚t bring myself to give the cat away and delete the game, because surely no one could love it as much as I do, and I feel like it loves me too. And I can’t make myself stop taking care of the cat, because I feel so guilty.

I’m wasting my life away on things that can’t even love me back or appreciate what I do for them, it’s out of control. I know there is some kind of medical term associated with this, but I have had no luck finding and learning about it. I need help!

A: “I love you not because of who you are, but because of who I am when I am with you.”

This quote by Roy Croft ushers in what I think is happening. Loving an inanimate object is a common developmental tool often employed in evolving loving feelings. We see children playing with dolls, stuffed animals, dollhouses, figurines, etc. A cathexis (attachment or bonding energy) to love objects focuses our affection and may be either a substitute, displacement, or symbol of longing for what we want in our lives. What seems clear here is that you have a lot of love to give. In the past you have felt good about your giving, but what seems to have happened now is that you don’t feel the same because they are taking up too much of your energy and not giving back.

You have a boyfriend, and friends on Facebook. The development of more interpersonal connections with people that make you feel good is the direction you want to go. The objects and virtual pets are likely stepping-stones you needed to form more intimate relations. As you surround yourself with people that fill you up, your need for the objects is likely to diminish.

Think about holding on to one or two of your entourage, then consider gifting some of your furry friends to a children’s shelter. This may help others experience the good feelings that happened for you, and you may be able to let your objects of affection go — knowing that they will continue to be loved.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Animal love.. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/12/animal-love/