The Me in We

How group emotions and issues of collective identity change the world.

Healing Objects

How do you survive a superstorm?

The Breezy Point Madonna: a holding environment
A statue of the Virgin Mary marks where the McNulty’s home once stood in Breezy Point, Queens, before hurricane Sandy. People come to leave candles and flowers at what has come to be called "The Breezy Point Madonna."  What does this figure mean?

D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician who worked with children evacuated during WWII, wrote of how we adapt to a traumatizing environment through the use of objects. This begins with the dearly loved transitional object, what he calls the object of the first relationship. First the mother’s breast, in later childhood it morphs into other intimate things: the edge of a worn blanket, a favorite doll or toy, a tune, a baby's babblings, a mother's lullaby. This object brings stability at a time of psychic rupture and physical dislocation.

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Groups also have transitional objects, especially in times of crisis. Superstorm Sandy decimated Breezy point. Flooding prevented firefighters from reaching the six-alarm fire that levelled over 100 homes. The response time of relief agencies was painfully slow. Local residents planted themselves in the debris of their houses to defend against looters and guard their remaining possessions.I think of healing illusions and the lone Madonna on the Rockaway peninsula as I pack a box of children’s books for a 6-year old who lost her home there.

Stories can sometimes be new settings that hold us, if only briefly. They can contain trauma and help integrate the psyche. They bring about a knitting together of self.

We put feelings of loss into good objects or creative fictions and leave them there long enough to be modified by the sojourn.


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Molly Castelloe, Ph.D., is a New York based author specializing in group psychology and theater.


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