Remember that scene in the holiday classic Love, Actually when Laura Linney’s character, Sarah, quickly hides (and reassuringly kisses) her childhood teddy bear that lives on her bed before she welcomes a hot guy into her room? It’s a relatable moment for many of us who still sleep with our teddy (or froggy or lamby, or whatever breed of stuffed animal it may be) and feel a little bit of shame about the habit society says we should’ve long grown out of.
If this describes you, know that you’re not alone: A 2017 survey of more than 2,000 American adults found that 40 percent still sleep with a teddy bear. Sure, that’s not the overwhelming majority, but it’s enough evidence to support the notion that clinging to your security toy isn’t so strange, or even something that might compromise your status as a bona fide adult. But, could clutching such items of childhood comfort be an unhealthy sign of regression?
Is it “normal” to sleep with your childhood stuffed animals?
Therapist Margaret Van Ackeren, LMFT, says, “In most instances, adults sleep with childhood stuffed animals because it brings them a sense of security and reduces negative feelings, such as loneliness and anxiety.” Basically, the tools can provide calmness and a sense of not being alone—much like they might have for you when you were little.
“In most instances, adults sleep with childhood stuffed animals because it brings them a sense of security and reduces negative feelings, such as loneliness and anxiety.” —Margaret Van Ackeren, LMFT
The act of sleeping with a teddy bear or a childhood blanket is generally considered to be perfectly acceptable (they can have negative connotations if they’re associated with childhood trauma or were an emotional stand-in for a parent). But behavioral health specialist Tracey Jones, MD, says assessing the overall healthiness of this act depends on whether it’s “helpful or damaging to one’s emotional integrity, daily function, and interpersonal relationships.”
For instance, do you avoid travel because you can’t bring your teddy bear with you for whatever reason—like, say, it embarrasses you to the point of causing distress. Or does it get in the way of intimacy with you and a significant other? Both situations are red flags.
Regarding the issue of sex and intimacy, the best way to gauge the situation is to have honest conversations with your partner, says clinical psychologist Inna Khazan, PhD. If your partner feels threatened by the presence of the the plush pal (maybe you’re cuddling with it instead of them), explain its importance, but also be open-minded to listening to and hearing their concerns.
How to break up with your bear (if that’s what you want)
If the relic is a source of continuous strain with your partner, or if you feel like it’s simply time to part ways, that’s certainly an option, but expect for it to take time and emotional energy. Read: Going cold turkey on teddy might not be the easiest way to separate. After all, this is something you’ve spent a major part of your life with.
Dr. Khazan recommends getting help from a mental-health professional to guide you through the process and to take baby steps, so to speak. “I suggest gradually weaning yourself off, until you no longer need the bear,” she says. Here’s how, in three steps:
- Step one: Move the bear from your loving embrace in bed to your nightstand.
- Step two: Move it farther away—maybe to the top of your dresser.
- Step three: Move it even farther away, somewhere both out of reach and sight, like under the bed, inside a shut closet, or in another room.
Dr. Khazan also says guided meditations and breathing practices can help keep you calm and soothed throughout the process.
And since you’re accustomed to using a sleeping tool that provides a source of comfort, therapist Julia Baum, LMHC, says you may want to consider making a new addition to your sleeping environment to fill the void, like an anxiety-reducing gravity blanket or a silk pillowcase.
And if your bear or blanket or whatever else you like to clutch isn’t posing a negative force on your life, Van Ackeren says there’s no reason to kick the habit if you don’t want to. If that’s the case for you, go ahead and give it another squeeze.
If you swap your stuffed animal for an S.O., keep in mind these top reasons it can be tough to share a bed. And if you and your partner end up in separate bedrooms, here’s how to make sure you don’t turn into roommates.
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