From a young age I have had a large number of cuddly toys which I have collected and become very attached to over the years.
My mother has been trying to convince me to give the remainder of them away for months, if not years. Her rationale is that I am a 21 year old woman, not a 21 month old, and that it is ‘childish’ and ‘odd’ to have as many cuddly toys as I do, especially on display in my bedroom, and to feel so attached to them. My sister (age 19 and owner of all of one cuddly toy) is very much in agreement with her and often shames me on the topic.
I agree with them on one hand because comparing my bedroom to those of my friends, one would think I were about ten years younger. Additionally, it is common for me to take any reason I can to back up the core beliefs I have about myself; that I am a ‘freak’, ‘weird’ and ‘incapable of functioning normally’ (through the process of teleological thinking). Despite this however, I cannot seem to use their logic to budge my attachment and avoidance of approaching the issue.
Whilst part of me recognises that it may indeed be necessary to adapt my bedrooms to a more ‘age-appropriate’ environment, a stronger part of me is too attached to my toys to be able to even consider giving them away. A few years ago I gave away 6 black bags full to a children’s charity, and that was a huge step in letting go of my childhood. It honestly felt excruciating for me; the whole process took so much out of me and I just don’t want to go through that again right now. Especially when the lack of other people’s understanding made it so much harder to deal with.
Because I struggle with aspects of OCD, including hoarding, it made the situation even more challenging. This is something I continue to struggle with today.
I know that it sounds ridiculous (*ding* – judgement!) and I am almost ashamed to be blogging about this
little big secret of mine. However I know that there are legitimate reasons for the way I feel and that the situation is not as clear-cut as it seems. I also know that I would never shame someone else approaching me with this struggle but instead attend to them from a place of compassion and curiosity.
My toys represent so much to me and letting go of them would represent even more. My Dad was away a lot when I was a kid, and every time he came back he would bring me a cuddly toy. When I was hurting as I child I would cuddle my toys and whisper to them.
“It’s okay. We’re okay”.
I would soothe and cheerlead them in an attempt to soothe myself.
I named each and every one of them and created rotas for who I would cuddle with that night to ensure a sense of ‘fairness’ regarding the amount of attention each of them received. I adopted them as my babies and endeavoured to make them feel cared about in the way I so desperately longed for. I would talk to them both out loud and in my head, convinced that they could read my thoughts and that they were as ‘there for me’ as I was for them.
In ‘looking after’ them it was as though I was actually attending to various parts of myself, ultimately ‘looking after’ myself – in the only way I knew how.
I was convinced that they could feel emotions and determined not to evoke feelings of abandonment or jealousy within them. I was gentle and loving with them as you would expect a mother to be with her child. I never wanted them to experience any of the hurt I felt, during times of distress or when I felt all alone in the world.
When I felt lonely I cuddled my toys in the same way I cuddle my dogs now – as though my life depended on it. I would literally curl up on my bed and self-soothe by holding onto my teddies and hiding from the rest of the world. My priority was to feel held, with the desire for safety and containment at the forefront of my psyche.
It reminds of the monkeys in Harry Harlow’s ‘Surrogate Mother’ experiment with rhesus monkeys which I urge you to take a look at.
I am now 21 and it is not seen as ‘acceptable’ to behave in this way. I have changed my behaviour in that I now have a few cuddly toys on my bed
who that I sleep with, and the rest are kept in close proximity but not right with me at all times like they used to be. I do not have a rota and I no longer speak to them – unless I am talking to myself and they happen to be ‘listening’ 😉.
I also know that they don’t have a consciousness even though my inner child part cannot fully let go of that.
However, despite these changes, having my cuddly toys around me still evokes a sense of safety within me which I crave and I cannot bear to get rid of the few I have left for good. Old habits die hard and I still struggle to sleep without cuddling up to one or more of my childhood friends.
As is pretty clear from my writing, I have an immense fear of growing up and there is a lot more to this issue than what may appear on the surface.
Perhaps when I am able to practice taking care of myself more wholly (specifically on an emotional level), I will be able to detach from this desperate need to have my cuddly toys available to me for comfort. For now I have transferred most of them from my Mum’s house to my Dad’s house (see the photo below), essentially shifting – but not quite solving – the issue! However, this is something I am comfortable with for the moment whilst being open to changing when the time feels right at some point in the foreseeable future.