I have been struggling in school for years. I was tested when I was a kid, and found out that I have a few learning disabilities. I am currently in 9th grade, but because I’m really bad at math, I’m doing 6th-grade math. I feel so dumb because of that! I have four younger brothers, and as the oldest in the family, I feel I need to show people that I am capable of helping my younger siblings. One of my younger siblings is 10 years old, and since he’s recently started to wet the bed, my parents bought him pull-ups. These past few weeks of high school have been really stressful for me, and when I went to bed the past couple of days, I have been stealing a few of my younger brother’s pull-ups and putting them on under my pajamas. I don't know why I started to do that, but it was comforting to me. Lately, I have been fantasizing that I was my younger brother. Also, when I went to the store recently, I had the urge to buy a pacifier from the baby section. I’m embarrassed to tell my parents about this. Why do you think this is happening to me, and what can I do about it?
Lauren Roth's Answer
You are seeking the same thing everyone seeks: love and comfort. You, my friend, are a normal human being.
You’re faced with a difficult challenge – your learning difficulties – and you want what we all want when faced with difficult challenges – to be completely taken care of and coddled and comforted. I have a sign in my office that says: “All you need is love.” I have it in my office because that is, truly, what all of us really need. That is what we all are seeking. And it’s a totally normal and a universally human need: to be loved and to be comforted. And, when we are going through a difficult time, we all want to be totally taken care of, like a baby is.
Your wanting that is normal normal normal.
My father always says he would love to be a baby again. Held and kissed and fed and changed and everyone smiling at you and loving you completely – who wouldn’t want that? I want that! Your wanting that is normal normal normal.
The fact that you are the oldest and have four younger brothers and the fact that “I feel I need to show people that I am capable of helping my younger siblings” is adding to your stress and making your situation an even more difficult one, which will lead you to crave even more comforting, coddling, and babying than you would otherwise.
Wearing pull-ups and considering buying a pacifier to indicate your primal desire to be coddled and cuddled and babied is so much healthier than drinking or drugging, which is another way people try to comfort themselves or try to put themselves into a “please take care of me” mode. I do think that once you realize and accept the underlying drive – that what you really need is love and comfort and coddling – you will be able to find ways to get it which might not include the pacifier and the pull-ups.
You can also try imagery to help soothe yourself. Here’s how it works: Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Imagine being totally taken care of. Maybe even start by imagining yourself as a baby, being carried and stroked and hugged and kissed. Now imagine yourself as the age you are now, still being hugged and kissed and loved – by your parents, by your friends, by your teachers, by God. Imagine feeling a sense of serenity and peace knowing that you are loved. Take another deep breath. Really feel that love and comforting. Feel the security of it. Now imagine yourself feeling that feeling of being taken care of and that feeling of security, and imagine yourself as your mature, 9th-grade self, doing 9th-grade things, doing teenaged things, but always feeling that ever-present sense of love and security. Imagine yourself in your math class, feeling secure and taken care of. Imagine yourself getting nervous because you don’t know how to do the math, but in your mind, create that sense of serenity and love so that you feel taken care of. Really imagine all these things well, and for as long as it takes to almost believe that your imagination is reality. Open your eyes when you are ready.
I think you should do that guided imagery exercise at least twice a day, to calm you and to make you feel held. It will help you to feel “babied” within your present-day, 14-year-old situation.
Another way to soothe yourself is to tell yourself, “I’m doing the best I can with the tools I’ve got.” Actually say it, out loud. You can say it while looking into a mirror, too, if you’d like. Say it until you believe it. List all your accomplishments after you say it, too. Like: “I was kind to my friend today.” “I completed my homework today, even though it took me a long time.” “I went to school today, even though school is hard for me.” “I was nice to my brother today.”
Also, what are you really good at? Knowing lyrics to songs? Remembering funny lines from movies? Running? Smiling? Cooking? Drawing? Reading? Find something you’re really good at and remind yourself how capable you are.
God is always watching over us and taking care of us.
And remember: a person’s worth is not dependent on how quickly he can take a math test, nor on what grades he gets on a report card. A person’s worth is calculated by how many good and right things he does here on this Earth.
So you’re seeking comfort. If you look around you, you’ll see God is giving you coddling and comforting and love all the time. He’s giving you oxygen to breathe, feet with which to walk, eyes with which to see, a family to take care of you – He even gave you testing to help you know what your difficulties in school are.
God doesn’t just give birth to us and then leave us on the doorstep of the world. He’s always watching over us and taking care of us. Remember that, too, in your quest to find comfort. God is the biggest pacifier of all.