Effects of bedwetting

Medical surveys of children and parents report that bedwettters have a sense of “social difference and isolation“. Wetting the bed causes “distress and low self-esteem“. Bedwetters  have significantly lower self-perception of their scholastic skills, physical appearance and athletic competence, which worsens if bedwetting continues into adolescence and teens. Children in one survey rated parental fighting and divorce as the only things more stressful than bedwetting.

Interestingly, self-esteem improves if bedwetting is managed, even if it isn’t cured.

Parental anger or frustration is strongly correlated with negative emotional and psychological effects.

In my experience, that’s correct: A parent who is tolerant and reassuring and helps manage the physical consequences will also minimize (or even eliminate) shame, isolation, fear and loss of confidence and competence.

I didn’t feel shame or fear or isolation as a teenage bedwetter. It didn’t make me shy or withdrawn or wary. I didn’t feel physically, emotionally, intellectually or socially diminished.

For me, the bad effects were physical: The sodden wretchedness of a wet bed; the bulky discomfort of a diaper; greasy, smelly rash creams; the time and effort of putting on, taking off and laundering diapers.

My first teenage wet bed was a shock. The next few were disheartening, as I realized that it wasn’t a fluke. I didn’t just wet the bed; I was a bedwetter. I was even more unhappy when disposables proved inadequate and I started wearing a cloth diaper.

But within a few weeks, all that had passed. Neither wetting the bed nor wearing a diaper bothered me. After a month, it barely registered on my consciousness. A diaper dealt with wetting, and the washing machine dealt with a diaper. Changing was just another bedtime and morning routine. I could easily hide it on a sleepover or trip.

Perhaps the reason that I wasn’t afraid or ashamed was that my basic personality was already formed. I was already confident and happy.

On the other hand, my siblings were all chronic bedwetters before (and into) their teens, so their personalities were formed under the influence of bedwetting. Although we range from artistic to nerdy to pragmatic, none of us is shy or lacking self-esteem. If my siblings had any shame or fear about wetting the bed, they didn’t show it.

The difference, it seems to me, is family. My parents didn’t treat it as a shameful problem. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t even a small deal. It was what it was, and it was easy to deal with. It was a private matter, and easy to keep private.

My older sisters were as big an influence as my parents. I idolized them. They were smart, outgoing, athletic and confident. They were daredevils. They both wet the bed regularly until they were 16 or 17.

Wetting the bed didn’t seem to affect their personality or outlook. It certainly didn’t hamper their social lives or dampen their enthusiasm for sleepovers or trips. They certainly didn’t seem to fear discovery.


5 thoughts on “Effects of bedwetting

  1. Wow, it’s great that your bedwetting hasn’t hindered your confidence and self-esteem. I know that it can take years for some people to accept their bedwetting. I’m glad that your family was very supportive. I believe that the way loved ones handle a child’s bedwetting can make or break their personality and self-perception.

  2. I agree that how a family deals with bedwetting has just about everything to do with a childs bedwetting and how they view things. It is not easy to get to this point and it requires that both parents be part of the process. Being supportive is a major part of the process.

  3. Pingback: 7 Tips to Help Your Child Overcome Bedwetting | Enlightened Lotus Wellness

  4. Dear Cat,

    Thank you so much for this blog. I wet my bed till I was seventeenish. I’ve never talked to anyone about it.

    It was really really hard for me growing up. When I was little my mom would change my sheets everyday but as I got older she would make extremely hurtful comments about the smell or that I was practically a grownup and still wetting my bed. I’m 26 now and that still makes me mad. It was extremely unfair.

    When I got a little older, I would get a towel in the middle of the night and lay it over my soaked matress and pray to God that no one found out. I think my mom never made me shower on a daily basis so I became the smelly kid at school.

    This would have been horrible for my self esteem, however, I was pretty good at my school work and I was often top of the class. There was really no danger of other kids finding out that I wet my bed.

    I pretended that the whole smelly kid thing never happened. I just blocked it out somehow and secretly hated school.

    My good grades allowed me to get into the most prestigious high school in the country. A boarding school. I got in at thirteen. My periods had not showed up yet. It was probably the most difficult time of my life so far. I was young and alone and surrounded by the meanest, most competitive girls in the entire country.

    Then there were the girls who were known “bedwetters”. They had to take their matresses out every morning. They were social outcasts. Loners. They did not even hang out together. One was in the room next to mine and she never said a word to anyone. Ever.

    I was not a known bedwetter. I am sure that some girls knew that I wet my bed but said nothing. I do not see how they did not know. I tried my best to hide it and I went to extremes to keep my secret but I do not see how no one knew. Someone must have known. I wet my bed maybe thrice a week. When it happened, I would lay a towel underneath my matress and one on top of it over the sheet. That would make sure that the pee did not drip to the floor. I would never air my sheets I would just make my bed before anyone else woke up. Our rooms had huge windows so it never got smelly. Only at night when I slipped into my cold cold bed after the lights were out. It would smell a little but no one ever said anything.

    If I wet the bed on top of the towels, I would sleep under the bed cover on top of the blankets. That way I was not lying directly on top of the wetness, but the bed cover was thin and I would really shiver at night. I developed bronchitis from sleeping in a wet bed in very very cold weather. I never slept well. I would stay up unable to sleep because of the cold bedding and the smell and the fear and frustration of my predicament. Then I would pass out from exhaustion and obviously wet my bed. I was depressed and I felt incredibly powerless. I would spend my time in class extremely terrified that the housekeeper/school matron would find out that my bed was wet and make me join the league of the bedwetters. I was always extremely scared that she would find this out and I was always frustrated because I never knew why this was happening to me.

    I never paid attention in class and I was almost always close to the bottom of the class. I was always tired from not sleeping well and constantly thinking about my situation.

    I would beg God that he would do a miracle and that I would find my bed dry that night when I went to bed. I really really dreaded getting into my cold, cold, wet, smelly bed. I would ask God to dry my bed. I would tell him that I already knew that he could do anything so if he did this one miracle for me, what difference would it make. I would not tell anybody if he was not in the business of doing miracles anymore. What would it matter if he did one miracle for me, after all, I already believed in him and that he could. He never secretly dried my bed. :)

    Oh yeah, I had asked God to take away my bed wetting problem. A lot. I had tried everything. Even when I did not drink anything I still wet my bed. I tried cutting out sugar, then salt, then milk. I tried staying up at night so that I would know when I needed to go pee. Obviously nothing worked. :)

    God did help me though. He gave me confidence. I decided that I would never hang my head in shame for this. I dared anyone who wanted me to be ashamed of myself for this to try and make me. I guess this really helped my confidence.

    What took a beating was my worthiness of love. No one would want to hug a bedwetter. No one would want to share my clothes. No one would want to sit on my bed. I pushed everyone as far away as I possibly could because I knew that the minute they discovered that I was a bedwetter, they would be disgusted by me.

    That is how bedwetting affected me. To this day, I subconsciously feel unworthy of love. And I do not know how to deal with it. :( By unworthy of love, I mean that I am not surprised if someone does not love me. This includes my boyfriend or my parents or my friends. It is sort of like I expect them to disown me at any moment. I know it is crazy. I’m wonderful! :) :) I need this to change. I need to be surprised when someone does not love me. See, I know people love the Sarah they see, but I feel that if they truly knew me they would reject me. This is because for all that time, everybody loved the me that they saw. Maybe I overcompensated with the niceness but I was and I still am considerably popular. But that’s because I knew how to pretend that everything is okay. Even when I had a horrible secret crisis, I knew to keep a smile on my face.

    I do not wet my bed anymore and nobody knew what happened to me in boarding school. My mother never asked me if I ever wet my bed at school. I don’t think I would have wanted her to ask anyway. It was my secret problem to deal with.

    The bedwetting went away gradually. I would have fewer and fewer incidences but every night I would still pray fervently to God that I would not wet my bed. I can’t really tell when it stopped because I would often go for weeks without an incident and imagine that it was finally over only for it to come back. I remember a few incidences when I was seventeen but by the time I started college I slept on the top bunk.

    I don’t know who to forgive. Myself? Of course not. I was the innocent victim in this entire scenario. God? He was there with me through this whole ordeal. He was the one person who did not and would not have left me. My parents? Of course not. What could they have done about my life in that prestigious boarding school? Society? For stigmatizing it? Society stigmatizes everything. The world for being unfair? Society and the world do not need my forgiveness. Who am I angry at? Who do I forgive? So who do I forgive. I don’t know how to let go of this part of my life because I sort of love that little cage/fortress that I built for myself.

    Some practical advice for someone who is in a situation similar to mine is to try take a few naps during the day. This helped me although I was always too scared and too much in my head to fall asleep easily. I would lie on my bed at lunch time, stretch out completely and then relax every muscle in my body. This helped me to sleep a little lighter at night.

    I just needed to share this because I have never talked about it.

    Thanks, Cat

  5. I would disagree. I wet the bed until I was twelve then started again after I was raped at age 15 and the subsequent medicines worsened my genetic predisposition. I have autism which in itself predisposes someone to bedwetting. Yeah I did suffer from low self esteem and was bullied in school. But none of this was related to bedwetting. Rather, it was due to my social awkwardness and inability to fit in. My nervous system is very hyposensitive which is why I love to be squeezed and love to spin around because it cancels out input such as sound which I am unable to cancel out so ambient sounds like the air conditioners which normal people ignore I hear it equally to other sounds. Pain doesnt register immediately with me either. I worked in my lab with appendicitis for a week and it just felt like a minor stomach ache. What im getting at is that perhaps this is why I wet the bed, I dont feel my bladder. Anyways, I dont think bedwetting is the primary cause of low self esteem, but predisposers such as autism and ADHD. Kids with ADHD are more likely to wet the bed than normal kids. Its also worth noting that ADHD is on the autism spectrum

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