Did you have an imaginary friend when you were younger? Aren’t they amazing? Imaginary friends are characters that do not exist in objective reality, yet they importantly and undeniably do in children’s imaginary world.
And they wield a lot of power.
Children attribute them an absolute freedom of will that, of course, matches their wishes – a child will rarely disagree with their imaginary friend. And so they have amazingly similar tastes and needs as the children who imagined them. They get hungry at the same time, they get scared of the same things and they enjoy playing the same games. Have a think back, did you have an imaginary friend as a kid? If so, you might remember situations where you’d avoid eating leek and potato soup or brussels sprouts because your friend didn’t like them. Oh, those were the days.
Where do imaginary friends come from?
The most obvious answer is that imaginary friends become depositories of the child’s wishes, but there is a deeper layer. The child’s imaginary world is as important as the objective one. In fact, when we are born we live mostly in our imaginary world, and the objective reality slowly takes over the land of dreams where we lived as babies. As our sensorial, cognitive, intellectual and linguistic capacities develop, we slowly (or rather, amazingly quickly!) begin to interact with external reality. However, the imaginary world in which we dwelled during our first years of life will stay with us forever. Imaginary friends are a remnant of this world, and so are our fantasies, dreams, wishes, patterns of behaviour and every other base of anything sophisticated our mind may do.
When external reality does set in, it often brings the sudden realisation that we cannot in fact control everything, especially others. Babies very quickly realise that they need to cry to call mummy and let her know that they are hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy or scared. But no matter how quickly their mum responds, she is out of their control.
Imaginary friends are our way to negotiate with reality as children: if we cannot control it, we will make it so that we can, at least for a little while, at least in our imagination.
Imaginary friends & adults
Some children accept they cannot control reality very quickly; some do not accept it that easily and find temporary solutions in the form of imaginary friends. But what do these mean for our later life?
The good thing about having an imaginary friend is that the experience of controlling reality, for example making your imaginary friend fly, may encourage you to make fantasies come true as an adult as well. An adult that is able to make fantasies become real is what we consider a creative genius. And we can never have enough of those.
We’ve also seen an interesting correlation in VisualDNA quizzes – people who had imaginary friends as a child are 10% more likely to be happier in later life. Imaginary friends are a major sign of openness, and open people tend not only to be creative, but also intellectually curious and comfortable with change. Which all adds up to being more likely to see the sunnier side of things.
Life, as it happens, has its ways to show us that we are not in control of it. People that had imaginary friends may have never given up the desire to master the world, so careful about being told no and other little life disappointments.
Let us know in the comments: Did you have an imaginary friend when you were younger?