The concept of the imaginary friend is usually associated with relationships that begin in childhood. Broaching the subject in polite society will usually result in the majority of adults present sharing fond memories of friends generated in their imagination during their tender years. Such friends are remembered warmly but usually acknowledged to have been discarded at a young age. Imaginary friends are almost universally considered to be the province of childhood.
However, it is not uncommon for the imaginary being to follow their friend into adulthood. This is spoken of far less often, perhaps understandably so, as the notion of seeing things that do not make themselves known to the outside world or hearing voices unheard by others are often taken to be signs of madness. Admitting to an imaginary friend in adulthood is likely to open yourself to ridicule and derision - and this would put a lot of people off doing so! The terminology itself also contributes to a confusion of the issue and perhaps a reluctance to acknowledge the inner relationship. Imagination itself is sadly all too closely linked with childhood and an individual who wishes to signify their transition into adulthood has little choice but to deny anything they ever had to do with imagination
The term "imaginary" also implies conscious creation of the individual. This negates the experiences that involve the dream companion and the fantasies of the adult day dreamer. If the imaginary friend has morphed into such a role it is possible that they are no longer recognised. To an adult dreaming is socially acceptable, having an imaginary friend is not.
The term "friend" negates the conscious creation of the adult writer who creates elaborate and often very real creations as part of his/her creative writing. An author would consider his characters to be his creation, not his friends. But as with the dreams, this could be simply the route that the imaginary friend has channelled him/herself down so as not to lose contact with the disbelieving adult. In this instance the relationship is still there, it has just changed into a form that the individual adult considers to be acceptable. It is interesting to note that none of these examples would constitute an experience accepted by a psychologist as having an "imaginary friend."
This all rather begs the question - what exactly is an imaginary friend? The view from various psychologists studying the subject differs but the basic accepted premise is usually that an imaginary friend is a construction of the mind of a (often intelligent) child devised to help deal with social situations and to provide a source of comfort and support. To the psychologist the imaginary friend is a fantasy, a creation of the individual. There is little consideration and certainly little credibility to the idea that the imaginary friend may have an existence beyond the imagination of the child.
Well that's all well and good as far as psychoanalysis goes. But as a witch, if I limited my thinking to only what science believes it can prove, I wouldn't be doing very much magic at all. Psychologists work within carefully defined clinical parameters, the nature of which refuses to accept the notion of consciousness beyond the human mind. But if we widen our view a little and consider the option that the imaginary friend may be less "imaginary" than psychologists are prepared to admit, we open up a whole new field for defining the imaginary friend.
If we allow ourselves to consider that an imaginary friend is not necessarily a construct or creation of the individual mind then, simply put, we allow for the possibility that the relationship between the adult and the friend with no physical presence relates to a genuine relationship with an actual external physical entity and not, as scientists would have it, to a product of the mind of the individual.
I am not very interested in adults with an imaginary friend who accept him/her on the terms offered by psychologists. Emotionally healthy as these people undoubtedly are they are not the subject of this blog. Either the individuals are lying to themselves and secretly believe their imaginary friend to be not so imaginary (in which case they are perhaps not so emotionally healthy) or they see the world in terms of science and accept the simple explanations offered by pop psychology for anything that comes their way or (If I'm to be fair) they are genuinely well adjusted people who retain a genuinely "imaginary" friend and have no problem with doing so.
I don't get many letters from the above if I'm honest. Few scientific minded types go around writing to witches. What interests me (and what inspired this blog) was a letter from a reader who was prepared to think beyond psychological constraints and consider the question as to whether he/her imaginary friend might actually be real.
When I say real, I mean genuinely external to the individual. I'm referring to a friendship with a separate external entity. This is entirely different to the adult individual who has an imaginary friend who knows/believes them to be imaginary. I will however offer my own opinion that neither type of person is "mad", "crazy" or "dysfunctional" and in answer to the input I've had from readers on this subject matter - having an imaginary friend in adulthood is not indicative of psychological issues. Ask yourself the question - Is it doing anybody any harm? Is it doing you any harm? Is your friend making it hard for you to function in the world? The gifts of the spirit are (in this case quite literally) recognised by their fruits. If having an imaginary friend makes your life easier and happier then that really can only be a good thing. Keep them, chances are they are very good for you.
Obviously if your imaginary friend traumatises you or causes you problems then that is a different matter and in those cases, a chat with a doctor may well be beneficial. The thing to grasp here is that it isn't the hard fact of having an imaginary friend that is in itself harmful or beneficial, it is the nature of your relationship with it and what you get out of it that matters. That answer lies in your own hands.
So moving beyond the "imaginary" I'll share my own experiences with you. My own imaginary friend turned up when I was aged about five. I wasn't going through any personal disturbance and in fact I had a very pleasant and drama free childhood (so get over the theory that imaginary friends are generated by trauma please). I had enjoyed the run of the mill imaginary friends that ("DON'T sit on Hippetty Hoppety!!) retained an obligatory and very annoying physical presence but this new imaginary friend was something different and more private
than anything that had gone before.
My imaginary friend - female - didn't disappear when I left school. In fact she chose to stick around through childhood, further education, various relationships, various jobs, my witchcraft, my marriage and my novel writing. (Expressing a voluble opinion on pretty much everything and everyone.)
The older I became, the closer we got. But equally, the older I became the more interested I became in understanding the nature of the relationship we shared. As a child, pretty much everything seems "normal" but as I reached adulthood and began to read various works of philosophy and psychology it did rather dawn on me that what I was experiencing was very different to what most other people had experienced (or at the very least what they admitted to experiencing). As I considered the nature and personality of my imaginary friend I was forced to finally conclude that she wasn't the product of my over active mind, she was in fact an entirely separate being who had decided to throw in her lot with me.
Fanciful as that sounds, I can substantiate it in three different ways. (I'll acknowledge openly that I would be very unlikely to be able to prove anything conclusively to the scientist or the sceptic but then I am less interested in proving my relationship than I am in enjoying the fruits of it. I'm fairly confident my friend won't disappear in a puff of smoke just because other people choose not to believe in her!)
So the proof I do offer is this: 1. She has a distinctive and contradictory personality to myself. She has her own viewpoints and opinions and she most certainly does not fulfil the function of validating my own views. She also has a real consistency. She doesn't agree/disagree on a whim - there is a rationality based on her own personality in the way we interact.
2. She has a separate memory and will often remind me of things I am personally unable to recall (e.g. Where did I put my keys? - On the hall table you dipstick). She can tell me things that in the moment I do not know or have forgotten.
3. She is capable of offering advice and perspectives that I have not consciously thought of myself. She can explain/clarify/elucidate beyond my own understanding.
(Her ability to impart hard facts incidentally is less clear cut and likely too easily confused with subconscious recall to be indicative of anything much).
Oh and 4 - She's pretty much always spot on. I've learned the hard way that her instinct is more attuned than mine even to the extent where her precognition has got me out of some tricky situations. Mind, I don't always listen...
On my journey into witchcraft when my own experiences with the Otherworld became more common place and I became better acquainted with those of a similiar (open) mindset I started to hear terms bandied about that might explain my relationship better than "imaginary friend." Witches speak of spirit guides, spiritualists talk of guardian angels... I can't tell you if my friend is either but what I can tell you is that there is a whole world of people out there experiencing far more than the traditional five senses could even begin to imagine. It is limiting indeed to view the world from the perception of sane/not sane.
My point from all this is not necessarily that I wish to convince you of my own experience. My point is rather to reassure those of you who write to me with similar experiences that no, you are not going mad and yes, there is a good more deal going on in both our world and in our heads than science would have you believe. And at the very least, if nothing else, I can reassure you that if you are mad, you're not out there on your own...The Degu Witch and her friend are right by your side...
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