This is the third in my additional challenge set within the ‘Little and Not So Little Things From Childhood‘ game I came up with as a result of reading one of the posts by Pim over at Pride In Madness.
And today I am re-looking and also expanding on my answer to question 2 of that game. Which was, “Did you have a imaginary friend or friends when you were a child?”
Something which some children do have and some children don’t have.
Actually, Psychology Today states, in their article on Imaginary friends, that…
According to Marjorie Taylor and her colleagues at the University of Oregon, by age seven, about 37% of children take imaginative play a step farther and create an invisible friend.
And my initial answer to that question (which obviously places me in the 63% majority) was very true and very accurate. And was that…
I really don’t think that I did. At least I can’t remember actually having any. I had two brothers and a sister and maybe felt that was enough.
But it is perhaps interesting to consider why I didn’t.
In the same article Psychology Today also states that…
It seems logical that children who invent invisible friends might be lonely or have social problems, but research doesn’t support those assumptions.
But it then also goes on to say that…
Oldest children, only children, and children who don’t watch much television are more likely to create an imaginary friend. This probably reflects opportunity. Children need unstructured time alone to be able to invent imaginary friends.
And certainly I was neither an oldest child, an only child or one who was limited in the amount of television that I watched. But there were also, I think, other factors in play here. Those factors being the thoughts and voices in my head and my relationship with my siblings.
The thoughts and voices in my head seemed to me to separate me and even in some ways isolate me from my siblings.
Although I do readily accept that this separation and isolation took more of the form of a perceived separation than anything else.
The fact is that in my own mind and in my own perception I was ‘different’, ‘not normal’, ‘weird’.
Basically I think that I really did feel as if I didn’t belong. And actually this is something that has remained with me all of my life.
Ad when I look at images, like the one to the left and notice how happy the boy with the imaginary friend seems to be, and hear stories and accounts of other children with imaginary friends, I do wonder why I didn’t have an imaginary friend.
I also wonder why the boy in the photo seems to have blue skin? Is he changing into a smurf? (But hey, that is just the way my mind works)
You see whilst some may think that loneliness might cause a child to invent an imaginary friend, I do understand the point made about above about “oldest children, only child, and children with limited television viewing being more likely to create an imaginary friend as a result of having more opportunity.” I also understand their point about, “children needing unstructured time alone to be able to invent imaginary friends.”
And whilst I would accept that having two brothers and a sister did mean that I had less time alone than say an only child, in truth I believe that I did have lots of “unstructured time alone” and certainly enough to invent an imaginary friend. Had I had the mind to. And likewise I certainly had the imagination and creativity necessary for this.
But here’s the deal. If you are a small child who is convinced that you are; ‘different’, ‘not normal’, and/or ‘weird’, and that you don’t belong. Why would you want to create an imaginary friend who is more than likely to have the same attitude towards you that others seem – at least in your mind – to have towards you. And why would you want to create an imaginary friend who would “not belong” along with you?
Additionally, having the voices and thoughts inside my head as a child meant that I often had enough difficulty determining actual shared reality with my own perceived reality.
So having additional imaginary friends would, I think, have seemed just a step too far.
And there is, at least I think, an interesting study here somewhere. Children having imaginary friends, according to the aforementioned article in Psychology Today, is “not evidence that a child is troubled.” And that in fact…
Surprisingly, invisible friends don’t necessarily disappear when childhood ends. One study that examined the diaries of adolescents plus questionnaire data concluded that socially competent and creative adolescents were most likely to create an imaginary friend and that this type of friend was not a substitute for relationships with real people.
So my questions would have to be, “Why then do these imaginary friends end in adulthood?” and, “why – since all the evidence suggests that actually, having imaginary friends in not harmful or a negative thing in and of itself – do we treat the idea with suspicion and caution when it comes to adults?”
As I mentioned before, I personally don’t have imaginary friends. I have had experiences in life where I have known someone and ‘imagined’ them to be my friend only to be proven wrong LOL. But hey, haven’t we all?
And as a writer, I have also known characters within my books and/or stories who seemed to have taken on; a life, a personality, a presence, of their own.
But then that is a different thing entirely.
I have also known people who – as some form of comfort or inspiration – out of their loss, continue to talk to their mother or father, gran or grandad, brother or sister, who has died. And I even know folk who do this with absolute conviction that this person really is there and really is looking over them and talking to them.
And I have to be honest here, I also know other Christians who have such a passion and such an intimate relationship with Christ or God that they communicate and envision Him in the same way.
(How’s that for opening up a whole hornets nest of comments from non-believers about God actually being an imaginary friend?)
But the thing is that I am just not that way inclined. And even though I am a Christian and absolutely do believe in the historical and biblical evidence of Christ and in the presence and sovereignty of God, and even though I have personally witnessed and do believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer. I have never had an approach or experience similar to the ones I have spoken about above.
And furthermore I am not prepared to judge those who do.
In truth I believe that we still have a very limited understanding of faith and still have a very limited understanding of the abilities and complexities of the mind. And I am still very much convinced that some of what is considered to be a sign of ‘mental illness’ is not a sign of mental illness at all, but rather a reflection and indication of our lack of understanding.