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imaginary_friends

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 64 of Optimal Living Advice. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Coming at you today with a question we’ve definitely never talked about. We’ve got all new ground here – we’re gonna be talking about having an imaginary friend as an adult. Surely we all use different tactics to build connection and comfort for ourselves, and though having an imaginary friend isn’t something we hear about a lot for adults, maybe it can be useful? We’ll find out today. Here’s the question…

QUESTION: “Is it OK for adults to have an Imaginary Friend? A lot of people talk about kids having Imaginary friends whom they talk to and “play with” share their secrets, etc. Some adults have them too (but they are the ones called a little coo-coo or hallucinating)? Why is it so much of an odd or frowned upon thing. An imaginary friend can really know all your secrets, talk to you, never judge you, and best of all tell no one anything. Yes journaling is ONE way of doing it, but its not the same. So my question is simple really: Would it be so bad to have an Imaginary person to talk to and share my feelings from time to time?”

Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 64 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

Is it normal for adults to have imaginary friends?

All right, I love this unique question. It’s a question that I would guess a lot of people want to ask but don’t necessarily have the stones to do it, so good on you for speaking up.

First, let’s talk about why it’s frowned upon or seen as an odd thing – that was the first concern you had and it seems like a good place to start.


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Simply put, it’s seen as odd because it’s abnormal. And what do many people do to connect with one another and be a part of a group? They identify that which is opposite from them, that which is uncommon, and they strengthen their bond by agreeing that they do not like that thing. They create a boundary which gives them more common ground, and thus what they feel is a greater connection.

This is not the case with everyone of course, and each person has different boundaries, but that’s basically what we’re looking at here.

Kids, Imaginary Friends, and Public Behavior

As you said, kids are often known for having imaginary friends, and most everyone grows out of it. Research even shows that there can be striking gender differences when it comes to the imaginary friends of boys or girls.

And that “most everyone” grows up to recognize someone who has not moved on from that stage as an outsider, as though something is wrong with them. And oftentimes, they feel they have a case because a lot of the people that publicly display behavior that would indicate having an imaginary friend are drug addicts and schizophrenics. Though in this case, drug abusers are more likely to be seen as being somehow immoral unlike schizophrenics, schizophrenia is a condition that is difficult for many to understand, so they’re both shunned to the outside.

Again, not everyone does this, but most do. It’s their way of strengthening their own friendships, which is what you’re trying to do. Everyone has the same goal on that front – good relationships.

However, let’s also not pretend that you are the first person to have these thoughts about the benefits of an imaginary friend who presumably does not have schizophrenia or another underlying condition that could be in the same realm of having imaginary friends – like I said, I’m sure a lot of people want to ask this question of someone but instead keep this part of themselves hidden away from what they assume is impending public ridicule.

With that in mind, there is likely a large number of perfectly functioning adults who rely on imaginary friends from time to time, and therefore that very practice is less abnormal that anyone probably thinks it is.

Benefits of Having Imaginary Friends

Is it bad to have an imaginary friend if you’re an adult? Not really, I don’t think so. The idea of an imaginary friend is very unthreatening isn’t it? I’d say it really all depends on the how the imaginary friend is utilized, so listen up.

Based on how you finished your question, it sounds to me like your primary goal is having a new outlet to share your feelings with. This is a great thing. I’m always championing people finding ways to express their feelings and to be honest with themselves, and that’s done in different ways. You mentioned journaling. Praying is one. Support groups are another one. Poetry, songwriting, there’s tons. Why shouldn’t talking to an imaginary friend be added to this list of widely practiced means of expressing feelings?

Listen to Erin's thoughts on technology and how it makes us feel Episode 436 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

What I will remind you of, however, is what I said before about everyone is striving for the same sense of connectedness, is that that sense of connectedness is most complete when it’s with other people.

So if you choose to take up an imaginary friend, I would recommend doing so with the intention that, over time, they help you express the same feelings to other people that you do to them. So get things off your chest and say what you want to say. Then maybe ask your imaginary friend questions like, “Who else do you think I could trust with this information?”, “Do you think there are some other people out there feeling this way?”, and “Do you think I’d feel better or worse if I finally got this off my chest and tried to own it?”

Take a cue from preschoolers who were found to have positive theory of mind performance in the presence of imaginary friends.

Friends Worth Having

If your imaginary friend is a friend worth having, you’ll probably find them encouraging you to love and accept yourself for who you are and the complicated feelings that make you you and are a part of your story. But it sounds like that’s a journey for you two to go down together, so I don’t want to get in the middle of it. Just make sure that your friend is a good friend and wants what’s best for you; a friend who encourages you to be proud of yourself and show yourself to the world rather than isolate yourself from it.

Conclusion

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t further legitimize the idea of an imaginary friend by telling you that there are several practices in the worlds of coaching and therapy that are built upon the idea of talking to different parts of yourself. The one that’s probably most popular and the one I’m most familiar with and experienced in is called voice dialogue.

It’s a little tough and longwinded to explain here, and it’d be challenging to do on your own, but if you really want to add structure to the idea of extracting a better life from an imaginary friend, I’d do some research on voice dialogue and consider whether it’s something that could be a good fit for you.

——

Big thanks to the person who asked this question and helping both us and the other listeners pioneer some new ground. As usual, we really hope this episode cleared things up for you and gave you not only a new perspective, but a new found confidence in your feelings.

We’re gonna wrap things up. You know the drill, everybody. You can email us your own questions that you’d like answered on the show. Send them to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com

Thanks for stopping in everyone, can’t wait to talk to you again next time. Take care.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 64 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

And grab our journaling sample worksheet inspired by Optimal Living Daily episodes! You'll get to download it in our private library  🙂

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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