Since I started consciously using my daydreaming to enhance my real life, two of my characters have evolved beyond the plot and become a key part of how I succeed in life. So for the purposes of this post, I’m going to draw a distinction between characters and imaginary friends. My characters (I probably have hundreds of them) are the people I invent as and when my daydream plot requires them. Some of them don’t stick around for long; others take up residence in my head and help shape how the plot develops. But my characters don’t exist outside the daydream world. I don’t even think about them when I’m not daydreaming. They don’t interact with real-world me, only with my daydream alter ego. In short, they exist to make the plot work, and that’s all.
My imaginary friends, on the other hand, exist in my head independent of, and outside, the daydream world. Although, like my characters, they exist only in my imagination, they feel more real to me than my characters. I talk to them about what’s going on in my real life, and they know and interact with the real-world me. And while they don’t, obviously, replace my need for real-world friends, they do support me in some very specific ways that mean I wouldn’t want to be without them.
The emotions are real
Although my imaginary friends aren’t real, the warmth, love and respect I feel for them are real. And the emotions I feel from them are real too. The feelings I have when my imaginary friends are caring towards me are exactly the same feelings I have when my real-life friends and family are caring towards me. When my imaginary friends are loving towards me, I feel loved. When my imaginary friends express faith in my abilities, I feel confident. But real-life friends aren’t always available the minute you need them. My imaginary friends, on the other hand, are only ever a thought away, ready to top up my positive emotions whatever the time of day or night.
Most of us are very hard on ourselves at times, particularly if we have perfectionist tendencies. Our harsh inner critic can talk to us in ways we would never talk to anyone in real life. But my imaginary friends have been carefully crafted to love me unconditionally, and they’re always happy to shout down that inner critic when I need them to. When I’m doubting myself, or feeling that I’m not good enough, I can rely on my imaginary friends to remind me of my best qualities and restore my sense of perspective. And even though I created them and they exist only in my head, when they tell me that I’m good enough or that I deserve to be happy, I believe it in a way that I sometimes struggle to do if I just tell myself the same thing.
Something I started doing when I was in hospital, and which I’ve continued since, is setting aside half-an-hour or so every day to specifically connect with my imaginary friends. This isn’t daydreaming time; I stay grounded in reality. I use that time to chat to my imaginary friends about how my life is going, what’s working, and what I’m still struggling with. And I listen to them. I can be completely open, honest and vulnerable in a way that I can only do with a very few people in real life. My imaginary friends help me to take a broad view of a situation and get things in perspective. They help me to figure out what I want out of life and review progress towards my goals. My imaginary friends hold me accountable in a way that real-life friends can’t. They give me a gentle nudge when I’ve gone off-track, and help me celebrate all those little wins that haven’t yet translated into outwardly visible changes.
In summary, my imaginary friends fill a gap that I never even realised existed. They boost my confidence, help me solve my problems, and radiate enough love and caring to keep me going when the real world isn’t providing any. They’ll never replace my real-world friends, but by having them in my life I’m able to be a better real-world friend, wife and mother.