Many times children who are skilled at imaginative play will have an imaginary friend who comforts them and allows them to play out their fantasies in ways that allow them to be more expressive. This can then facilitate the rich and engaging environments that are born of their thought process and are as a rule dissociated from their otherwise normal environment. As they grow into adults this dissociation grows stronger and can become detrimental to development if allowed to continue without some form of regulation. By creating their own fantasy, kids who play with imaginary friends will often learn how to adapt their imaginary world to the real world.
Imaginative play is seen by some to be the delusion of a damaged mind in adults. Those who cling to the idea of fantasy and what is not real can and are often labeled as psychologically unsound. Those who continue to delve into their fantasy worlds after childhood are often ostracized and considered “odd” or “weird” when they either fail or choose not to identify with the world around them. In truth they are very cognizant of the real world, but choose to dwell within their own fantasy more often as a means of escape from stress or simply because it is preferable to the world they know.
The imagination of children is a very strong and natural instinct that allows children to
fashion their own creative and pleasing world. It can, as mentioned above, help them escape a
situation they cannot control or it can open up a vista that might seem far more favorable simply because it follows their rules rather than the rules that are imposed upon them. By extension, adults can develop a love of fantasy because it brings to mind that which was so relaxing in their childhood. Imaginary friends, which are essentially another part of the child who believes in them, do not make demands. In creating an imaginary friend, children are engaging in a self-soothing act of companionship that is liberating and exciting.
Aside from providing companionship, the practice of creating an imaginary friend can
help many children who are dealing with stressful or difficult times to cope and even sort
through their various issues and problems. This can be stated for adults as well. As stated by Taylor (1999) children often create imaginary friends to grant them a sense of normalcy in a world that is too often changing at a pace that is hard to keep up with. In this case, imaginary friends can be a positive development in the life of a child that can be continued into adulthood with only a few minor adjustments.
In adulthood the relevance of creating an imaginary friend becomes evident as those
adults who do not give up the habit tend to lean towards the more artistic side of their
personality. A perfect example of this is the common fiction writer who will begin to talk of
their characters, which are completely fictional, as if they have an actual life of their own with
thoughts and independence on the same level as a real human being. This is just another form of an imaginary companion. It also grants a strong correlation between the imagination displayed by a child growing stronger and more well-defined as they reach adulthood.
The illusion of independent agency as explained by Taylor, Hodges, and Kohanyi (2010)
displays how those adult writers who create a dialogue with their own fictional characters are
often seen to have had their own imaginary friend as a child. It is very typical for children and
writers who develop invisible and/or imaginary companions to create a paracosm that allows their creations to take on a life of their own. For a writer, the experience of becoming immersed in what they do is best explained by the flow theory, which was developed by Csikszentmihalyi. This process allows for the imagination to create without boundaries and give life to fiction in a way that is both essentially harmless and supportive.
In children, many would call an imaginary friend a pleasant delusion that children create in order to keep themselves entertained and/or amused. Adults often tend to go along with this development in an effort to keep their child from being disappointed, but the same cannot be said when this behavior is noted in adults. Many adults, even those writers who delve deeply into the subject of their characters, are often considered to be highly delusional when describing how fictional creations can become autonomous characters. A great many within society might call such this practice a sure sign of dissociation from the real world.
The surest test of this would be to expose the subject to the Dissociative Experiences
Scale, which is designed to gauge the level of dissociation that an individual is experiencing. As
children this test is quite unnecessary, as many children lack the experience to consciously
dissociate from the real world. Instead, children are subject more to the same practices that adults are known to possess after years of practice and experience. While they are not in
full control of the creative process that fuels their imagination, they are fully capable of utilizing it in the best way that suits their needs.
As it’s been noted by Trionfi and Reese (2009) children who experience imaginary play
have a similar vocabulary to those who do not, but are often possessed of an ability to offer a
much richer and more in-depth narrative. They are far more capable of telling a story that
contains a descriptive and imaginative background and that seems far more plausible in its
telling. When given the chance to display their skills at describing their fantasy world through writing, these children are also able to paint a vivid picture with their words of a world that exists in their mind but is no less real thanks to their detailed imagination. While they do not exhibit dissimilar skills that children without imaginary friends do, the narrative ability of children who engage in imaginary play is often far superior.
As a child matures their imagination changes. For some this means phasing out the use of imaginary characters altogether, but for others this can mean that their imaginary world gains more depth and richer context thanks to their real world experiences. Sometimes those adults who are more mentally sound are those who engaged in a rich, story-filled world of imagination that kept them continually busy as children no matter if they were considered strange or unusual. In fact, some adults would go so far as to say that without an imaginary friend or a fantasy world to experience they might never have found the way to lead the type of life they choose in their older years. Some people grow up but never allow their imagination to fade.
Those adults who enjoy a rich fantasy life, artists and authors in particular, are often those who were exposed to video games, cartoons, comic books, and various other media that allowed them to let their imaginations run wild. Despite the structured, orderly way that such media is composed and delivered, it can inspire the active imaginations of those who are capable of creating their own impressive array of fantastical settings and characters. Explaining how the worlds and characters they create become autonomous is very simple; they are extensions of the creator. The imagination is a reflection of the self no matter how fantastical or unlikely it might be.
The belief of the average adult fuels the belief in the fantasy and gives it “life” just
as a child does, by believing in the process of their creation and placing a bit of their own
personality into its design. This is as true for imaginary characters as it is for literary characters that are completely fictional. To an author those characters are their creations, their children, and in some cases, their sense of self. In the case of a child, an imaginary friend is a playmate who is in complete tune with them because they are essentially the same person, no matter the differences.
Those children who grow into adults that enjoy fantasy are often those who had the best times with their imaginary friends and did not want that sensation to end. There is a type of liberation in the act of imagination, both as a child and as an adult. The mind is allowed to relax, the body benefits from the lack of mental stress, and the spirit is lightened in a way that elevates a person’s thinking. Imagination is one of the many balms that can help people to relax, and can create a different affect in each person.
Many children use their imagination without any effort or thought beforehand. It is a natural byproduct of how children view the world around them and how they choose to assimilate those experiences. The creation of imaginary friends is a defense mechanism as well as a means to make sense of situations and the world in general when it seems too big and there is no one around to explain how it works. The imaginary friend is the surrogate self that keeps the child safe, alert, and able to believe in those things they cannot see but still feel are absolutely necessary.
Adults who had imaginary friends as children are often more balanced individuals despite
seeming a bit disillusioned or “unhinged”. They are also far more capable of empathy towards others due to their experience, and are quite capable of deductive reasoning when dealing with other people. Through their use of imagination they have found a way to gain life experience and better insight into the complexities of humanity.
Taylor, Marjorie. “Do Older Children and Adults Create Imaginary
Companions?” Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them. New York: Oxford UP, 199. 134-163.
Taylor, Marjorie, Hodges, Sara D., Kohanyi, Adele. “The Illusion of
Independent Agency: Do Adult Fiction Writers Experience their Characters as Having Minds of Their Own?” Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, vol. 22, no. 2, 2010,
Trionfi, Gabriel & Reese, Elaine. “A Good Story: Children With
Imaginary Companions Create Richer Narratives.” Child Development, vol. 80, no. 4, 2009,