Imaginary Friends are a Child’s Growing Intuition

Many thoughts abound about children’s imaginary friends. In our highly “rational” world, they are seen with suspicion. Are our children being mystical and irrational when they develop imaginary friends? We scientific modern humans have shelved all that nonsense, right? And yet it’s clearly there, in the hearts of our children. Here is what I propose: children’s imaginary friends are a near living embodiment of their growing intuition–their inner voice that will guide them for life.

I was quite influenced by the book Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She describes many ancient tales. A theme among many is that a person’s inner voice, what I call “intuition,” is given a physical embodiment. In one, a daughter’s intuition is given as a doll from her mother. The doll guides her through a scary forest, when confronting a witch, when getting her inner world in order, etc. In another, a man’s instincts are represented by a dog, who has the ability to hunt down a woman’s true feminine nature. There is some living thing to represent it.

In this same book, there is a story of a fisherman who goes fishing and expects a great catch, but instead reels in the skeleton of a woman who was murdered. Lots of stuff happens, but ultimately the skeleton represents the deeper, darker side of the unconscious, which demands we pay attention to it. I talk with my children often about the stories we read, what they think, about love, etc. This was a really fun one to bring up. I asked them, “What would happen if you went fishing and instead of getting a big fish, you caught a monster!?” And then I followed it up with, “What if it was a zombie version of yourself?” And they were totally captivated by this. I said “zombie” because I knew they would know that I meant. My daughter, 5, said, “Oh, it would be Alex!” Alex was her imaginary friend. She’s a dark, evil sister always trying to replace her as my daughter. We’ve met Alex many times. But this time she said, “Alex will come back and kill all my enemies!” Oh how interesting. Alex isn’t so evil afterall. She protects my daughter from enemies.

My first born son’s imaginary friends were work men who did work for him. He was always commanding them to do something. There were many of them. This is how he often describes his mind. He says it’s like “many pistons pumping” or “there are 10,000 calculators in my brain.” This. is. my. son. He is a highly sensitive child, which is marked by a high amount of brain processing. I am one, too. Our “feeling” nature or “intuition” probably looks like its weak, but that’s because even our intuition is highly cognitive in nature (such as men who do work for you). But it’s not. There is genuine strength and perception there. Most people don’t understand it. I remember my imaginary friend as a girl. She was quite studious. She sat in another room and calmly wrote down her ideas and worked through problems thoroughly. (Ahem.) And she was ALWAYS there. That’s what I liked so much about her. She would never go away; she would always love me. I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up admonishing myself for thinking of something so foolish–yes, at that young, tender age.

This is all made all the more fascinating now that I have started formally studying Carl Jung’s work. Dr. Estes, previously mentioned, is a Jungian analyst. Jung said that we still have imprints in our psyches of an ancient past. When he did work as a psychotherapist, he would reference ancient myths to gain insight into what was going on in the patient. Ancient legends, for instant, already described accurately the descent into schizophrenia. This is how he broke from Freud. Freud noticed some had an Oedipal complex–as in alignment with the ancient legend. He thought this one story applied to everyone. Jung took it further. No, there are lots of ancient stories and they tell us lots of things.

Jung also describes how people have Personality 1 and Personality 2. Personality 1 is likely the current one. Personality 2 is perhaps what you are destined for. Jung’s Personality 2 was a scholarly Englishman who should naturally command respect. I am pretty sure I know mine. She is a hooded, mysterious, strong feminine leader who masterfully rides off on horseback at night.

It calls up something in me

I see a strong link between Personality 2 and a child’s growing imaginary friends. I recommend you get to know Carl Jung’s work. I am reading Beginner’s Guide to Jungian Psychology.

By the way, Jung’s work challenged blank slate theory. Blank slate theory says we can influence children with culture and morals. Work that says you have ancient wisdom etched in your soul stands in direct contrast. So does my child development work, in which I argue there is a ravenous machine working to grow a child’s mind in an unconscious way, acting out at predictable age-related times. See my popular age-related child development research at I constantly try to get people to understand the implications of blank slate theory and how much damage it does. For one, if a child’s natural intuition isn’t allowed to develop, I think by age 12 or 13, a child will suffer serious consequence. My book Towards Liberalism is primarily dedicated to challenging blank slate theory.

I propose you invite your child’s imaginary friends into the family. Get to know everything about them. This is the little inner voice that will guide them later. Everyone has something that they can “see” better than others. I will never sail uncharted seas. I won’t. That’s not my natural intuition. But it is somebody else’s. I “see” human behavior better than most.

What new friends have you invited into the family? And into your own psyche as well?

My book on four year olds is not finished yet. But my one on three year olds is. In this, I discuss thoroughly how important three year old’s imaginations–the famous monsters they see in their closet–are critical for their growing mental development.

See Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to Three Year Olds

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