When you’re a kid, having an imaginary friend is a sign of playfulness and creativity. When you’re an adult, it’s a sign of other things. In my experience, adults with imaginary friends are either a) raving lunatics, b) writers, or c) avoiding conflict.
The first two speak for themselves. If you spend a lot of time talking to purple unicorns and Napolean Bonaparte, it might be time for some counseling. If you can turn them into a best seller, however, it might be time to get an agent.
Let’s move on to the last option, imaginary friends as a sign of conflict avoidance. Technically these people aren’t imaginary. They’re real flesh and blood human beings, but the conversation you’re having with them is totally in your head.
Has someone ever pushed your buttons and, later, when they’re not around, you start daydreaming about your next conversation with them? Or maybe you need to ask someone a big favor, confess something or confront someone and you rehearse it in your mind over and over again.
Sometimes these fictitious conversations are awesome. You say all the right things, and they respond in all the right ways. You’re brilliant. They’re speechless. You come out as the hero, and the other person bends to your will and does everything you want them to do.
If you’re anything like me, however, these imaginary conversations usually go south. Typically my worst-case scenario brain goes to the most catastrophic outcome that could possibly happen. When I run the conversation in my head, the person ends up telling me no, yelling at me or hating me for life.
Whatever extreme you land on, the problem with these imaginary pow-wows is that they paint an unrealistic picture and keep you from having the conversation you desperately need to have. The other person becomes a character in the movie in your head instead of a living, breathing person who you actually need to relate to.
When I find myself having one of these conversations with someone who isn’t actually there, that tells me there’s a problem. It means I’m worked up. I’m anxious. I’m dreading having the talk in real life.
At that point I know it’s time to have two talks, the first with God, and the second with the person I’d rather avoid. The God conversation takes the edge off the situation. I pray that God will help me see it like He does and better understand the other person’s point-of-view. I ask for Him to give me the right words and the courage to speak them and that He would lead both of us to whatever outcome He desires.
At that point I’m in a much better place to just sit down and have a sane and healthy conversation about whatever is on my mind. Imaginary friends are great for kids, but when it comes to the grown up world, it’s best to talk to real people. Unless, of course, you have a book in you. That’s a totally different story.