Imaginary friends vs imaginary enemies
I’ve been looking after a friend’s little girl, Amelia, she’s a very cute 4 and a quarter and she has an imaginary friend, also aged 4 and a quarter, called Dotty. Dotty is a bit of a loose cannon, if truth be told. She spills yoghurt on my sofa. She is very slow to tidy up her toys. She also needs a whole seat in the back of the car to herself no matter how much shopping there is. Dotty is a little high-maintenance.
Studies have shown that over half of children between the ages of 3 and 7 have an imaginary friend and that it’s no cause for alarm whatsoever. It’s a way for the child to develop their imagination: an involved form of pretend play. Imaginary friends can help children to cope with fears, explore ideas, or gain a sense of competence through taking care of the imaginary friend. At a more day-to-day level, children with imaginary friends sometimes blame them for misbehaviour in an attempt to avoid parental displeasure. Clever! “It’s wasn’t me, it was Dotty!” That would explain the yoghurt in the hair.
It was cute watching Amelia have her tea party with Dotty. So much chatter — her imaginary friend always there to hang out with and offer comfort and companionship. It’s a happy relationship.
It got me to thinking. We don’t do this as adults of course. We don’t have imaginary friends, do we? It’s hard enough keeping up with all our real friends, right? But, though we don’t have imaginary friends, I do think that many adults secretly have ongoing relationships with imaginary enemies. I think we adults do a reeeeally good line in imaginary enemies:
• That feeling that you are not quite good enough — Imaginary enemy.
• Or that you don’t quite measure up — Imaginary enemy.
• Or that you will be found out in some way — Imaginary enemy.
• Or that everyone else has it all figured out and you don’t — Imaginary enemy.
• And that everyone else SO has their shit together but you don’t — Imaginary enemy.
• That you are not quite smart/pretty/thin/successful enough? — Imaginary enemy.
Our imaginary enemy whispers disempowering messages that, if we listen, suck a little bit of joy out of each day, even though they are completely imaginary. That’s imaginary as in not real. Those voices, not real. Those whispers of not good enough. Not doing enough. Not being enough. Not having enough. Not real. Just your imaginary enemy.
You do enough. You have enough. You are enough. Just as you are.
A child has an imaginary friend for comfort and company. Believing in it is a positive force for good. However we can so clearly see that the imaginary friend is exactly that, not real, imaginary. Interestingly, when we have an imaginary enemy it creates confusion and doubt, not comfort and company.
We also have trouble seeing it as not real. We think that whisper of doubt and negativity is real. That it comes from us. That it might be truth. It is no more real than Dotty’s place at the tea party. If Ameila treats Dotty as real she gains the pleasure and joy inherent in that interaction. Even though Dotty is imaginary. If we treat that insidious imaginary enemy voice as real, we gain the inherent fears and doubts from that interaction. Even though they are imaginary.
Always check for evidence.
Is there any real evidence for you not being good enough? Any real evidence that you are not enough? Any real evidence that people don’t really love or rate you?
The vast majority of the time when we dig a little deeper we find no evidence at all. Just the whispers of the Imaginary Enemy. We have a choice whether we treat this voice as real or not. Whether we encourage that negative chatter or not. Whether we choose to put our focus on the things that are real, that we actually have evidence for, instead. We should always question rather than accept our imaginary enemy. We can choose to put our focus on real. We can choose to stop believing in the imaginary enemy, keep it real and positive and become our own best friend instead.