When I was a child, I was sent to a different school and where I didn’t know anybody. I was more of an introvert, and very much fed my imaginal world. It didn’t take long for me to develop what one would call an imaginary friend. She was an older teenage girl, who I would have conversations with, and this facilitated my transition in a place that I didn’t know, with people that weren’t familiar to me. Eventually, I stopped doing this as I got to make real life friends at school. I still enjoyed my time alone as an introvert, but I never forgot how I was able to cope with my transition to this new school.
Though there is limited research on this subject, what this has shown us is that having an imaginary friend can be a good way to ward off loneliness. Cognitive scientist Samuel Veissière, from McGill University in Canada, states that people can create “Tulpas”, a term derived from Tibetan Buddhism, as a means of creating an imagined companion out of a type of meditative practice associated to thoughtforms. The practice involves speaking towards them intently, for several months. After a given time in establishing them, according to this approach, they will respond back.
This can provide comfort for us in difficult times following sibling estrangement. Especially when going through loneliness, but also as a means of helping us by giving us advice, as well as in building resiliency in situations involving social anxiety. Does it mean that we’re mentally ill if we’re talking to these imaginary friends? Not at all. It doesn’t mean you have schizophrenia. It simply means that you’re allowing yourself to access resources from within you, consciously and deliberately, to help you feel better about yourself. Even some therapeutic approaches use similar ways as this to help clients gain insight into themselves.
So be very clear about what your imaginary friend can look like. How are they dressed? Do they have a distinctive voice? Do they sit or stand with you in your presence? Is there a specific place you like to meet with them, or not? What are their personal habits? As with tulpas, you can be free to start the dialogue with them. It’s also ok to imagine what they would say to you. In fact, it can be reassuring to hear a different voice validate your feelings or experiences. Having an imaginary friend can be a good way to break the effects of isolation. While nothing beats a real-life friendship, it still serves as a way to help stimulate the relational aspect we all carry within us. Wilson wasn’t just for actor Tom Hanks when he was stuck on that island. It’s good for all of us. What would yours be called?
Ali-John Chaudhary is a Registered Psychotherapist with offices in Ontario and Quebec. He helps clients from different parts of the world going through sibling estrangement issues, and produces YouTube videos on the same subject, with author Fern Schumer Chapman. He also hosts a twice-monthly online support group on zoom for those looking to empower themselves with this rarely discussed subject.
He can be reached through the contact section on top of this page.