Imaginary Friends Aren’t Bad
by Holly Varni
May 23, 2013

My dog has an imaginary friend. In talking to other dog owners, I’ve learned that this is unusual. Her hallucinations make her unique. She’s a Yorkie-Poo ~ that’s supposed to be intelligent, but I believe that’s personal opinion rather than fact.

Her favorite thing to do is bolt to the closet in our bedroom where a long mirror reaches to the floor. She sits in front of it and has lengthy “discussions” with the dog in the reflection. She puts her nose to the glass and sniffs. She barks and whines but never gets the response for which she’s hoping.

You’d think that she would catch on, but her commitment to this image doesn’t falter. Day after day she visits the reflection, always trying to coax it to come out and play. She truly believes there’s another dog staring back at her, that we are hiding a friend in the closet, separating her from a fellow canine companion.

Watching her do this, brought to memory a scene from one of my favorite ‘feel good… rated G… sit down and be reminded of a simpler time’ movies….Anne of Green Gables.  Remember the moment when Anne is still living at the orphanage and life is so incredibly miserable and lonely for her that she begins to have conversations with her “window friend, Katie?”  Anne finds no solace in her existence, so she slips into the imaginary world for the sake of survival. Concerned that Anne has gone over the deep end with her middle of the night whisperings to the window, the headmistress selects Anne to be the next orphan adopted.

For the record, I don’t think Anne was crazy. Both Anne and my dog are reaching out for the comfort of knowing that they are not alone. Don’t we all do this sometimes?  A friend of mine talks to the piles of junk her kids leave on the floor and to the mess in the kitchen. Nothing talks back of course, including the kids who only roll their eyes, but she feels better releasing those grumblings of frustration.

When things get overwhelming or stressful, don’t those to-do lists sound more organized said out loud? If you handled a situation really poorly, don’t you imagine how it would have turned out if the right words had been spoken? The best “comebacks” for me always spring to mind the next day, after I’ve gone through the episode in my head a thousand times.

My father is famous for conversations with himself. Growing up, we would watch him in the backyard sitting on a lawn chair, watering the plants and grass with his lips moving. He could mumble and talk to himself for hours on the weekends.

My mom always said that he was sorting out things at work, going through meetings that should have gone better.  If there is a gene for talking to yourself, I’ve inherited it. My kids catch me doing it now. They always ask, “Who are you talking to?” I laugh and say, “Papa’s friends.”

Are these muttering of madness? No. Psychologists have studied how young children cannot problem solve internally, so many talk the issues out loud and then stop around the age of five when society says that’s wrong. In business, when team meetings gather to talk out loud, they call it “brainstorming.” The rule is not to filter but blurt out whatever pops to mind. Creativity flows from hearing spoken words, rather than silent thoughts, and sparks amazing ideas.

I’ve concluded that imaginary friends aren’t bad. I believe it’s our conscious keeping us in check and is our mind’s way of cleaning out the clutter. When working on problems, instead of creating a headache, I say let a few audible words leak out. It’s a sign that you’re processing the events in your life and figuring out where you went wrong and how you can improve.

Are Anne, my dad, my dog and I crazy? Before you decide, let me remind you that the story ended really well for Anne. She not only succeeded triumphantly but rose to be a strong heroine. My dad is extremely happy in retirement, though he does whistle now more than he talks to himself. I’m still in the middle of my story, so we won’t know my ending for some time. And as for my dog, if talking to her reflection saves us from adopting a second dog, I’ll encourage her to spend time with her reflection companion forever!

Go have a good talk with yourself….out loud. 🙂