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Imaginary Friends are People, Too

We were on a flight several years ago when my 4-year-old daughter turned to me and asked if I had met her friend Stewie. I told her I had not and wondered if she would share more about him. She told me he was very nice, loved to pick flowers and give them to people who were feeling sad, drove a purple car and was invisible. 

She turned back to look out the plane window, then looked back at me. “Oh, and he smokes cigarettes,” she sighed. “I don’t like it, but he does. He’s still my friend, though. Maybe he will quit someday.”

I think of this all the time – the mind of a 4-year-old who created an imaginary friend who was very nice and did wonderful, loving things, like give flowers to people who were having bad days – and who also made some not-so-good choices. 

She had created a real person.

It’s a lifelong struggle to learn acceptance. People we love are flawed, as we all are. People we admire have blind spots, as we all do. People benefit from us appreciating them exactly as they are. Even people who are imaginary.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.