From England: I am 16 and I cannot stop myself from imagining I am in a different scenario and talking to people who aren’t there. Everyday and sometimes before I sleep, I am always making up scenarios and characters in my head and live in them. I have these characters I have made up with their own image and backstory and I have a character I have made for myself and now I just automatically slip into this character and talk to the people I have made up without even realizing I’m doing it. This started when I was around 5 and now I just can’t stop.
I really struggle to just go through everyday life without pretending to be someone else or talking to someone who I know isn’t really there. I have tried to stop myself from doing this before, but I couldn’t even do it for a day because I just automatically do it. Sometimes I base these characters off people I know or have seen.
I am quite shy and don’t really have many friends so a lot of the people I make up are friends I wished I had or people I wish I knew. Even when I watch TV I imagine the characters in the show are actually the characters I have made up, or sometimes I imagine I am in the show. But the weird thing is sometimes when I do this I imagine that someone such as a famous person is watching the scenario in like a video or something and reacting to it. Even when I am listening to my ipod I make up an imaginary music video in my head which usually contains a character I have made up for myself.
I used to not be bothered about doing this but now it is such a big part of my life and I can’t stop it I am worried if it ever will. I want to be able to live my life just being myself and not pretending I’m someone else or talking to people who aren’t there. But a part of me doesn’t want it to stop because I almost rely on these characters as someone to talk to and I like the person I have made up for myself because she is better than me. I have so many details about these characters in my head that they seem like they could be real people. I am wondering what exactly makes me do this.
It’s not at all unusual for small children who are shy or alone to make up imaginary friends. Actually, most kids go through a stage where they make up a constant companion. Kids who do not have other kids in their lives keep this going longer — usually until they start school and start to make friends with classmates. These real life friends take the place of the imaginary ones.
You’ve said you are shy. My guess is that for some reason you weren’t able to connect with other kids your age when you were young and so you kept the imaginary scenes going. Now it’s become a habit. It’s hard to shake it because you are still shy and you haven’t developed the skills you need to connect with peers. You then retreat to the “friends” in your head who accept you and who aren’t a bit threatening to your sense of self.
You were correct to name this a “cycle.” It is. You try to connect with people. It doesn’t go well. You retreat to the imaginary — which makes it more likely you won’t learn what you need to learn to connect with people. And so on and so on.
To break the cycle, you need some new social skills. I suggest you consider getting into group therapy. In group, you will have the opportunity to learn those social skills. The rules of the group will provide the safety you need to get out of your head and to try out new ways of relating. Feedback and support from the other group members and the therapist will help you gain the self-confidence you need to develop real life relationships.
And — by the way — you don’t need to abandon your imaginary friends. You may have the makings of a terrific writer. Give yourself a set time of day and length of time to write about your scenarios. Confine the activity to that time frame to make sure you don’t fall back into the cycle.
I wish you well. Dr. Marie
I Cannot Stop Myself from Imagining
Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker
Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
APA Reference Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). I Cannot Stop Myself from Imagining. Psych Central.
Retrieved on May 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/06/25/i-cannot-stop-myself-from-imagining/
Last updated: 8 May 2018 Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018 Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.