Let's Talk About Adults Who Have Imaginary Friends (They Exist ... The Adults, Not the Friends)

Let's Talk About Adults Who Have Imaginary Friends (They Exist ... The Adults, Not the Friends)

We don't mean fake friends.

By Marianne Garvey

Kim Kardashian made an appearance on Busy Philipps‘ E! show, Busy Tonight and revealed something surprising (and possibly quite embarrassing and also slightly disturbing) about her brother Rob Kardashian.

Rob, 31, still has imaginary friends. Or he did up until last year. They have names too. 

“My brother has — I don’t know if he still does — but he had, for a really long time, two imaginary friends,” Kim said, adding that she even knows their names. “Of course. Pablo and Ronald.”

And while Kim swears she never had an imaginary friend, she said Rob’s pals stuck around until he was about 30. “No, but my brother literally has talked about these guys like, up until last year,” Kim says. “He has one more, I can’t remember his name.”

There’s a lot to unpack here so we called a therapist to talk about this particular quirk.

 

New York City-based therapist Brenda A. Lewis LCSW, who deals with relationships and intimacy issues, has seen it all; yes, that includes adults who have friends that live only in their minds. Outside of hearing voices and schizophrenia, imaginary friends are actually quite healthy — for children. Once you reach adulthood, we’ve got a problem.

“It’s normal developmentally for children to have imaginary friends,” Lewis tells Personal Space.

“Sometimes they’re especially creative kids, or only kids, or lonely kids. It’s healthy, it’s something that belongs to them, something they connect with; it has meaning, it differentiates us and is a sign of early individuality. It also helps them have their own world away from their parents.”

Lewis says that much like Santa Claus (if you’re under six avert your eyes!), they’ll soon figure out it’s a world of fakery out there and some things are big fat lies meant to preserve your innocence until you're faced with the cold, harsh realities of the world. “It’s almost like the first lie for a child so they can separate their own inner world from the outside world,” she says. “Then at a certain age, real life takes over and real socializing and friendships and school happens.”

As for a 30-plus-year-old who still claims to have imaginary friends, maybe they need to check their meds, get some, or seek help, because, well, how do we put this ... something ain’t right.

“It can mean the adult wasn’t well socialized,” Lewis says. “It’s developmentally delayed to live into adulthood as a fantasy.”

The relevant questions she says for a friend, family, or professional to ask is is what purpose did the imaginary friend or friends serve in your life? What was or is the symbolism? And why did you feel the need to hold on to them and embrace them as real in your psyche?"

“As a kid, it’s your universe and you control it,” Lewis says. “But it’s serving some other function as you get older. Maybe you lack (IRL) friends, it may be much harder much harder for this person to deal with intimacy with real people. When your friends are not real, they can get along with whatever you say. It’s much harder to deal with intimacy with real people.”

In the end she says an adult leaning on a fictional or fantasied friendship ultimately has a need to be understood. “They can have social problems, have a separation from family, troubles dealing with conflict- if you don’t feel powerful within your own family structure it can be a coping mechanism.”

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