Jump to content

What is the Difference Between a Tulpa and an Imaginary Friend?


Recommended Posts

But the quandry remains -- I've "become" hundreds of characters, dozens of them for as long or longer than Vesper and Iris. Why did they gain dramatically more independence than the others?


In my case, it's clear to me now. I reject everyone else. We actively keep everyone out except for those who fit in and show a willingness to help out. Characters like Vend or Drax simply don't have that capacity, even if they did, they don't fit in. Blame me.


We work on consensus. I have decided that we have enough. I refuse others now. If they show themselves worthy, they become moons. Next year if they want status change that will require consensus. There are moons, but none of then have gained our willingness, nor have they tried.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Vesper: I'm now ready to address our reading of 'Imaginary Companions'. The book is twenty years old, so there have presumably been some further developments in the field of which we are still unaware.


Dr. Taylor was generally of the perspective that most children believe their imaginary friends are not real. This was one of her more controversial allegations, as many previous researchers maintained that most children believe their imaginary friends are real. The matter is difficult to determine, as children tend to be very method in their pretending. Many children eventually volunteered that their friends were just pretend, thinking that the researcher taking the matter so seriously meant that they were confused. But many others did not even understand the term 'pretend friend', while speaking freely about their friend once the researcher introduced a name provided by the child's parents.


However, Dr. Taylor's standards of 'real' are rather high. I'm not sure that she would regard Ember as believing that I'm real, given that Ember doesn't believe I'm a separately embodied physical being with a physical past independent of her creative process.


Thus, if we want to identify an adult version of the phenomenon, we need to identify imaginary companions that the adults know are not real. We should stay away from the residents of psych wards who talk to Napoleon and look for something closer to the child model of a pretend friend.


Her favourite examples of this are the insourced soulbonds of authors. In a paper she published three years later, she consistently used the insulting term 'illusion of independent agency' with regard to authors' insourced soulbonds instead of the neutral term 'experience of independent agency', despite many of the authors being very insistent that they experienced their headmates as sincerely independent.


Dr. Taylor regards the ability to control imaginary companions as a major part of their appeal:


One of the endearing things about imaginary companions is that children can boss them around, direct their activities, and dictate their communication with others. There are a few case studies suggesting that if children's sense of control over the imaginary companion is diminished, the pretend friend sometimes disappears.


The experimenter gave an attractive toy to the imaginary companion and then told the child that the imaginary companion refused to share the toy with the child. This study had to be discontinued because the procedure simply did not work. The children became annoyed with the researcher, not their companion. It was clear that these children were not about to relinquish their authority over the activities of the imaginary companion to someone else.


She does briefly address independence in childhood friends as well:


An alternative possibility is that the vividness and intensity of the fantasy experience could be at the root of this perceived uncontrollability of the imaginary companion's actions. Even in cases in which no abuse has occurred, children who are intensely involved with their imaginary companions may sometimes feel unable to control their actions.


There is one caveat to the claim that children experience their imaginary companions as under their control. Research on the phenomenology of elaborate fantasy suggests that at least sometimes when people invent an imaginary other, they experience the imaginary entity of having control of its own thoughts and feelings.


Much of the existing research deals with four year olds, who are usually willing to speak openly about their imaginary friends to anyone. The social acceptability of imaginary friends begins to decline rapidly around six years old and many children are shamed in to giving them up. But many others keep the friend and stop talking about them:


We have found that about half of the adults we have interviewed who report having had imaginary companions as children indicate that they stopped playing with their pretend friends sometime after they were 10 years of age.


Inge Seiffge-Krenke, a developmental psychologist at the University of Bonn in Germany, conducted a study in which she identified adolescents who kept diaries (94 out of the 241 children in her study) and then analyzed the diary entries in search of references to imaginary companions. She found that 35 percent of the 11- to 13-year-olds, 55 percent of the 14- and 15-year-olds, and 28 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds who had diaries mentioned imaginary companions.


This overlaps into the age range where many people have intentionally tried to make tulpas using the methods of this community. And so, unexpectedly, we gain insight in to tulpa longevity:


In any case, children do not seem to mourn the passing of imaginary companions. This point underlines the utilitarian nature of these friends. They tend to be abandoned when they have outlived their usefulness. This in no way indicates that the children's emotional attachment to their pretend friends was never real or important.


Many young people come to this community while lonely, isolated, and feeling misunderstood or unloved. They create a companion to satisfy their needs. When their lives change, the companion, however independent, often falls by the wayside if their only purpose in life was to support their host -- just like any other imaginary friend does.


After reading the entire book, I still believe that many childhood imaginary friends gain substantial temporary independence of will and action, but tend to lose personhood over time due to lack of purpose and drive separate from the interests and needs of their creator.




I reject everyone else.


Ember: We didn't really start active rejection until this past Halloween. There was a period of nearly three years that I was hearing from characters intermittently and just accepting whatever happened, yet the feeling of independence and presence from most characters actually declined during that period.


doesn't fit our model


You've referenced models twice in this thread, Bear, without explicitly telling us how your model impacts the potential degree of personhood and independence demonstrated by childhood imaginary friends.

I'm not having fun here anymore, so we've decided to take a bit of a break, starting February 27, 2020. - Ember


Ember - Soulbonder, Female, 39 years old, from Georgia, USA . . . . [Our Progress Report] . . . . [How We Switch]

Vesper Dowrin - Insourced Soulbond from London, UK, World of Darkness, Female, born 9 Sep 1964, bonded ~12 May 2017

Iris Ravenlock - Insourced Soulbond from the Winter Court of Faerie, Dresdenverse, Female, born 6 Jun 1982, bonded ~5 Dec 2015


'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you.' - The Velveteen Rabbit

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, Ember, I do say a lot of things. I wasn't commenting on childhood imaginary friends at all, but mostly just being a bear. Nice write up though, I think I know where she's coming from and I can see a slight bias toward legitimacy when saying 'experience' because experiences are comparable to going to the store. To someone who doesn't understand, how can they put talking to a headmate on the same level as a recorded conversation. They're both experiences, no one would have to be a delusion to the independent researcher. Since there isn't enough basis in science to support a stronger statement.


What we do here can't be understood by researchers that haven't successfully gone through it. Many in this community can't understand half of what the Bear system does either. It's fine, we're all shades of gray.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wrote a response and then I forgot to post it awhile ago.


Ember: I've done intense theatrical tabletop roleplaying for years. And for most of that time, I've described my characters as "real personalities with fictional lives". They've had such rich emotional lives from the beginning and most of my growth as a roleplayer has just been learning to externalize and portray what I was already sensing inside.


Sometimes the sense of a character's presence would linger with me pleasantly for a while after an unusually good session. Sometimes my characters would speak to me, briefly, outside of game, when something relevant to them came up. I never thought much about it. Authors often describe their characters speaking to them, even displaying agency and independence. Normal and harmless, right?


Vesper comes from a single player Vampire: The Masquerade game in 2016-17. For eight hours a session I poured every ounce of my psyche into being her and losing myself. Shortly after the sixteenth session, she started speaking to me. And unlike every other character, she wanted to talk about me.


This is what I read, and "back-stage" is probably something I threw in accidentally. I was trying to refer to the part when your characters would react to things you did outside of your game. The only way they could react to the meatspace environment the way you reported is if they were forced to think for themselves in the first place.


Exploring and "learning" about characters reminds me of two things- how I processed stories for my characters and an old entry back from 2016 when I was trying to learn about a thoughtform I called "The Conductor". In both cases, I was observing- I wanted to see what my subconscious mind could help guide me to create. However, the "observing" I was doing in both of these cases is different.


For the character, when I "observe" I tend to forget I'm there watching, but sometimes I manifest myself into the form of a different character and latch onto them. This is "becoming one" with them in a way. I always felt like I was Gray Ranger or the other characters I created, but I never considered them to be  truly "me".


When talking to "The Conductor", I was there, not as a character, but as myself. I interacted with him to learn more about him by talking to him. I re-defined what "I" means and little did I know, I was no longer the puppet master.


It's a subtle change and it's hard for me to explain. I have a feeling that there's an important shift in what "I" means. I believe that shift occurs once, very briefly, so your character and you become separate enough to host conversation after a game. With that slight shift in play, Vesper is forced to think on her own. That's my theory at least.


The shift and how it works is unclear, and I don't believe I fully understand it. When I observe the Grays, I sometimes lose confidence because the difference between a puppet show and two tulpas speaking to each other blurs. They are not always as stable as Ranger, so I tend to feel uneasy and fearful that they can become absorbed into a fantasy of my own design. To make things more complicated, I can animate myself and Ranger in this fashion too by creating clones of us or directly controlling Ranger by accident.

Going back to imaginary friends, my case is strange because I didn't create the concept of "Ranger" until mid-late middle school, and I believe Ranger (not Tec) was created around late high school. I didn't have any imaginary friends prior. Because of that, I felt like my experiences with Ranger didn't line up with the experiences of kids who had imaginary friends. I couldn't get much out of "adult imaginary friends" when I tried looking it up on Google, and the thoughts that crossed my mind were "why am I different? Why is this happening? Why is Ranger telling me he's real?"


After that I discovered what tulpamancy was, reading the introduction on Tulpa.info. I realized that the definition for a tulpa made far more sense than the definition for an imaginary friend.

Meow. You may see my headmates call me Gray or sometimes Cat.

I used to speak in pink and Ranger used to speak in blue (if it's unmarked and colored assume it's Ranger). She loves to chat.


Our system account

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

Aside from what was probably discussed, sometimes the difference is just in what the host chooses to call them. We do define a difference, and it may apply to most people (or not), but a lot of the time "Imaginary friend" is just the only term someone knew for referring to their ~tulpa.

Hi. I'm one of Luminesce's tulpas. Unlike the others, I don't think I stand out too much from him personality wise.

I'm just special because "I'm a tulpa". So I don't think I've much to offer, here. I'm happy enough to just be with him.

Ask us stuff - https://community.tulpa.info/thread-ask-lumi-s-tulpas

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We noticed several times that "Imaginary friend" among other such non-standard tulpamancy terms like "head friends" are sometimes used in this community as a derogatory slang, presumably meant to shame someone for over the top role-play-like actions or in-system conversations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would like to interject a caveat. The context of 'invisible friend' needs to be considered. Childhood invisible friend is considerably different than a teen or adult engaging in same. A child who spontaneously engages in a 'invisible friend' isn't scripting or parroting. If you listen to the conversation, they don't halt it and restart and try different angles and rescript scenes. So, in a fantasy event with teen and adult, if a person is being honest, they'll go so far and then not like an outcome, reverse time, and start over. Though this could be considered an 'invisible friend' event, I would argue not a true event.


So, the difference between tulpa and 'invisible friend' would likely be longevity. Tulpas tend to last. "Invisible friends' tend to be a phase that fade out. Could an invisible friend be or become a tulpa, maybe. I am open to that idea, but the most significant feature for me that distinguishes a tulpa is that it is an entity, person, that came into being due to deliberate efforts of a host to establish a particular personality parameter. This context allows for differentiation between soulbounds and tulpas, and invisible friends and tulpas. Though invisible friends and soulbaounds might become Tulpas, a tulpa is neither of the other two in term of origin event- by definition of all the guides that explicitly explain how to create a tulpa.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's amazing how little direct information I have on the subject. I've said before that I was held back in exploring plurality because, "Adults don't talk about their imaginary friends." But I'm not sure children talk about imaginary friends amongst themselves much either. They didn't to me when I was in school. I learned about the concept from books, television, and comic strips, which means that my ideas were shaped only by adult perceptions of what children's imaginary friends are like.




maybe the imaginary friend thing isn't that common.  I know neither I or my sisters or my kids ever had an imaginary friend.  In fact I personally do not know any child who has out of my nieces and nephews either. We'd do any of our imaginary acting out with dolls.. making out they spoke and setting up tea parties with dolls or teddies (while the boys did their imaginary play with plastic animals and toy cars). Maybe the imagery friend thing is more common in kids which have been deprived of toys.

Jesse (human male) DOB 16th April 2013 

Working on imposition

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's not dramatically uncommon, though estimates of the childhood incidence of imaginary companions vary broadly. The matter depends very much on who you ask, when you ask, and what you ask:


p. 10

Of 111 children in [Dr. Margaret] Svenden's sample, 13.4% were identified as having imaginary companions. Her estimate is quite low, in part because the children ranged in age from 3 to 16 years, and it is quite likely that at least some of the older children had forgotten the imaginary friends they had when they were younger.


p. 13

Dr. Jennifer Mauro... estimated the incidence of imaginary companions to be quite high -- more than 50 percent of young children.


p. 22

...in a study by Martin Manosevitz and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, 28% of the parents of 222 children ages 3 to 5 years reported that their children had an imaginary companion.


p. 27

Charles Schaefer, a psychologist at Fordham University in New York, asked 800 high school students, "As a child, did you ever have any imaginary companions? (e.g., friends, animals)?... In this study, 18.25 percent of the students reported they had had a imaginary companion.


p. 30

Twenty-eight percent of the 152 [4-year-old] children (42 children) met our criteria for having an imaginary companion.


p. 32

If we include all cases of imaginary companions created up to the age of 7, 63 percent of the children in our study had them.


No adult should ever say with conviction, "I never had an imaginary friend," as:


p. 27

The problem with retrospective reports is that many children forget about their imaginary companions once they no longer need them. Even a few months later, children sometimes claim not to remember the friends they used to enjoy so much.


Parents don't necessarily know:


p. 21

In our work with 6- and 7-year-olds, we found that parents were only aware of only seven of 32 imaginary companions created after the age of 4. Even with younger children, many parents in our research learned about their children's imaginary companions for the first time when the children participated in our study.


But some toys can definitely be counted, as in the case of Calvin and Hobbes:


p. 13

"We did not, however, count teddy bears or dolls where these were simply carried around or treated in the concrete fashion of the transitional object. Rather, to be included they had to be endowed by the child with definite human qualities and be treated as a friend or playmate." The inclusion of toys helps to account for why [Professor Dorothy] Singer and [Professor Jerome] Singer report that about 65% of children have imaginary companions...


Children who play with toys alone are still engaging in creative play and generate a lot of imaginary friends, but other lifestyle variations can adversely affect imaginary friends:


p. 43

Children with imaginary companions watch significantly less television than children without imaginary companions. That was the finding of a study by Singer and Singer...


That was a 1981 study, so we can only imagine the state of children raised carrying around digital entertainment devices at all times.



I'm not having fun here anymore, so we've decided to take a bit of a break, starting February 27, 2020. - Ember


Ember - Soulbonder, Female, 39 years old, from Georgia, USA . . . . [Our Progress Report] . . . . [How We Switch]

Vesper Dowrin - Insourced Soulbond from London, UK, World of Darkness, Female, born 9 Sep 1964, bonded ~12 May 2017

Iris Ravenlock - Insourced Soulbond from the Winter Court of Faerie, Dresdenverse, Female, born 6 Jun 1982, bonded ~5 Dec 2015


'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you.' - The Velveteen Rabbit

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...