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Once upon a time, my sister and I created a paracosm centered around the Kings, a family consisting of the most powerful, magical and 51% evil individual in the universe and his three half-alien, half-Earthling daughters, the younger of which were a set of Mary Sue self-insert identical twins. The Kings regularly traveled through space and/or time, meeting fictional characters, ridding the world of menaces and going on sarcastic, parodic tangents.

Back in 1996, we did an adventure for them called Operation WAWBAB. An egregiously obnoxious family, the Wallis-Budges, moved across the street from the Kings. Offended by their egregious obnoxiousness, the Kings employed many creative, non-magical devices to evict the Wallis-Budges from their neighborhood. The Wallis-Budges did not budge...

...Until the Kings threw a dinner party on par with that of the Rocky Horror Picture Show [which, incidentally, we didn't know about at that time]. Each of the Kings decided to embody the stereotypical fashions and mannerisms of a different late 20th century decade. The patriarch, for some reason, targeted the 1960s, as interpreted by New Age sensibilities. To complete the characterization, he included in the driveway a VW MicroBus and a Hillman Minx, both decked out in, uh, weird paraphernalia.

Now, as far as my sister and I were concerned, the Hillman Minx was the funniest car in existence, thanks to its immortalization in a Dave Barry column as "a wart-shaped British car with the same rakish, sporty appeal as a municipal parking garage but with not as much pickup." Therefore, at some point, I decided to make a custom scale model of it. Since I could not find a small-scale Hillman Minx, I had to make do with a Volkswagen Beetle. Just pretend it's a Hillman Minx, okay?

Read more... )
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What if I'm interested in getting to know my subpersonalities, but I'm not sure what they are? [I personally don't have the problem of needing to identify mine; we are pretty well identified!]

This exercise on Integral Options Cafe about defining the disowned self, or a set of disowned subpersonalities, gets me thinking. In a nutshell, the exercise suggests picking an intimate relationship that you have with a friend, family member, lover, etc. Then list all the ways in which that person pisses you off. In what ways does the person seem contemptible, inferior, weak, whiny, etc.? What don't you like about this person?

Also, at the same time, collect a list of traits that are the opposite of what piss you off about this person. What's so good about you? What are your strengths? What are the parts of you that give you satisfaction?

The traits that you identify with and that make you happy correspond to the traits of a primary self, someone that you identify with very closely, maybe even your ego or everyday persona. The traits that piss you off about the other person are still your very own traits, but put in the form of a disowned self, someone that you do not identify with and try to shove away.

The conclusion here is to run toward, not away from, the piss-off traits. The piss-off traits represent the parts of you that you dislike so much that you project them onto other people, claiming that someone else over there is a perfectionist, critical, uptight, unemotional, flat and pedantic problem, not you! The piss-off traits are all you, and, the more you shove them away onto other people, the more they will come back and bite you in the ass. [Suppression never works.]

Self-knowledge lies in the places you least suspect it: the places inside you where you don't want to go. Potential self-knowledge lies, waiting, inside your faults. If you turn yourself to face you, but you've never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker because you're much too fast to take that test [ch-ch-ch-changes], you need to slow down and scrutinize what you hate in other people.

What you hate in others is what you reject in yourself. What you reject in yourself is mostly just parts of yourself marked so strongly by dislike that they seem negative, but they're not inherently bad. You in your hate just think they're bad. They're really not. They're really value-neutral, and they can be employed beneficially if you look past the coating of hatred and see them for the raw materials they are.

This message has been brought to you by the one who knows these things. Thank you.

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Apparently there's a relatively recent movement championing the dialogic self, viz., the idea that we are groups of voices with different perspectives and positions.

Also, apparently, John Rowan, author of the rather dry Subpersonalities, is coming out with a new book next month called Personification: Using the Dialogical Self in Therapy and Counseling. I'm sure it discusses in a structured way what I learned the hard and lonely way to do all by myself.

What I want to know is where all this theory and information was when I was convinced I was going insane??

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Internal Family Systems [TM] is a mode of therapy that identifies various subpersonalities inside us and, as part of the therapeutic relationship with our therapists, identifies the roles and functions of the subpersonalities. The description below of Internal Family Systems comes from my interpretation of a summary of the practice here.

IFS believes in three types of subpersonalities -- managers, exiles and firefighters -- and a Self. A Self is defined as the authentic core of a person, an integrated system of consciousness and traits. Removed somewhat from the turmoil of managers, exiles and firefighters, it is competent and wise, full of compassion for the more fragmented subpersonalities. The Self is not a subpersonality.

As for subpersonalities, one group of them is the managers. As rule makers, managers demarcate the boundaries between the Self and the firefighters and the exiles. Managers are like border guards that want to keep everyone in their own little worlds. Managers are very invested in the smooth function of the whole person, so they may emphasize order, organization, rationality and rule-following. They remind me of the Freudian superego.

Another group of subpersonalities is exiles. Exiles are little, lost, lonely parts of ourselves, often remnants from childhood that we have hidden away. We can think of them as unhappy pieces of ourselves that we have shoved in a closet. Exiles can be strong and insistent in their demands because they want nothing more than to have attention paid to them.

Causing interference between exiles and everything else are the firefighters. When the exiles start to come out of the closet, the firefighters step in. The firefighters may be characterized as panicky, dancing distractions, personalities that we take on when things, such as sensations from our exiles, seem too overwhelming. Maladaptive coping strategies such as emotional eating, watching TV till one is in a stupor or getting smash-assed drunk commonly identify firefighters.

With all the managers, exiles and firefighters running around, it's a very busy place inside us! According to IFS, we are often confused, our behavior directed by the immediate demands of an exile or by the stringent control of a manager or by the escapist fantasies of a firefighter...instead of by the calm, wise compassion of the Self.

IFS uses the idea of subpersonalities to help us identify our managers, exiles and firefighters, become conscious of how they act and why and talk to them so that we understand them. Once we understand the motivations of our subpersonalities, we can respond compassionately to them from our Selves. We may be able to change our subpersonalities' behaviors so they aren't so detrimental; we might even be able to integrate them into our Selves so that we can be more whole.


I have the following questions. 1) How do managers and firefighters differ? Both seem to be ways to manage the appearance of exiles. 2) If one is hung up on identifying with, say, the managers instead of one's Self, how does one learn to get in touch with one's Self? 3) In general, I understand the point of identifying and working with subpersonalities, but why is integration always heralded as the ultimate goal? 4) Oh yeah...and what does this mean for the world beyond the individual?

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Subpersonalities may be defined as little, semi-autonomous clusters of traits inside us with their own peculiar thoughts and worldviews that we as a whole employ in our daily lives. I personally think they overlap a lot with imaginary characters, which is why I just now typed "subpersonalities" into Google and came up with this blog entry from Integral Options Cafe, in which the author tries to define subpersonalities. The author also discusses some books and psychological theories that use the subpersonalities model. The author mentions the book Subpersonalities by John Rowan [which I have read and reviewed in my ongoing bibliography about paracosms and imaginary characters and such], as well as other sources that I have not looked into and need to.

Hooray, more places to look for interpretations of paracosms and imaginary characters!

Later I should write something about Internal Family Systems [TM].

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Though there is not a lot of information about paracosms and imaginary friends out there, I have found a few books, which I cherish deeply. Another source of information about paracosms and imaginary friends is scholarly journals. I have found some scholarly articles, mostly in psychological journals, to summarize and share with you. This bibliography is a work in progress, added to as I find more material.

Hoff, Eva V. 2004. "A friend living inside of me: The forms and functions of imaginary companions." Imagination, Cognition and Personality 24(2):151-189. 26 children and their imaginary companions were studied in detail. Companions were mostly children of the same age, though there were some fantasy creatures. Inspirations were varied, though mostly from friends and siblings. Imaginary friends served several purposes for their creators: inner mentors, sources of comfort, self-regulation devices and life enrichment.

Kastenbaum, R; Fox, L. 2007. "Do imaginary companions die? An exploratory study." Omega (Westport) 56(2):123-152. Adults were interviewed about the "end" of their imaginary characters' lives. While most reported that their imaginary characters just faded away or disappeared, some reported that their imaginary characters died. The authors suggest that, at the age when kids create imaginary characters, they are also trying to figure out the status of "alive" and "dead."

Mills, Antonia. 2003. "Are children with imaginary playmates and children said to remember previous lives cross-culturally comparable categories?" Transcultural Psychiatry 40(1):62-90. 15 U.S. children with imaginary companions are compared to 15 children from India who say they remember their past lives to see whether the phenomena are cross-culturally comparable. In conclusion, yes, they seem to be similar phenomena springing from the same source.

Sawa, T; et al. 2004. "Role of imaginary companions in promoting the psychotherapeutic process." Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 58(2):145-151. While usually studied as a phenomenon of childhood, imaginary companions may also manifest when a person has a psychiatric disorder. The authors point out that indulging and engaging the imaginary companion in the therapeutic process may help the therapist reach an otherwise recalcitrant patient.

Seiffge-Krenke, Inge. 1997. "Imaginary companions in adolescence: sign of a deficient or positive development?" Journal of Adolescence 20(2):137-154. 241 teens between 12 and 17 who had imaginary companions were surveyed about the traits and relationships of their imaginary friends. Three hypotheses were tested: 1) that only kids with social failings create imaginary friends; 2) that gifted, really creative kids create imaginary friends; and 3) that narcissistic kids create imaginary friends to feed their need for ego boosting. In conclusion, the creators of imaginary friends were socially and creatively competent teens.
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I found that the Wikipedia article about imaginary friends contains a bibliography of scholarly articles for further reading!!
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Inevitably, my research into paracosms and imaginary friends leads me in circles around Carl Gustav Jung, post-Freudian Swiss analyst who invented archetypes, introverts and extroverts during the beginning of the 20th century.

I keep coming back to Jung because his major contribution to the theory of psychoanalysis was to envision the psyche as home to many parts, In Jungian psychology, these parts can be personified (such as the Anima, Animus and the Shadow) and addressed in the way that people talk to imaginary characters.

Jung's technique of talking to the aspects of oneself was known as active imagination. Please note that the Wikipedia entry suggests that active imagination means watching and recording one's fantasy activity; however, Jung was very enthusiastic about encouraging, interrogating and otherwise assertively engaging with images and characters in one's head.

Jung encouraged his patients to engage in active imagination techniques. He also used these techniques on his own. For sixteen years, he plumbed the depths of his own mind, verging dangerously close to obsession and madness. In a recent New York Times article, "Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious," Sara Corbett describes this formative period:

What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. ...[I]n 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia."


...[T]he [resulting Red Book] was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. ...

The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.

Clearly Jung was entertaining a very rich paracosm. But were his explorations deep and fruitful or excessive and mentally ill? Jungian adherents and author Corbett have no answers, and the case of Jung and his paracosm becomes especially confusing because he turned his paracosm into the crucible of his life's work. Unlike Kirk Allen [previously discussed in a review of a Harper's 1954 article, "The Jet Propelled Couch"], Jung did not find his paracosm to be an intrusion into and distraction from his mundane job. In fact, his paracosm and his job seem to have become inseparable, as he was practicing in his paracosm techniques that he would later publish and lecture about.

Corbett's article does not deal with such fascinating topics, however; she is more concerned with the quest for Jung's paracosmic records, or the Red Book, itself. As a sensitive, deeply personal document of a famous psychoanalyst, Jung's diary of his travels in his mind has been closely guarded by his heirs and reverently visited only by a few adherents. It is soon to be published, though, with reproductions of its painstakingly done illustrations, as well as thousands of footnotes to explain its wide-ranging mythological, scholarly and alchemical allusions.

Again, Corbett's article seems to ignore the significance of the impending debut of the Red Book. It's a primary source about a paracosm, and primary sources about people's imaginary worlds are pretty hard to come by. I don't know why. It's as if scholars are interested in paracosms only for what they tell us about their creators' "serious," non-paracosmic works, not about the significance of paracosmic phenomena per se. But, as Corbett's article implicitly suggests, paracosmic works such as Jung's Red Book are indeed serious works. In these playgrounds of the mind, themes and characters develop in raw form the interests of many a creator, who then presents more refined versions of the paracosm in his or her artistry.

Why no, I'm not motivated to work today. Why askest thou? =P

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"The Jet Propelled Couch," an article [part 1, part 2] from a 1954 issue of Harper's, describes an analyst's encounter with a university professor and scientist who lives a dual life. In his mundane existence, he works at the university and researches, but, in his fantasy life, his soul travels to other galaxies, where he is the ruler of a planet, charismatic, powerful, womanizing and benevolent. His trips to his kingdom planet were becoming more frequent, interfering with his job; hence the analyst was called in.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" explores how "Kirk Allen," the subject, nurtured his fantasy world as he grew up as one of the only white children in an isolated settlement in pre-statehood Hawaii. When he chanced upon a series of science-fiction books featuring a protagonist also named Kirk Allen, this coincidence propelled his fantasy world into detailed development. Kirk began to "fill in the gaps" and "make corrections to" the adventures in the Kirk Allen series, as well as drawing maps, charts and pictures of people and places related to his sci-fi activities.

The Kirk Allen paracosm sustained Kirk for many years and gave him much pleasure, and the analyst had to figure out how to "wean him from his madness." Eventually the analyst decided to partly indulge Kirk's paracosm, getting into the spirit of his world, so to speak, taking it on its own terms. By agreeing with the reality of the Kirk Allen paracosm, the analyst showed Kirk what it was like to be a person who believed in his realm. Seeing a version of himself [i.e., a paracosm believer] in the analyst, Kirk slowly began to realize the fallacious assumptions upon which the reality of his paracosm was based. Thanks to the analyst's participation, Kirk realized that his paracosm was indeed fantastical, and he apparently resolved his conflicts between his mundane life and his fantasy life.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" is both fascinating and frustrating. It's fascinating in that it gives a view, albeit heavily psychoanalytic, of how a person's life circumstances may promote the development of a paracosm. At the same time, it's frustrating because the fact that the analyst thinks that Kirk Allen is "mad" makes the whole business of paracosms seem more insane, threatening and maladaptive than they really are. I know from my researches and personal experience that paracosms can be an enjoyable, helpful, glorious part of the imaginal development of childhood and adulthood, even though people who are foreign to the idea tend to think it's a little mad.

In my estimation, Kirk Allen was not mad and did not have a psychosis; I would say more precisely that he had an elaborate, engaging paracosm, the reality of which was interfering with the mundane reality of his life. The only problem with his paracosm was not that it was so well-developed and detailed, but that it was causing trouble with his job. In this case, madness lies not in the contents or existence of the paracosm per se, but more in its effects.

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Alfred de Musset's La Nuit de Mai is an extended poetic dialog between the Poet and the Muse. The Muse urges the poet to sing/write in the efflorescence of spring. The Poet keeps moping, saying his sadness is too intense to be spoken. The Muse hits some seductive, sexual raptures, but the Poet, too busy immured in his melancholy, seems not to notice. Idiot.

In La Nuit d'Aout and La Nuit d'Octobre, the relationship between le Poete et la Muse continues with erotic charge, but I won't go into those parts now. I'm just happy that I have rediscovered La Nuit de Mai, especially now that I'm thinking about Anneka and Will's muses, who probably use de Musset's Nuits cycle for their own devices.

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NOTE: As a work in progress, this list will be periodically updated to reflect my latest research.

Ever since my sister and I created our first imaginary world at age 4, I've been interested in imaginary worlds, technically termed "paracosms," and imaginary characters/friends. Information about the paracosmic is surprisingly difficult to come by, but, over the years, I have scraped together relevant material. Most of it is from a psychological, psychiatric or sociological point of view, although a few New Agey things have crept in since I considered them useful. Forthwith, a list.

Caughey, John. Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach. In a welcome antidote to archetypical navel-gazing, Imaginary Social Worlds compares the contents of imaginary social worlds cross-culturally. Caughey examines daydreams, celebrity fantasies, sexual fantasies, etc., and looks at the ways in which an individual's fantasy world reflects themes and obsessions of the world around him/her.

Cohen, David; MacKeith, Stephen. The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood. Containing one of the first longitudinal studies of children and their paracosms, this book is notable for collecting stats and stories about the paracosms of several score British paracosms and the lives of their creators. The best parts of this book give thumbnail sketches of each creator's family circumstances [economic status, siblings, location] and how these affected each paracosm. Included is also a summary of the salient points of each imaginary world. Good for a look at the actual content of paracosms.

Matthews, Caitlin. In Search of Woman's Passionate Soul: Revealing the Daimon Lover Within. A collection of observations from heterosexual women discussing their experiences of relationships with male imaginary characters. Despite its Jungian underpinnings, limited sample size and ridiculous extrapolation, I like this book for its first-person reporting about the paracosmic.

Root-Bernstein, Michele. "Imaginary Worldplay as an Indicator of Creative Giftedness." In The International Handbook on Giftedness, edited by Larisa V. Shavinina. Noting that the seeds and early signs of adult creativity may be seen in childhood play, Root-Bernstein looks at what childhood paracosms can tell us about their creators as adults. She notes a high correlation between creators of childhood paracosms and those who went on to be artists and successful scientists. Less about paracosms themselves and more about their implications.

Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. Dry, but good for a historical overview, this book discusses the changing conceptions of  imaginary characters over the last 150 years of psychology/psychiatry.

Taylor, Marjorie. Imaginary Companions and the Children who Create Them. Taking the perspective of a child development psychologist, Taylor synthesizes many studies on fantasy play in children. Discussing imaginary friends, transitional objects and paracosms, she concludes that the invention of these things represents a common, healthy aspect of modern American child development. Taylor is at her best when talking about imaginary friends; her section on paracosms has great first-person reports, but ends too abruptly.

Watkins, Mary M. Invisible Guests: The Development of Imaginal Dialogues. A premier introduction and overview to the concept of multivocal consciousness, imaginary friends, whatever you want to call it. Watkins argues that the current psychiatric fixation with a unitary voice/self ignores a rich philosophical, mythological and phenomenological tradition of an internal population of >1. To that end, she synthesizes information reaching back to ancient Greek epics and forward to modern Jungianism. Her discussion of authorial relationships to story characters is especially strong.

Watkins, Mary M. Waking Dreams. Written before Invisible Guests, this book takes the same pro-paracosmic viewpoint, extended to fantasy, daydreaming, waking dreams and other supposedly "non-productive" states in general. Watkins' Jungian background leads her to champion the concept of "active imagination," that is, calling out the characters in one's head and talking to them. She explores the origins of this technique in European and American practice. Less rigorous and more poetically written than Invisible Guests, Waking Dreams is a thought-provoking ancillary, but should be read after Invisible Guests.

Wegner, Daniel M. White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession and the Psychology of Mental Control. A lucid, conversational, funny book about the ways in which people attempt to control their thoughts and the ways in which these methods backfire. Wegner's comments on suppression and obsession provide insight into how people can create characters and then endow them with so much personality that they seem independent.

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The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood by David Cohen and Stephen A. MacKeith is about paracosms. I NEED IT RIGHT NOW.

And this one too, which has an essay about paracosms: Organizing Early Experience: Imagination and Cognition in Childhood edited by Delmont Morrison.

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With the final book of the Twilight Saga coming out on Saturday [woo hoo!!], Laura Miller takes a critical look at the immensely popular glurge. She correctly notes that Bella's extreme lack of personality makes her a Mary-Sue-shaped costume which the typical fan, a young teenaged heterosexual girl, can climb into so that she can have virtual smoochies with Edward:

She is purposely made as featureless and ordinary as possible in order to render her a vacant, flexible skin into which the reader can insert herself and thereby vicariously enjoy Edward's chilly charms...Edward, not Bella, is the key to the Twilight franchise, the thing that fans talk about when explaining their fascination with the books. 

Read more... )
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I loved making maps of imaginary countries when I was young. Now I can do the same thing on the computer with the freeware AutoRealm. I wonder if I could bring the United Provinces of Ilion into digital format?



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