My two-year-old daughter has personified the warring factions of her psyche and is literally working out her issues using imaginary friends.
Kids are concrete thinkers. They are literalists who imagine all manner of abstractions as physical beings. Everything unknown is magic and The Dark, or disquieting unknown, is the perfect breeding ground for magic of any sort. Fears and anxieties become monsters… nocturnal monsters that can hide under your bed.
Brontë lives in a world bursting with monsters, but also has a strong coterie of imaginary stuffed animal and doll friends. She makes them talk, giving them unique temperaments and catch phrases.
Within her inner circle are a number of distinct personalities, roughly corresponding to Freud’s model of the psychic apparatus.
Don’t be fooled by how adorable Pink Bear looks in his little pink hoodie. He is pure chaos. He jumps on the bed, knocking everything over. He scrambles up into the kitchen cabinets to sneak honey. He pulls all of Brontë’s clothes out of her dresser and dumps them around her room.
Walk into Brontë’s room to see all the books knocked out of her bookshelf into piles on the floor? “Pink Bear did it!” she will say.
Pink Bear will take off whenever he feels like it, living by the pleasure principle alone. Pink Bear will unwind toilet paper all over the place. He will make a mess, just to do it. He’s a rebel without a cause.
Sometimes he even locks Brontë’s baby sister in the bathroom. Pink Bear is clearly a bad influence.
Brontë’s Superego is embodied by “Punzel,” the princess doll. She has long blonde hair and always wears beautiful dresses. She is pretty: her hair is pretty, her face is pretty, her clothes are pretty, and all of her things are pretty. She likes to ride horses and eat cupcakes. She is friends with all other the other princess dolls and likes to invite them to princess parties.
Punzel is everything we expect her to be, as well as everything we want little girls to be. She wears frilly dresses, hosts tea parties, and talks in a pretty, soft voice. She never gets angry, never says anything ugly, and never, absolutely ever, sneaks honey out of the kitchen cabinets. She often finds herself in distress and needs rescuing, but that comes with the territory of being a glamorous princess.
Punzel does, however, sometimes come into conflict with Pink Bear. She disapproves of his mess-making and general barbarian tendencies, whereas Pink Bear thinks Punzel is a prissy little goodie two-shoes with no backbone.
At story time, which is Brontë’s favorite nightly ritual, Punzel and Pink Bear will often jockey for position next to Brontë as a book is being read. They both want to see the pictures, but don’t want to look at each other’s stupid face.
Chief among Brontë’s inner circle is Minnie. She is a Minnie Mouse puppet blanket and Brontë’s constant companion.
Minnie knows how to balance her public persona with a good dose of merrymaking, but also has a wild side. She will throw tantrums, draw pictures of poo, blow indignant raspberries, grab books in her mouth and throw them, and even try to bite the other animals when angry enough.
Most of her antics, however, are motivated by her desire to keep the other imaginary friends in line. When Pink Bear and Punzel are disrupting story time with constant bickering, Minnie Mouse tells them to “SHUT UP” and points out where each of them needs to sit. She can be a little bossy, but without her level-headed mediation, all hell would break loose. Someone has to step up.
In Brontë’s imaginary pantheon of psychic dilemmas, there even exists a shadow figure. Meet Orange Bear, the traitor.
See that gentle grin? Those reassuring eyebrows lifted in the middle in a way that suggests harmless benevolence? Don’t believe them. Those eyebrows are a lie.
Brontë thought Orange Bear was her friend, but he was entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting her from monsters at night. He looks big and tough, so one night when she was telling me all about the scary night monsters that sneak into her room, I reassured her that Orange Bear was there to keep her safe.
The next morning, she stomped out of her room, disgusted, while dragging Orange Bear behind her. With utter disdain, she summarily dumped Orange Bear in the hallway.
Confused, I started dragging him back into her room and she had a fit. “NO!” she screamed, “NO ORANGE BEAR!”
“You don’t want Orange Bear in your room? He keeps the monsters out,” I said.
“HE DO NOT,” she shouted, “He let monsters IN my room!” And with that, she banished Orange Bear forever.
Brontë considers loyalty a great virtue. Betrayal will not be tolerated. Orange Bear’s transgression was unforgivable, and to this day, Orange Bear is not allowed to step foot into Brontëland.
Technically, the Shadow figure is an element of Jungian psychology, not Freudian. I find this gratifying, since I’m fonder of Jung than Freud. Perhaps this entire schema should be revised in terms of Jungian archetypes. Let’s see… Punzel would be the princess. Pink Bear is the outlaw, and Minnie is the mentor?
Whoever thought that child’s play is frivolous? Seems fraught with emotional drama to me. Next time your kids (or any kids) are acting stuff out with their dolls (or “action figures” if they are boys, because obviously boys play with “action figures”), pay attention. You might be surprised by how often inner turmoil is personified into concrete characters.