Created By: KJMackley on October 21, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on January 17, 2014

Subconscious Manifestation

Talking with an Imaginary Friend to work out your issues

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Trope
A character is going through a stressful time and find themselves talking with other characters that turn out to just be in their mind. They discover that by utilizing their conversations with an aspect of their own mind they are able to figure out problems if they didn't have someone to bounce ideas off of.

Compare All Just a Dream, Companion Cube and Tomato in the Mirror.

Examples

Film
  • Subverted in A Beautiful Mind, where Nash's hallucinations were driving him to obsess over unseen signals in newspapers and he had to push them away to recover some element of sanity.
  • Cast Away used this in an interesting way, as Chuck used the Volleyball "Wilson" as someone to talk to in an effort to keep his sanity. He maintains long conversations with it and at no point does the audience hear Wilsons side.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: Enterprise. Dr. Phlox had to spend time running the ship by himself while the human crew were in hibernation due to a harmful Negative Space Wedgie they had to pass through. Dr. Phlox imagined T'Pol was with him during times when she actually wasn't she was in hibernation with everyone else the whole time and that gave him the direction he needed in order to avert a crisis. A few episodes earlier he mentioned his species considered hallucinations to be evidence of a healthy mind trying to work something out.
  • Ted from How I Met Your Mother was invited to spend time with Robin very late at night during a time when his Long Distance Relationship with Victoria was about to fall apart. Ted imagined Victoria in several different locations and whenever he started arguing with her she reminded him that she is only in his mind, so everything she was saying was something he already knew and was fighting against it. Interestingly, she points out a later discovery just as Ted was about to put the pieces together himself.
  • Done very literally in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when Bashir was attacked by an alien and went into a coma. He found himself alone wandering around the station and select crew members he found turned out to be aspects of his mind (anger, fear, resentment, etc) while the alien was masquerading as one of them, hunting down the others in a form of Mind Rape. A part of this involved him trying to pick apart elements of his choices made in medical school and how he ended up on DS 9. In addition, the station itself represented his motor functions and he needed to repair damage done to them in order to recover from the attack.

Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • October 21, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    • Babylon 5: When Dr. Franklin takes a leave of absence from duty to work out his addiction to stims, he embarks on a "walkabout", an exercise inspired by Australian Aboriginals where a person, having figuratively "lost himself", wanders until he runs into himself again, whereby he can have a lengthy conversation with himself until their differences are resolved and he can reunite with himself and become whole again. After a couple episodes have passed, he gets stabbed in Downbelow, and while he lay bleeding heavily he does see a vision of himself and has a talk, with his "self" chastising him sternly for decisions he's made, and for running away from his problems (basically calling the walkabout exercise itself one more instance of this).

      • Also what Londo goes through in the episode "The Long Night of Londo Mollari", where he faces the horrible reality of some of his actions and choices in his mind (with a manifestation of G'Kar pointing them out), while physically unconscious in Med Lab after suffering a heart attack.

      • In the episode "Dust to Dust", when G'Kar is about to kill Londo in the process of a Mind Rape, he has a vision of his father, and then the angelic being G'Lan, both persuading him to turn to a higher purpose for himself and his people. In the end we see that this was a vision put in his mind by Kosh, so the trope is somewhat subverted, but it does have a lasting impact on him for the better.
  • October 21, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Would the Good Angel Bad Angel trope, seen often in animated cartoons, be a subtrope?
  • October 21, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Film

    Fight Club: the whole movie turns out to be this, when Tyler turns out to be an aspect of the narrator's (the unnamed protagonist played by Ed Norton) own personality, through which he works out some of his issues.
  • October 21, 2012
    Kellor
    The StargateSG1 episode "Grace", had Sam stranded alone on a spaceship, and she hallucinated her friends to help her sort out her personal life and her current situation. The Stargate Atlantis episode "Grace Under Pressure" had Rodney alone in a spaceship at the bottom of an ocean, doing pretty much the same thing.

    On Friends, Rachel had just learned that Ross loved her, and she was trying to come to terms with it while on a date with an insufferable jerk. She imagined that Ross was there and had an imaginary conversation with him, all while her date kept talking, oblivious.
  • October 21, 2012
    MrRuano
  • October 21, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Charlie writes all his thoughts to an imaginary friend when he doesn't have any actual friends.
  • October 22, 2012
    KJMackley
    In an episode of Monk, Adrian finds himself trying to solve a supposed suicide on a submarine and actually underwater. Generally freaking out, the only way he managed to cope was by imagining his therapist down there with him and giving him support. Finally solving the case, it didn't help that he tried to have the therapist explain what happened and thus making the crew think he was insane.
  • October 22, 2012
    tardigrade
    In the TV series, the eponymous Dexter has such conversations with his dead father and brother. In season 6, especially in relation to his trip to Nebraska, these two "imaginary friends" appear to act as different facets of Dexter's own psyche.
  • October 22, 2012
    StarSword
    Western Animation
    • Arthur: D.W. regularly does this with her imaginary friend Nadine.
  • October 22, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • In an episode of The Walking Dead, Darryl, close to death after a bad fall while hunting, has a conversation with a hallucination of his missing brother Merle.
  • October 22, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Battlestar Galactica Reimagined this was one of the theories about "Head Six" and her Baltar counterpart before their true nature was revealed.
      • There was also one episode where Admiral Adama imagined his dead ex-wife on their anniversary.

    • In the second season finale of Alphas Dr. Rosen is accompanied by a hallucination of his recently deceased daughter Dani as he persues Parish.
  • October 22, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    The title is rather broader than the trope, I think! It makes me think of Tulpa first.

    Internal Therapy? Psyche Therapist?
  • October 22, 2012
    reub2000
    • On United States Of Tara, they would frequently show multiple alters talking to each other. One of the alters, Shoshana is her therapist.
  • October 23, 2012
    KJMackley
    ^^ The truth is that I was thinking about this trope in a much more broad sense of merely someone interacting with their subconscious, the "therapy" aspect is generally the most common way it is used and almost every time this trope is used someone will comment on it being a "manifestation of my/your subconscious."

    Regardless, the thing you are talking about is both in TRS and basically covered by Your Mind Makes It Real.
  • October 23, 2012
    rolranx
    a follow up bullet to the stargate one already listed above

    • In Stargate Atlantis an episode has Rodney stranded at the bottom of the ocean running out of air as he tries to save himself. He begins to hallucinate a version of Samantha carter (implied to be the one person he believes as smart/smarter then him) who helps him to figure out how to save himself and keeps him fighting. Interesting enough Rodney recognizes Samantha Carter as an illusion from the beginning, even complains why she isn't naked because that's how he would want to hallucinate her.
  • October 23, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    ^^ I know - I've been in the TRS thread (which may be why it came to mind). I think I see what you're getting at, though, though it may be problematic in the future if the description is meant to be broader than the laconic and all the examples make it seem. (A Beautiful Mind shouldn't be counted as a subversion, in that case, for just one example.)

    Would this be a supertrope for, say, Mental World, Black Bug Room, and/or Floating Advice Reminder, then?
  • October 23, 2012
    KJMackley
    The trope is simply based on the idea of some aspect of your psyche becoming interactive. I can't think of any examples of that which aren't "therapeutic" or problem solving in some way. I could expand the description and make it more general-purpose (which I probably would if the trope was launched) but I don't think the examples would be any different regardless.

    A Beautiful Mind is really somewhere between a subversion and an inversion, as you can make the argument that his hallucinations are part of what made him so brilliant (his "roommate" especially being a source of motivation during his college years) but ultimately he needed to stick with reality.
  • October 23, 2012
    Kagimizu
    Perception has the main character himself, who, being a paranoid schizophrenic, often has hallucinations of people talking to him. Ironically this usually proves to be an asset as the hallucinations provide the insight needed to solve the latest crime.
  • January 2, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In Due South Benton's dead father is a recurring character giving his son advice; Benton specifically notes (and his father agrees) that it's just a figment of his imagination helping him cope with the crisis of the week - which doesn't stop Dad from interacting physically with his surroundings, like stealing Benton's hat to replace his own. His partner Ray's dead father shows up for him too once or twice.
  • January 2, 2013
    McKathlin
    • In Ratatouille, Remy starts seeing a little ghost of his role model, the chef Gusteau. Gusteau only knows what Remy himself knows, and he fades away once Remy doesn't need him anymore.
  • January 2, 2013
    McKathlin
    • In Order Of The Stick, Haley is struck unintelligible by trauma. She talks through her issues with personified facets of her psyche. The most frequently appearing is her self loathing, which looks like herself as a teenager.
  • February 14, 2013
    Met
    In a Halloween episode of Northern Exposure, Dr. Fleischman hits his head and gets knocked out. He dreams his "twin brother" has come into town- a version of himself who is friendlier and less neurotic. Everybody likes the "new" Fleischman. He finds himself complaining about this to Sigmund Freud, who helps him work through his feelings about his neuroses and his repressed personality.
  • February 18, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    In Vertical Run, Dave has a voice in his head that he talks to (and occasionally makes snarky comments). It's not clear if Dave actually has some sort of psychological problem or if this is a coping device initially created to deal with the horrors of the Vietnam War. Either way, it helps him survive.
  • February 19, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons Forgotten Realms product Knight of the Living Dead. Your character is an undead warrior who has a weasel skull that talks to him. The skull admits that it's just an aspect of your subconscious mind.
  • February 21, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • Villainous henchman Mister Fix from Air Programmes International's Around The World In 80 Days would often discuss his courses of action with himself, routinely standing in two different places to conduct his soliloquy.
  • January 15, 2014
    Sarcos
    • In Fool Moon Harry has a discussion with his subconscious about the multiple problems he's facing after he escapes from the police station after the Loup-Garou's rampage.
  • January 15, 2014
    DennisDunjinman
    • In the Disney Channel Original Movie Read It And Weep, the author protagonist starts having conversations with her alter-ego Isabella once her book is published and becomes a bestseller. As the movie goes on, she realizes that Is is nastier than she appears and is slowly corrupting all her thoughts and actions and taking over her mind, culminating in an ending where she rebels against Is's self-serving suggestions.
  • January 15, 2014
    Generality
    The above Stargate Atlantis episode was a Recycled Script from an episode of StargateSG-1 in which Sam was trapped alone on the Daedalus with a concussion while her subconscious manifested as her teammates to help her stay awake and solve the situation.
  • January 15, 2014
    randomsurfer
    I don't get why the Enterprise example in the OP has a spoiler tag - it's pretty obvious given the description.

    • In the short-lived series Raines Detective Raines imagines the Victim Of The Week hanging out with him while he tries to solve their murder. Raines used to have a partner who got shot in the line of duty, and as revealed at the end of the first episode was actually killed, but Raines imagines having conversations with him too, in order to work out his own issues.
    • Bones: Booth is trapped on a ship that's about to be sunk and the spirit of his army buddy Parker shows up to give him encouragement and advice. Booth knows that Parker is imaginary, but he does seem to help out since there are things they do together which would be impossible for one person to pull off. Also at the end of the episode Brennan sees Parker, though she doesn't know that he's dead.
    • In A Christmas Carol Scrooge thinks that Marley's ghost is one of these.
      You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!
  • January 15, 2014
    zarpaulus
    ^^ That was on the Prometheus, not the Daedalus.
  • January 16, 2014
    DAN004
    Well don't we already have Imaginary Friend?
  • January 16, 2014
    Arivne
    Formatted Examples section, namespaced and italicized work titles.
  • January 17, 2014
    abateman
    Yeah, the name definitely needs to be changed to avoid confusion with Imaginary Friend. Maybe Dissociated Therapist?

    As for an example, Dexter uses this in every episode beginning with Season 3 onward. Dexter's dad is his constant confidant, even though he is only Dexter's instincts personified.
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