For many, asking “What is personification?” is easily answered. It is easy to look around and see cartoon characters, graphics for businesses and toys that have human features. Personification occurs for a variety of reasons. In the majority of cases, very little harm can come from it. There are cases, however, when personification can lead to other, more serious issues, including various types of attachment and obsessive compulsive disorders. For many, seeing items in such a personal manner, allows them to have an emotional attachment they are comfortable with, when it is difficult to establish those bonds with individuals.
What Does Personification Mean?
What is the definition of personification? Basically, it is the attachment of human qualities to a another person, object or event. A few examples include:
- The dog grinned.
- The moon looked down on the couple
- The sun watched over the sea.
Physical and emotional attributes can be used to describe a feeling or sensation that a person has when they see an object, but instead of relaying it as something they personally felt, they attribute it to the object, as if it was responsible for the action. Writers and other artists often use personification throughout their work to help describe and identify key components in their piece. Some use it more proficiently than others, but the main goal is to find a way to bring a story or piece of art alive to the person reading or viewing it. Personification helps to do that.
Small children often use personification in the creation of imaginary friends. Dolls and other toys may be used to impersonate real friends when there are none to be readily found. Children who are left to play by themselves will often create identities for specific toys so they are no longer alone. In most cases, this is considered to be normal behavior and is seen as a child’s ability to adequately use their imagination to keep themselves occupied.
Why Is It Used?
When it comes to art or creative works, personification is a unique tool that allows the viewer or reader to better understand what is going on or how something feels. Writers especially, use personification as a way of relating objects or individuals to a certain event or happening. It creates mood and adds a sense of emotional attachment, that attracts peoples’ attention and encourages them to continue reading.
Personification is commonly used to relate an activity or situation to positive, human interactions or friendships. A good example of this is, “The sun rose high in the sky, smiling on everyone who was in its path.” Even though the sun cannot actually smile, it denotes a sense of happiness and cheer that will begin to spread as the person continues to follow the work.
Personification is also used in other, less positive ways. Bullies can use personification to create fictitious images of individuals they are targeting. For example, drawing a face on a large animal and giving it the same name as their intended target is an effective way of ridiculing or demeaning another person. Repeated taunts and derogatory behavior can cause severe emotional distress to the victim, resulting in depression, anxiety and panic attacks. In extremely severe cases, suicide may also present itself.
Fear and the inability to trust others are just two reasons why individuals rely on the personification of objects to feel safe and secure. Defense mechanisms like these protect individuals from experiencing deep levels of hurt and anxiety. By providing objects with personas that are appealing to them, they can create an environment where they are in control and can feel at ease.
Children who are bullied often begin to fantasize creating imaginary friends. While this is primarily a defense mechanism for smaller children, teens may continue to create fake friends or personalities to make themselves feel more important. In most cases, this type of behavior is relatively harmless. The harms begins to present itself when the individual begins to choose the fictional friends over the real ones. The more they become entrenched in their fictional world, the less likely are they to participate in social activities and interact with their peers.
Between Reality and Fantasy
Individuals who are bullied or taunted relentlessly may begin to create a world or environment for themselves where they are in control. They often relate to fictional characters and surround themselves with items items that perpetuate that fantasy. When the bullying becomes too traumatizing, they may eventually choose to withdraw from the real world.
As children mature, they will often grow out of the imaginary friends and the personification of stuffed animals, dolls and other toys. Parents who have fostered healthy relationships with their children will often begin to notice their child depends less and less on their imaginary friends when they begin to make new friends in day care or elementary school.
Understanding Personification and Why It Is Used
When a person begins to understand the personification definition, they begin to realize that in most cases it is relatively harmless. It is only when the individual begins to shy away from friends, family and society at large, does it begin to pose a true problem. Most parents can help to facilitate the transition from imaginary playmates to real ones by exposing their children to new experiences and other children who have the same interests as they do.
Writers and entertainers realized long ago, that an extremely effective way to keep a child’s attention was to create cartoon characters with human or personal tendencies. Cartoons can take any form, shape or size and can elicit the same emotions as a human being. Children easily relate to each one because the characters are designed to be child-like and innocent.
Personification is often used to help others identify with a mood, feeling, perception or concept. The object being personified does not really have those characteristics. It is the intent of the creator to make the viewer or reader feel a specific emotion or feeling. Personification works to evoke a desired response from the viewer.
When personification is used in conjunction with hoarding or various types of obsessive compulsive disorders, the result can be traumatizing for more than just the person with the disorder. Friends and family members may be forced to deal with the behavior whether they want to or not. Hoarders, for example, become so enamored of their physical possessions, they begin to identify with each item on a completely unrealistic level.
Objects cease to become simple objects. Instead they become something the person cannot live without. Each item provides a connection or bond that the person relies on to feel safe and secure. The attachment becomes so strong, that when the person faces being separated from their possessions for any length of time, they begin to feel intense anxiety and frustration. The feelings can become so strong and out of control that physical reactions begin to occur. If the situation is not addressed quickly and efficiently, a full blown panic or anxiety attack may result.
Obsessive compulsive and attachment disorders are two mental health conditions that can sometimes have personification as a common symptom. A person can identify with an object or an animal to the point, where either one can take on human characteristics or personality treats. Much like with children who spend large amounts of time by themselves, the same can begin to happen with the elderly. Individuals with Alzheimers or dementia may see dolls as children or stuffed animals as pets.
With the continued advancements of technology, personification has been taken to new levels, especially by the entertainment industry. Cartoon characters, digitized robots that walk, talk and act like real people as well as the technology that makes it look like live animals are talking and acting like humans have greatly blurred the line between fiction and reality. While most children grasp the concept fairly early that the majority of effects portrayed on television and in the movies is fake. This should also be reinforced within the home and school settings.