I was recently asked how to tell the difference between a soulbond– an independent, externally originating entity with its own thoughts, feelings and desires– and an rp muse–an internally constructed entity of greater or lesser elaborateness and no true will of its own.
This discussion boils down to attempting to determine if a presence that you’re sharing space with has an independent will or does not. This is far from a hard science. Soulbonding is a purely internal, deeply personal experience. Neither you nor I can truly know for certain if someone is ‘real’ or even what being ‘real’ even means in the end.
And let’s not quibble about terminology. I’m not here to tell you what terms to use or not to use when referring to independent entities that you cohabitate with– just how you might be able to tell apart one that has a will of its own and one that doesn’t. This is a turing test for internal entities.
Here are some non-authoritative terms that I’ll be using in this guide and what I mean when I use them:
- Presence: for the duration of this post ‘presence’ will be used to describe a possible soulbond or muse.
- Host: for the duration of this post will be used to describe the person in primary communication with the presence.
- Soulbond: A presence which is both externally originating and independent of will, and possess self-awareness. Generally shares the identity/existence of a person considered to be a fictional character, either from media that the host is aware of, or media that the host is personally creating.
- RP muse: A presence that has been both internally constructed and is dependent on the will of its creator; does not possess true self-awareness. Generally shares the identity/existence of a person considered to be a fictional character, either from media that the host is aware of, or media that the host is personally creating.
- Tulpa: A presence that has presence that has been internally constructed, and was initially dependent on the will of its creator, but may come to possess a will and self-awareness.
- Fictional introject: a presence which is internally constructed; it may be independent or dependent depending on perspective. This is a psychological concept related specifically to non-spiritual models of plurality and is outside the scope of this discussion. If you believe something you are in communication with is best described as a fictional introject, this post will not be able to assist you with that determination.
With that being said, here are some things to think about when trying to discern if a presence is a soulbond or an rp muse.
Does the presence exist only to carry out the will of or bring comfort to the host?
Does the presence exist solely to act as comfort for the host without exhibiting any desires of its own? Do the host and the presence ever find themselves in disagreement or at odds about anything? Does the presence ever require comfort from the host? A presence that exists solely for the host, and doesn’t exhibit its own desires, disagree with the host, or require comfort for itself is more likely to be an rp muse. No matter how well two real people get along there will always be disagreements and misconceptions between them.
Did the presence arrive in immediate response to the existence of another character in another system/another character in an rp, and come into being only or primarily in order to interact with them?
If so, does the presence alter its preferences, presentation or actions in order to pursue attention or romance from the other character? A presence that alters itself or primarily exists to seek attention (romantic or platonic) from someone else is more likely to be an internally constructed entity. The more immediate and intense this behavior is, the more likely it is to be artificial and originating from an rp muse. Relationships between naturally occurring entities tend to be slow, and have awkward elements, especially between people who have preconceived expectations about one another, such as being related characters.
Does the presence conform to all of the ideas, expectations and ‘headcanons’ that the host had about the character the presence is depicted as before the presence itself arrived?
If there are no unexpected details, aspects or traits that clash with the host’s original conception of the character before meeting the presence; if they are completely identical to that preconceived idea, it is more likely that they are an internally constructed, dependent entity than an externally originating and independent one.
Does the presence have interests, hobbies, or even knowledge outside the scope of the host’s interests, hobbies and knowledge?
Presences that have their own hobbies and interests, especially in areas that the host is not interested in, are more likely to be independent entities. While of course many soulbonds share interests with their hosts, an entity that lacks a strong interest in anything outside of the host’s comfort zone is more likely to be an rp muse.
Does the presence have an interest in sharing the host’s experience of the world, or in experiencing it themselves using the body?
An independent, self-directed presence will generally be more interested in the outside world than an internally created dependent one. Soulbonds often want to taste foods, pursue their own hobbies, select clothing, enjoy fiction, or give their opinions on these kinds of matters to the host. If the presence begins to show an interest in outside experiences while not having one before, this can also be a sign that an internally created presence is becoming a tulpa.
Does the presence offer remarks or comments about things without being asked?
A presence that remarks and comments about things around them without being prompted to, especially things that don’t directly or obviously concern or interest them, is more likely to have an independent will. A presence that only offers its opinion specifically when asked for is more likely to be a dependent creation.
If the presence originates from an environment different than the one experienced by the host (a past era, from the future, from a distant country, another universe etc), does the presence show familiarity with the new environment?
Depending on the personality, a presence from a wildly different environment who is immediately familiar and comfortable with the current modern world can be a sign that the presence is more likely based on the will of the host.
This is not meant to be a definitive list of questions, there are no points to tally up and decide if you have a soulbond or a muse. None of these questions can in isolation answer if a presence is a soulbond or an rp muse, however considering them as a whole, and using them as a jumping off point to consider your experiences should help you get a more full picture, and make a judgment for yourself about your experience.
I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with having rp muses, and using them for personal comfort, or to add nuance to your writing or rp, or any other personal internal use.
However, soulbonders/soulbonds and people who have rp muses should be careful to understand one another’s postions and represent themselves clearly when interacting with one another. A mismatch in expectations and perceptions can lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Consider the following:
Without knowing the mismatch, someone who only experiences rp muses might become frustrated or have their feelings hurt interacting with a soulbonder, because the soulbonder considers the feelings of the other person’s rp muse as equal to the feelings of the player/host, when really the muse is just part of the fiction.
Likewise, without knowing the mismatch, a soulbond who finds out they’ve been interacting with an rp muse might feel catfished or manipulated, when they thought they were interacting with a real person, and the other host thought they were playing a game. Soulbonds interacting with rp muses can result in unpleasant scenarios that would be fine to play out in fiction, but are upsetting or even traumatizing for the soulbond who experiences them.
I am someone who is both a soulbonder, and who has had rp muses. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. Some of my bonds have even ended up having rp muses of their own. Life is complex. Mental landscapes are complex. Understanding ourselves, and those around us is hard. Take it slow, and be kind to yourself, and those around and within you. Soulbonder, soulbond, or writer with rp muses, we are all individual people, and we should seek to communicate openly with respect for one another, and treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves.