Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

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In this blog post, we will talk about defence mechanisms, especially about introjection. What does it mean to introject?

What is the value of the information we received from our parents in childhood?

What types of defence mechanisms are there? Keep reading to find out. 

A message from our parents – Introjection defence mechanism

Many of us have probably heard of defence mechanisms without necessarily having studied psychology.

In adult life, through the unconscious defence mechanisms we have, we reduce or avoid certain negative states such as frustration, anxiety and stress. 

Of all the defence mechanisms, introjections are the strongest defence patterns we have, they come from the family, from the system in which we grew up.

Introjection stops us from being self-aware, often appears in personal and professional relationships, and reduces our self-confidence. 

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

In short, introjection is a message that a child receives from parents or other authority figures, before that child is mature enough to think about that message whether it is ok or not, to pass it through their own filters to finally accept it or not. 

A child learns to swallow that message without “spitting” what is not ok and thus remains undigested in the mental system.

When you are a child, the world is inhabited by giants. If there’s anything wrong with them, then you’re in trouble, since you depend on them.

In order to survive, you often come to believe that you are not okay (that you are not good enough, you are not smart enough, you should not trust others, etc.).

Common phrases that we introject are: Be good !, Mother knows best !, I punish you for your own good!

The child accepts the message because it is the best thing he can do, if he does not obey, a punishment follows. 

Sometimes the child’s experience is denied by adults. There are thousands of negative messages about how you should be in the world: Be the best !, Smile !, Stop crying, I’ll show it to you !, Don’t upset your brother !, Be ashamed !, Shut up !, Don’t get excited !, Get out of here !, What did you do? Good girls don’t do that! Don’t trust anyone! and the list can be spread over whole pages …

A life script

All introjected messages create what is called your life script. The life script is the intrapsychic process, i.e what the person thinks about himself, about others and about the world. 

The intrapsychic structure of a person will in turn influence the nature and quality of interpersonal relationships, so that it strengthens through repetition, the life scenario (Berne). 

At the age of 5, the child already has a life scenario: what does he think about him?

What does he think about the world? What does he think about others?

It is very important to recognize our introjections taken on board. Sometimes we realize we’re doing the same thing when you wake up saying the same things like your parents, it’s frustrating.

We realize their power, how they are transmitted transgenerationally. To interrupt this requires a lot of personal work, a concern for self-knowledge and personal development.

It is also very important for us adults to recognize the defence mechanisms we have and use in our daily lives in relationships with others, but also for parents or other authority figures who are responsible for the education of children, to understand how children form their defence mechanisms and how certain messages sent to them can affect the child’s entire life.

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

We have introjections that tell us how to fit in with the world.

There is a large part of us that is left behind, so we are not fulfilling our potential If you really find out who you are, you challenge all those messages: You are a bad person, others are better – you may find that you are not.

I suggest an exercise on the topic of introjections: think about the message you received from your mother and father about four different topics: trust, anger, sex, money. 

The message was expressed in terms of what you should and should not do, and sometimes you do not remember the words, maybe it came in the form of a look, a behaviour.

In order to survive, the child sacrifices himself – his needs, desires and feelings, by adapting to the requirements of the parents.

The child takes responsibility for the shortcomings in their environment.

This creative adjustment protects him against the inadequate parental reality, but at the cost of “swallowing” certain notions that confirm their insufficiency, their inadequacy, their failure.

Thus, in psychotherapy, working with childhood introjections, the person can get rid of fixed repetitive behaviours and creative adjustments or survival strategies from the past that have long since become useful and should no longer be used.

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

Defence mechanisms and their role

Freud was the first psychologist to notice the presence of these defence mechanisms, which he initially called “machines” that include all the means used by the individual to control, control, channel internal and external dangers, both consciously and unconsciously. 

He believed that people need these mechanisms to defend themselves from a truth that is hard to bear both physically and mentally; it can be a difficult family and social environment or a single traumatic event.

Defence mechanisms initially appear as healthy and creative adaptations that work throughout life to protect the ego from a threat, as they have many benign functions.

Unconscious use of defence occurs when the individual tries to maintain self-esteem or to avoid and manage a strong feeling that is considered threatening.

Freud was of the opinion that people need these mechanisms to protect themselves from the imperfections of reality, considering that they have an adaptive purpose.

Thus, healthy defence mechanisms can help maintain self-esteem, anxiety and frustration at an appropriate level for each individual.

Defence mechanisms are defined as psychological mechanisms available to the person to reduce the anxiety generated by internal conflicts. In everyday life, these defence mechanisms work more or less unconsciously. 

There are a large number of mechanisms that can “protect the ego” against the demands of instincts, reducing tensions, but not all have the same adaptive value.

Repression will have the function of repressing a dangerous tendency (aggression, sexuality), rejecting it outside the field of consciousness; sublimation, on the contrary, will transform the impulse into a socially appreciated activity (aggression becomes the spirit of sports competition, for example). 

Other defence mechanisms have been described: fantasizing, denying reality, identifying with the aggressor, ego retraction, rationalization, regression, reactionary formation, isolation, retroactive annulment, projection, introjection, self-aggression, transformation into the opposite. 

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

Each of us has different adaptation mechanisms, which appear in demanding moments; they are not conscious or voluntary, they arise from a need of the individual, without him having any control.

Basically, they distort the image of reality in order to be easier to understand and accept.

In DSM-5 (2013) the defence mechanisms are defined as: “Mechanisms that mediate the individual’s reaction to emotional conflict and external stressors. Some defence mechanisms are almost invariably maladaptive (projection, cleavage, act). Others (repression, denial) can be both adaptive and maladaptive, depending on the severity, inflexibility and context in which they manifest.

Thus, defences can be divided into two categories:

PRIMARY / IMMATURE DEFENSE MECHANISMS – involving the boundaries between the self and the outside world:

Extreme withdrawal – represents withdrawal in a different state of consciousness, in children, it appears as a fantasy world/character being an automatic protective response and in adults, you can see a withdrawal from the social environment and diminished interpersonal relationships.

Also here there may be inclinations towards the consumption of chemicals for the alteration of consciousness

Denial – appears as the first response to any catastrophe and represents the refusal to accept that certain unpleasant experiences happen; it aims to manage weights, to make life less unpleasant and can lead to effective actions in crisis or emergency bags, but used in excess can have the opposite results leading to a denial of their own limits. 

Omnipotent control – is represented by the feeling of power, the impression of the ability to influence circumstances.

This mechanism contributes to maintaining self-esteem, feelings of competence and efficiency, as well as the exercise of will, but can lead individuals to manipulative, antisocial and even psychopathic behaviour.

Extreme idealization and devaluation – the need to idealize remains unchanged since childhood, so the individual attributes perfect qualities to others (in love – not to be disappointed; in narcissism – to reduce shame or overestimation of self.).

The inevitable reverse of idealization is that of devaluing those around in order to maintain the feeling of self-worth.

Projection, introjection and projective identification:

Projection – is the process by which one’s own psychic contents are attributed to someone else.

This mechanism is the basis for empathy, but its preferred use can lead to a paranoid character of the individual.

Introjection – is the process by which the individual creates an image of another person.

It represents an identification with the significant ones that can become problematic as a result of relationships that cannot be overcome (lack of mourning process).

It has characteristic predispositions to sadism and explosiveness

Projective identification – one’s own projection on another so as to distort him massively, represents a fusion of projection and introjection.

Hysterical, melancholic and delusional identifications are pathological

Somatization – the conversion of emotional states into physical symptoms, the immune system gives way to emotional overload, so the individual focuses his attention on the physical problem.

Acting-out – impulsively putting into action an unconscious desire/fantasy or something that cannot be defined by words.

It appears as a way to avoid painful effects and is most common in antisocial and impulsive personalities.

The transposition into the action of psychological addiction is encountered in addictions (thus becoming addicted to substance)

Sexualization (Instinctualization) – assigning a sexual meaning to an object or behaviour, with the unconscious intention of converting terror, pain or other co-sensation into arousal.

At this mechanism there are differences between the sexes, men easily sexualizing aggression, and women being more able to sexualize addiction.

Extreme dissociation – is the destruction of the feeling of individual continuity in terms of identity, memory, consciousness or perception, being a normal reaction to trauma, the person seeks to maintain an illusion of mental control in front of it.

The subject may forget an aspect of his own personality.

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

SECONDARY / MATURE DEFENSIVE PROCESSES – involving the internal boundaries, between the Self and the Self or Self or between the observation and experience of parts of the Self:

Repression – the essence of this mechanism is motivated forgetting or ignoring.

It is associated with internal states, so there is the unconscious rejection of unacceptable impulses, representations or ideas that remain active, while remaining inaccessible to the conscious.

Regression – unconscious return to an earlier stage of development in the face of a danger that causes anxiety or frustration, here may appear more primitive modes of defence.

Topical regression is when you dream to avoid a painful reality, and in the temporal one special attention is paid to previous periods.

Intellectualization – clinging to a particular theory to explain behaviour, thus resorting to abstract and excessive thinking to avoid anxiety or conflict.

This occurs in dramatic situations in which the subject does not cope with the situation and intellectualizes the affections, uses intellectual abilities to dominate the situation.

Rationalization – is the logical justification that camouflages an unacceptable behaviour, attitude or beliefs, thus keeping hidden the real reasons behind them.

There are practical excuses to free yourself from tension after denying a reality

Moralization – is an unconscious transformation of the impulse into moral duty. This is related to rationalization and can be seen as an advanced version in terms of cleavage development.

But using the principles of the evolved ego, able to feel mixed feelings, rigid supremacy.

Compartmentalization – inhibits the ability to make connections between incompatible cognitions, thus allowing two conflicting situations to coexist without noticing the contradiction.

Retroactive cancellation – can be considered the successor of omnipotent control and is the unconscious effort to counterbalance an effect.

Practically the individual opposes the conscience, or as a result of shameful or aggressive behaviour previously tries to deny, elaborate and clarify through an opposite action or self-punishment

Returning to one’s own person – can be considered a more mature method of introjection.

This mechanism represents the redirection of negative attitudes, anger, resentment towards a person, towards himself

Displacement – involves redirecting feelings towards an object to another that has features similar to the first. In the case of the development of phobias, the subject uses the movement of anxiety from a tense area to a specific object that symbolizes the dreaded phenomenon.

Reactionary formation – means to transform an effect, a desire or an impulse into its opposite, this mechanism appears to deny ambivalence.

This can be beneficial in competitive situations, where feelings of hatred and admiration appear.

In this situation, the individual does not accept the duality of a feeling and considers only an extreme valid

Transformation on the contrary – involves the transformation of passivity into activity, thus controlling the moment of production of one’s own addiction, victimization or satisfaction.

It is the implementation of a scenario that changes someone’s position from subject to object or vice versa.

Identification – internalizing the qualities of another person from the desire to resemble him.

Identifying with the ghost or with conscious or unconscious parental desires leads to the implementation of attitudes of the favourite hero or the wishes of the parents.

It can be an identification with the victim or the aggressor, a situation in which the subject seeks to be the victim or becomes the aggressor himself.

Sublimation – is a way of looking at different individual tendencies, being a creative and socially acceptable solution to conflicts between primitive impulses and inhibitory forces

Humour – involves finding comic or ironic elements in difficult situations, so the subject reduces, distances himself and acquires a degree of objectivity to unpleasant events.

The individual is accustomed to joking about an unfortunate incident, to avoid thinking about unpleasant feelings.

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

Conclusions

In this article, we talked about what it means to introject, the aftermath of introjection and what other defence mechanisms we have. 

Introjection is the process by which the individual creates an image of another person.

It represents an identification with the significant ones that can become problematic as a result of relationships that cannot be overcome (lack of mourning process).

It has characteristic predispositions to sadism and explosiveness.

Of all the defence mechanisms, introjections are the strongest defence patterns we have, they come from the family, from the system in which we grew up.

Introjection stops us from being self-aware, often appears in personal and professional relationships, and reduces our self-confidence. 

If you have any questions, comments or recommendations, please let us know. 

FAQ about introject

What is an Introject example?

An introjection example would be a parent telling his child: “Stop crying or I’ll punish you!” – The child accepts the message because it is the best thing he can do, if he does not obey, a punishment follows.

What happens in the process of Introjection?

In the process of introjection, the child creates an image of another person.

It represents an identification with the significant ones that can become problematic as a result of relationships that cannot be overcome. 

What are the 7 defence mechanisms?

The 7 most common defence mechanisms are projection, denial, displacement, rationalization, compensation, repression and sublimation.

What are the Defence mechanisms in psychology?

In psychology, we talk about the defence mechanisms or ways in which we behave or think in certain ways, so as to better protect or “defend” ourselves.

Defence mechanisms are a way of looking at how people distance themselves from a full awareness of their unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

They are tactics developed by the Ego to protect itself from anxiety.

Is crying a defence mechanism?

Crying is not a defence mechanism. Instead, crying is a coping mechanism and a way to express ourselves when we face demanding moments.

It’s a way by which our body releases stress, anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.  

How many Defence mechanisms are there?

According to Freud, there are 10 defence mechanisms out there.

His daughter Anna Freud enumerated them in her works as well: Displacement, repression, regression, reaction formation, isolation, undoing, projection, introjection, denial, rationalization, sublimation. 

Further reading

  1. The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, by Anna Freud
  2. Barriers, Defences And Resistance, by John Davy
  3. The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit, by Donald Kalsched 
  4. Defence Mechanisms in the Counseling Process, by Arthur J. Clark
  5. Understanding Ego Defense Mechanisms: A Guide for Educators, by John Buckley Dr

References

Mechanisms of defence: Development and research perspectives, by PF Kernberg

Research in Psycho-Analysis—The Hampstead Index as an Instrument of Psycho-Analytic Research, by J Sandler 

Resistance to organisational change: the role of defence mechanisms, by WH Bovey

psychiatry.org

Introjection defence mechanism (How it happens)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.