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Introjection is a psychological defense mechanism where the subject replicates in themselves behaviors, attributes or other fragments of the surrounding world, especially of other people. Associated concepts are identification, incorporation and internalization.

To use a simple example, a person who picks up traits from their friends (e.g., if someone exclaims "Ridiculous!" all the time and their friends start saying it too) is participating in introjection.

According to the psychoanalyst Freud, the ego and the superego are constructed by introjecting external behavioral patterns into the subject's own persona.

Introjection is also the name of a defense mechanism, which handles threats from the outside that can potentially cause anxiety by infolding them into the internal world of the subject, where they can be neutralized or alleviated. More specifically introjection means incorporating attributes, attitudes or qualities of an absent person of high significance (for example, mother gone to work or relative gone to heaven) into oneself.

One example often used is when a child envelops representational images of his absent parents into himself, simultaneously fusing them with his own personality.

Projection has been described as an early phase of introjection.[1]


However, this meaning has been challenged by Maria Torok as she favours using the term as it is employed by Sándor Ferenczi in his essay "The Meaning of Introjection" (1912). In this context introjection is an extension of autoerotic interests that broadens the ego by a lifting of repression so that it includes external objects in its make-up. Maria Torok defends this meaning in her 1968 essay The Illness of Mourning and the Fantasy of the Exquisite Corpse where she argues that Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein confuse introjection with incorporation and that Ferenczi's definition remains crucial to analysis. She emphasized that in failed mourning 'the impotence of the process of introjection (gradual, slow, laborious, mediated, effective)' means that 'incorporation is the only choice: fantasmatic, unmediated, instantaneous, magical, sometimes hallucinatory...crypt effects (of incorporation)'.[2]

According to Freud, the ego and the superego are constructed by introjecting external behavioral patterns into the subject's own person. Of course, Freud had a habit of looking at relational mechanisms in negative terms[citation needed].

Relational mechanisms

In Freudian terms, introjection is the aspect of the ego's system of relational mechanisms which handles checks and balances from a perspective external to what one normally considers 'oneself', infolding these inputs into the internal world of the self-definitions, where they can be weighed and balanced against one's various senses of externality. For example:

  • "When a child envelops representational images of his absent parents into himself, simultaneously fusing them with his own personality."
  • "Individuals with weak ego boundaries are more prone to use introjection as a defense mechanism."

According to D. W. Winnicott "projection and introjection mechanisms... let the other person be the manager sometimes, and to hand over omnipotence."[3]

Gestalt therapy

In Gestalt therapy the concept of "introjection" is not identical with the psychoanalytical concept. Central to Fritz and Laura Perls' modifications was the concept of "dental or oral aggression", when the infant develops teeth and is able to chew. They set "introjection" against "assimilation". In Ego, Hunger and Aggression[4] Fritz and Laura Perls suggested that when the infant develops teeth, he or she has the capacity to chew, to break apart food, and assimilate it, in contrast to swallowing before; and by analogy to experience, to taste, accept, reject or assimilate. Laura Perls explains: "I think Freud said that development takes place through introjection, but if it remains inrojection and goes no further, then it becomes a block; it becomes identification. Introjection is to a great extent unawares."[5]

Thus Fritz and Laura Perls made "assimilation", as opposed to "introjection", a focal theme in Gestalt therapy and in their work, and the prime means by which growth occurs in therapy. In contrast to the psychoanalytic stance, in which the "patient" introjects the (presumably more healthy) interpretations of the analyst, in Gestalt therapy the client must "taste" with awareness his or her experience, and either accept or reject it, but not introject or "swallow whole". Hence, the emphasis is on avoiding interpretation, and instead encouraging discovery. This is the key point in the divergance of Gestalt therapy from traditional psychoanalysis — growth occurs through gradual assimilation of experience in a natural way, rather than by accepting the interpretations of the analyst.

See also


  1. Malancharuvil JM (December 2004). Projection, introjection, and projective identification: a reformulation. Am J Psychoanal 64 (4): 375–82.
  2. Jacques Derrida, "Foreword", Nicolas Abraham/Maria Torok, The Wolf Man's Secret Word (1986) p. xvii and p. 119n
  3. "Winnicott, D.W. Home is Where We Start From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst.New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986. 50.
  4. Perls, F., Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942, 1947) ISBN 0-939266-18-0
  5. Wysong, J./Rosenfeld, E.(eds.): An oral history of Gestalt therapy. Interviews with Laura Perls, Isadore From, Er­ving Polster, Miriam Polster, Highland, N.Y. 1982, p. 6.
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