One of the issues I dealt with in my therapy was I knew I sometimes exhibited childlike behaviors that were irrational, but I didn’t understand why that continued to happen. As an adult, I observed my behaviors and wanted to change them. It wasn’t until I understood the application of “introjects” that I could begin turning those behaviors around.
By definition, introject means: “To incorporate characteristics of a person into one’s own psyche unconsciously.” It begins when a child forms a reaction to how they are being treated by their dysfunctional or abusive parents such as feeling angry, sad, terrorized, or hopeless. As a result of feeling this way, the child unconsciously develops a way of coping with their feelings by becoming withdrawn, overachieving in school or chores, overeating/not eating, trying to control people around them, etc. These behaviors are developed to manage their uncomfortable feelings.
Children naturally mimic what they see as a way to learn how to behave. This is one reason I write a lot about the impact of so much glamorized sex and violence by the media. As the child grows, he/she is constantly interacting with their environment, and they begin to imitate what they see. Gradually, these “learned” behaviors of what they have observed become a part of their own repertoire of acceptable behaviors. They are either healthy introjects or become what is called maladaptive introjects. Thus, the children learn to mimic their healthy or abusive caretakers’ behaviors to get their needs met.
For example, as an adult, when a manager makes a critical statement about a survivor’s work, his/her introjects learned in childhood come to the forefront on an unconscious level. Whichever introjects were chosen as a child are played out as an adult. The survivor doesn’t hear an authority person at work providing constructive feedback. The survivor hears the old messages from his/her dysfunctional/abusive parent and reacts in the same way. He/she unconsciously resorts to withdrawing, overachieving, overeating/not eating/, trying to control others, etc.
Until this dynamic is understood and the survivor works to change these interpretations of other people’s behaviors, these ways of coping will continue. When I understood this piece of information, it helped me a lot to view the world differently and to become less reactive to people.