A forty-year old man, Henry, is in a residential neighborhood, is stuck in the snow, his cell phone is dead. He knows that if he does not call for roadside help, he could freeze to death. He figures he should knock on the door of the house and ask politely if he could use the phone. As he walks up the fifty or so steps to the house he is imagining that the person who answers the door will be annoyed and irritable. He imagines that he will be disturbing their precious dinner hour. He further imagines that the person answering the door will assume that this stranger is someone who wants to harm them in some way. By the time Henry gets to the door, he has worked himself into a terribly anxious and pessimistic state of mind. The man of the house opens the door. Henry, before the owner of the house could speak, says “damn you, I don’t need your phone.”
Henry had an internal persecutory introject, meaning that Henry was responding to his internal world which is based on previous relationships with his parents and siblings in which he felt that if he asked for help, he would be turned away and he would be made to feel bad that he was not more self-sufficient. His response to his internal world was so dramatic that when he was faced with an unfamiliar person, he immediately allowed his internal persecutory feelings to dominate the interaction. He did not allow for his external environment to change his introjects because the stakes were high, such that Henry had no internal space to relax and see how things would unfold. Henry’s internal conviction that he was alone in the world, overtook Henry from considering the possibility that the owner of the house might be glad to be of service.
Shirley always dreamed of having a vaginal birth. She has six sisters, all of whom gave birth without complications. Shirley’s first baby was a healthy full-term vaginal birth. Three years later, Shirley’s doctor told her that her child was breach, it was 39 weeks, and there was no possibility that the baby would turn in time for delivery. Her doctor recommended a Caesarian section. Shirley agreed, but she felt “persecuted.” Shirley felt that given that all her sisters had vaginal births, why was she “singled out.” She delivered a healthy baby, but she was massively disappointed that she was under the knife. Her friends and family would not understand her feelings, so she kept them to herself. This disappointment was private, yet profound. This sense of persecution felt very “real,” but at the same time, she knew that no one could understand that feeling, especially given that her family was healthy and thriving.
Shirley grew up in a large family, and as such, her emotional needs were often ignored. To make sense of her emotions, Shirley developed an internal sense of persecution. She felt that her needs were too great for her parents, hence she deserved to be persecuted for having such intense emotional yearnings. As an adult, this internal sense of persecution persists such that at times she punishes herself by keeping herself so busy that she has no time to enjoy her friends. In so doing, she reinforces her perception of her parents’ view, that her emotional longings cannot and should not be met.
Introjects, internal scripts, schema, or internal demons, are all ways to describe the way one projects on to the world one’s experience, and yet one experiences the situation as in the here and now. Linking the past to the present would enable Henry to see that if he were not so sure his past would be repeated, he could open himself up to the possibility of receiving warmth and kindness from someone who would feel good giving it. Linking the past to the present would enable Shirley to see her Caesarian section as an unfortunate event, but one that does not involve persecution. Helping Shirley see that her feelings of persecution are coming up from a past in which she had to make sense of the fact that her emotional needs were largely ignored. Feeling persecuted is how Shirley keeps the past alive. Working through her childhood issues could free her up to have more feelings of joy and vitality and fewer feelings of victimhood.
As the diagram above illustrates, a person’s mental world is influenced by childhood experiences, adult experiences, and significant others. Combined, an internal world exists which is invisible to the outside world which people can see. This internal world, full of many kinds of introjects, determines, in part, how much vigor we can extract from our life. Wrestling with these negative introjects can help us keep the positive introjects bright and shining. Psychotherapy is useful to deal with these somewhat abstract, and mostly hidden, feelings. Although my professor once called a psychotherapy practice, “rent-a-friend,” I respectfully disagree, since most friends don’t talk about or understand their introjects.