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Introjection is a fundamental process in the mental development of the infant, related to incorporation fantasies. Sándor Ferenczi emphasized the idea of identification with the aggressor in post-traumatic syndromes through introjection of the adult's feelings of guilt.

This notion became fundamental after Ferenczi developed it. In the neurotic it entails including as much of the external world as possible within that individual's sphere of interests; the neurotic's ego is pathologically inflated. This mechanism is the opposite of projection, which causes the paranoiac to project outward emotions that have become too painful; in contrast to the neurotic, the paranoiac suffers from a shrinking of the ego. The schizophrenic, meanwhile, more or less withdraws his or her interest from the outside world. In addition, from the earliest mother-child relations, introjection constitutes a primary process that organizes the psyche, as the very basis of love and thus of the transference.

Introduced by Ferenczi in "Introjection and Transference" (1909), the idea of introjection was taken up by Sigmund Freud in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c), and again in "Mourning and Melancholia" (1916-17 [1915]). It was then further developed by Karl Abraham in the chapter "The Process of Introjection in Melancholia: Two Stages of the Oral Phase of the Libido" in "A Short Study of the Development of the Libido, Viewed in the Light of Mental Disorders," (1924), devoted to his research on manic-depressive psychosis. In "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," with regard to the instinctual mechanisms and love, Freud wrote: "Loving admits not merely of one, but of three opposites. In addition to the antithesis 'lovinghating', there is the other one of 'lovingbeing loved'; and, in addition to these, loving and hating taken together are the opposite of the condition of unconcern or indifference. The second of these three antitheses, lovingbeing loved, corresponds exactly to the transformation from activity to passivity and may be traced to an underlying situation in the same way as in the case of the scopophilic instinct. This situation is that of loving oneself, which we regard as the characteristic feature of narcissism. . . . (p. 133). . . . [T]he ego-subject is passive in respect of external stimuli but active through its own instincts" (p. 134). The description of turning around of the instinct onto the subject, thus with the same aim but a different object, is supported with the examples of sadomasochism and voyeurism-exhibitionism.

It may be that the severe pathologies of narcissism are organized as a result of these early introjections, producing different unconscious identifications. There are three of these: primary identification, linked to a relation of cannibalistic incorporation (Karl Abraham), a primitive defense mechanism involving absorption of a part of the maternal object; projective identification, whose aim is controlling others by means of projection outside of the self of the good parts that have already been introjected, leading to impoverishment of the ego and the psychotic consequences that are corollary to the schizoid-paranoid stage (Melanie Klein); and finally, identification with the aggressor, linked to the traumatic origins described by Ferenczi in "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child: The Language of Tenderness and Passion" (1932/1949), where he emphasized the child's "introjection of the guilt feelings of the adult" (p. 228) when there has been maltreatment or early sexual abuse, whether incestuous or not. He accounted in this way for fragmentation of the personality, turning of the instincts back onto the self (compulsive masturbation and different depressive syndromes) when there has been early abuse of this type (Verfürhung is usually translated as "seduction"). There is also a reversal into their opposites of the child's instincts after this kind of abuse by an adult, which brings with it the child's loss of confidence in his or her own perceptions, fragmentation of memories, recurring dreams, and a whole pathological procession that far exceeds the bounds of neurosis (often called "introjection disorder"). It involves emotional disturbance and psychopathic problems, early eating disorders, substance abuse, psychosis, or intergenerational repetition of perverse behaviors.

From a metapsychological perspective that takes into account the idea of adaptation, Ferenczi, at the end of his life, invented a neologism that combined introjection with the violent effects of parental repression and of a certain tendency in analysis. He wrote in his Journal : "Child analysis, education, are the 'intropression' of the superego by adults" (1985 [1932]). In France, this line of research was continued by Maria Torok and Nicolas Abraham, for example, in "Le crime de l'introjection" (The crime of introjection; 1963), where Abraham evoked the ego's need, faced with the death, wickedness, or inconstancy of the external object, to put in place "a reintrojection of the corresponding Imago." Manic-depressive psychosis is triggered not by the loss of the external object, but instead by the threat of losing the indispensable internal object. In each case, what is involved is disavowing the "crime," which, in the final analysis, is "having introjected the object."

Pierre Sabourin

See also: Breast, good/bad object; "Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the child: The Language of Tenderness and Passion"; Defense mechanisms; Depressive position; Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, The ; Ego ideal/Ideal ego; Identification; Imago; Internal object; "Introjection and Transference"; Melancholic depression; Projective identification; Self-punishment; Superego.


Abraham, Karl. (1949). A short study of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders. History of the development of the libido." In Selected papers on psycho-analysis (pp. 418-479). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1924)

Abraham, Nicolas. (1963). Le crime de l'introjection. In L'Écorce et le noyau by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1978.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1959). Introjection and transference. In Sex in Psychoanalysis (Contributions to Psychoanalysis) (pp. 30-80). New York: Dover. (Original work published 1909)

. (1933 [1932]). Confusion of tongues between adults and the child: The language of tenderness and passion. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 30, (1949), 225-230. In Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth, 1955.

. (1985). The clinical diary of Sándor Ferenczi (Judith Dupont, Ed.; Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1932)

Freud, Sigmund. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

. (1916-1917g [1915]). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.

Further Reading

Scharff, Jill S. (1992). Projective and introjective identification and the use of the therapist's self. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

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introjection (intrŏ-jek-shŏn) n. (in psychoanalysis) the process of adopting, or of believing that one possesses, the qualities of another person. This can be a form of defence mechanism. See also identification.

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