I am frequently asked “What is an introject?”
Most DID trauma survivors have introjects as part of their dissociative system, but there is a lot of confusion as to what introjects actually are. There is even more confusion about what to do with an introject when you find one.
Introjects are alters. They are a specific type of alter, but they are alters nonetheless. They are a dissociative split from your mind/self the same as any other alter. They would have been created during a traumatic incident just as any other alter.
Introjects are alters who were split off to represent outside people, most typically an abuser (but not limited to that, by any means), and thus create the appearance of being “introjected” within your system from an outside person. They are splits from your own mind, and they are there to help you remember / contain specific, detailed information related to whoever it is that they are “being” within your system.
Introjects are as convinced as the other parts of the system that they the same as the external people they represent. They think they are separate from the survivors, and separate from the body of the survivor. Many negative introjects will adamantly believe that they could hurt or harm the survivor / host of the system and not be hurt themselves. Introjects typically truly believe they are separate people, but they are, in fact, part of the DID system.
For example, an abusive father introject (paternal introject) is an alter that looks, sounds, feels, acts exactly like your father. In fact, from the perspectives of the inside world, it is hard to tell the difference between the inside father and the outside father.
A father introject will tell you what to do, how to behave, what to say, what to feel (or not feel), the same as your actual outside father. One of the main purposes of a father introject is to control your behavior when you are away from the father with the same intensity as if you were right in front of him.
Many controlling abusers and organized perpetrators will create these introjects of themselves on purpose as a way to maintain control and dominance over the survivor-victim even while the survivor is away from the perpetrator. It is a way to have the survivor experience the presence of the offender any time the perpetrator wants that to happen.
Often the internal introjects will report back to the external person they represent. They experience themselves as a mirror of the perpetrator and keeping the perpetrator informed of the survivor’s activities is often a big part of the introject’s job. The host and front world parts of the dissociative system will very likely be completely amnesiac for this reporting-back, and will be confused as to how the outside perpetrator actually knows so much information about them. Don’t worry – the outside perpetrator isn’t magical. He would have just had some loyal-to-him reporters parts from your system inform him of your whereabouts.
Introjects are not the same as programming. Programming — the tapes/scripts that dissociative people hear within their heads — the words / phrases / teachings that get said over and over inside, very often are exactly that — programming phrases. Repeated words that were learned / internalized and are expected to control behavior. They are just messages / phases / sentences / learnings. Programming scripts are not an alter or an introject.
Typically an abuser person would have said those phrases over and over to the person. As part of the survival process, the survivor has to “learn the rules” of the perpetrator and these words / phrasings could be planted deeply in the brain for the survivor to remember them, both consciously and unconsciously. However, the words said and taught to someone are not the same as the person who says them.
Persecutor alters can be, and often are the same as the introjects. Some persecutor alters are alters from your system that internalized the rules of the perpetrator, and continue to follow those rules, but don’t necessarily believe themselves to actually BE the same perpetrator person. Introjects actually think they are that perpetrator person.
Some introjects can be more helpful and positive than others. When the idea that an introject being an internalized version of an exterior person, the sky is the limit to who a child may have internalized as a helper introject.
For example, if children with dissociative identity disorder watch a lot of Star Trek, and Star Trek becomes their favorite TV show, and their favorite fantasy away from home, then the children may learn to imagine that Star Trek characters come to their rescue during moments of severe abuse. The children may split off internalized versions of the Star Trek characters, creating Star Trek introjects as their way of getting help and imagining safety. These introjects are helpful to the children.
Working with introjects, especially negative, harmful system introjects is a critical part of treatment for survivors with dissociative identity disorder. The goal is to show the introjects that they actually are part of the survivor person, and not part of the perpetrator person. There are a number of steps involved in this process, but once an introject becomes loyal to the survivor person (vs. being loyal to the perpetrator person), you will experience a much increased level of safety and stability.
Is it possible to work with an introject?
Yes, absolutely. Your treatment for DID is not complete unless you work effectively with your introjects.
Kathy Broady LCSW