The imaginary content is called an introject and can take negative or positive forms—e.g. the punitive mother, the kindly grandfather, the distant father, and so on.
According to Freud, introjection plays a role in the development of the superego and in diminishing separation anxiety. And it’s considered a normal aspect of psychological development leading toward ego independence.¹
There are a couple of issues here to be considered.
First, it should be stressed that introjection is part of a developmental process and as such, involves a series of ‘necessary mistakes’ in understanding—mistakes that must be overcome for true maturity to arise. However, we never really stop distorting our world, so it’s problematic trying to determine exactly where healthy imagining starts and unhealthy imagining stops. As in most scientific assessments, not a little bit of human bias is involved.
Another problem, one not really looked at by Freud or his hardcore followers, is that a person may be intuiting the unexpressed impulses and thoughts (aggressive or benevolent) of another which rarely (or possibly never) come to the surface, socially speaking. So if, for example, an aggressor is clever enough to mask his or her aggression in front of others, he or she may seem benevolent when, in fact, harboring aggressive tendencies. If a person picks this up at the intuitive level, he or she may be concerned, but a supposedly dispassionate psychoanalyst may dismiss that concern as a mere introject, when, in fact, it’s quite an accurate perception of aggression.
Freud’s at one time student C. G. Jung talked about the importance of intuitive knowledge to a greater degree than did Freud. Jung even incorporated intuition into his model of the self. But even Jung doesn’t really offer much more than an introductory analysis regarding the importance of non-localized, non-discursive knowing—at least, this is the perspective which most bona fide mystics would hold.
¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 77-78.
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