Maternal introject is a psychological term referring to that part of your mother that lives within the psyche. It is a voice both men and women hear and feel, but is more powerful for daughters. When the motive for a daughter's reaction is to thwart or reject the mother introject, the action is called a reaction formation.
Wherever you go, you take your mother with you. It is as if you swallowed a miniature version of her that somehow lodged itself in your brain. Her little voice inside your head is called a maternal introject. Most often this introject includes Mom's values, traits, attitudes, habits, and outlook. There is a negative and a positive side to the maternal introject. You may either accept and find comfort in the maternal introject or experience a reaction formation.
The Positive Side of "Mother's Words"
The big plus for the maternal introject is when aspects of the voice build egos and confidence. The introject is working in a positive manner if the voice you hear is saying something like…
- You can do it.
- You are special.
- Your good judgment will carry you through.
- You should follow your own instincts.
- You look great.
- You are worthy of love and respect.
Two Concrete Examples of the Positive Introject
A Voice of Love and Comfort
The maternal introject is a universally applicable concept. On a ship in the Aegean Sea, I met Ivona and was introduced to the voice of her grandmother. Twenty-nine-year-old Ivona Golubic was born in Croatia and raised by her grandmother. "She was my real mother," Ivona said.
"I could never cheat or hurt anyone now because of my grandmother. If there is a small part of me that is different, I try to get rid of this part just by thinking about my grandmother. She told me what goes around comes around. My grandmother taught me to respect what is good and not to harm anyone."
A Voice of Memory and Connection
Halley, a 28-year-old woman who has lived thousands of miles from her mother, expressed, "Sometimes I go places—like to an art museum—or see things that I know my mom would like and I have a reaction or feeling that I know she would have. When I do that it makes me smile or laugh, because I feel close to her."
If you have a low rapport with your mom, you aren't alone. In a study titled "Lifeprints: New Patterns of Love and Work for Today's Women," 25 percent of the women reported feeling like you do.
The Negative Voice Within
On the other hand, Mom's voice can take a turn for the negative. The maternal introject can pose a rift between mother and daughter if the later is unable to control, ignore, or block this voice at appropriate times.
The mother-daughter relationship is in trouble if…
- Daughters reject opportunities and make life decisions that are counter to their own desires and preferences, but in accordance with the internalized mother.
- The voice makes a woman self-conscious or unsure of herself and unable to act independently.
- The voice is debilitating (in extreme cases).
- The maternal introject creates blame directed inward and results in self-punishment.