What happens when we internalize mean comments from other people?

Jason Brien.

Seriously... You're going to go out looking like that? How often has someone said something like to this to you? Perhaps a friend, family member or work colleague has made a similar statement to you in the past. Perhaps you remember that time when you were a child and your parents told you to hurry up and go and get dressed so you went into your bedroom and you got dressed in what YOU believed to be your best outfit. To you it didn’t matter if the colours didn’t match or whether you were wearing a costume that you were given for Halloween last year. So, you proudly enter the living room to show off your carefully selected outfit only to hear your parents say “How silly of you to put that on. Are you stupid or something? Go and get changed. You can’t wear that to the doctor’s office”.

Even after many years, this statement from your parents might play in your mind whenever you stand in front of the mirror examining your clothes before a doctor’s appointment. This recollection of what your parents told you (which judges you and tells you that your clothes look silly) is known as an introjection. Introjections are statements, either good, bad, or neutral, that others say to us.  We then internalize these statements and make them our own. Introjections can affect you when you go to the beach or the gym and you suddenly become self-conscious and recall all the times someone has called you fat. Or ugly. Or any other mean comment that hurt your feelings and you still hold onto after all this time.

When we are not conscious or aware of the nature of introjections, we can assimilate everyday statements from others so permanently into our personality that we eventually forget where the statement originally came from and so they become ‘facts’ about our self. In saying this though, not all introjections are bad. Positive statements from others can help us feel better about ourselves when we are feeling down. Remembering when someone told you that you looked beautiful can help give you a boost of confidence when you are not liking what you see in the mirror. Like everything though, introjections should be used in moderation. Relying too much on introjections can falsely boost or lower one’s perception of themselves beyond healthy limits.

A major part of self-development is becoming aware of the introjects that you have internalized over your life time and learning how to consciously choose which introjects you want to keep or reject. Ultimately, negative introjections should be sent back to where they belong…… with the person who originally made the statement. If someone calls you stupid or ugly or fat, that’s their belief. That’s their perception of you based upon their upbringing, their beliefs, their introjects, their projections, their education, their level of empathy, or their level of caring. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with you. What is stupid? What is ugly? They are simply abstract descriptors. That is all they are and they will remain that way if we don’t give them undue power.

Ultimately, holding onto negative introjections will always do you more harm than good so they should be rejected outright. With other introjections, decide for yourself whether they are valid and whether they can serve you well or not. Being raised to believe that we are a certain gender is an example of an introjection. We blindly assimilated this statement (introjection) from others until we learnt about biology or sex education and we then had the capacity to say to ourselves “ahh, so that’s why people call me a boy/girl”. Assimilated introjections will greatly influence how a person interacts with themselves and others. This is why understanding and mastering introjections will help you to navigate through life with more confidence along with significantly boosting your resiliency during difficult times.

If we want to become more resilient and less stressed by what others say to us, we need to hire some security. Not external security. Internal security. Security which helps to screen that which is trying to enter our psyche. Security which acts as mental boundaries. Mental boundaries are concrete limits we impose upon ourselves and they create a buffer between our internal world and the wider world around us. Mental boundaries allow us to consciously choose what information from the external world is going to enter our internal world and in what manner they are going to shape or influence our beliefs, values, self-image, self-esteem, etc. If we cannot control that which enters our mind, our ability to minimise internal chaos and havoc will be severely reduced.

If we have weak mental boundaries, we are likely to be easily suggestible and sensitive to criticism. We are also likely to take things personally and the manner in which we feel and think about ourselves will change easily depending on what others say to us or believe about us. People pleasers and people raised in invalidating environments are likely to have weak mental boundaries. People with weak mental boundaries are like chameleons as they will alter themselves and their beliefs, behaviours, values, etc, to match their environments. This is more of a safety and survival mechanism but it has a profound effect on our mental health and our self-identity, self-esteem, etc.

For example, using the ‘silly’ clothes example, if we have weak mental boundaries, we would allow our parents assessment of us (stupid, silly, etc,) to alter how we perceive ourselves moving forward regardless of what we were thinking and feeling about ourselves prior to getting changed. This would not occur if we have strong mental boundaries. When we have strong mental boundaries, we view comments from others as data to be analysed. That is, we don’t immediately perceive the comments as a personal attack. When we have strong mental boundaries, we do not alter our beliefs, values, behaviours, etc, without careful consideration first. Again, using the ‘silly’ clothes example, let us change the example from that of a child to that of an adult.

As an adult, we may decide that whilst our parents’ assessments of us (stupid, silly, etc) is totally invalid, we recognise that there may be a need to change our clothing. If we do decide to change our clothing, we are not making the choice as a direct result of our parents’ assessment (introjection), we are making the choice to change our clothing because of the potential ‘harm’ it could cause us if we did not change our clothing. For example, we could draw unwanted attention to ourselves. We could be misperceived as having a mental illness because we are not conforming to societal standards. All that sort of stuff. If we decide not to change our clothing, despite all that we have just considered, we are displaying strong mental boundaries because our decision not to change was made AFTER careful consideration.