The Strange World of Emotion

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Projection  and  Introjection

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Transference is complementary to Egotism

Transference (see previous article) has two components, those of sexuality and authority. How do they function?

Primarily, the sexual factor focuses on the search for social happiness, and the authority factor is aimed at the acquisition of social power. Secondarily, both sexuality and authority often tango together. Sexuality is used as a basis of social power, and much social power is concerned with the control of sexuality.

For example: traditionally, power structures have been regarded as the preserve of men, and many politicians prefer to see marriage as the basis of society. The reason for this intertwining is that the desires for power and happiness link together in the unconscious mind, as I show later. The access to social happiness and to social power does not eliminate the transference, instead this access only maintains it.

On considering the state of ‘civilisation’, whether Western or Eastern, it is easy to accept that transference produced by the family does not allow for the full expression of human needs. Usually love is missing or is in short supply, and the child is exposed to the temper tantrums of the parents.

Sub - Headings
Vanity and Anxiety
Some rules
Forming the loop

In my view, the linking together of power and the pursuit of happiness, thereby creating the perennial preoccupations of mankind, originates from the family and its problems.

However, there is another factor to be considered, that of egoism. Transference is a social product, focusing on social happiness and social power. Whereas egoism means individuality. Egoism centres on the search for individual happiness and the power to be an individual, independent of society. Transference is the binary attitude to egoism. I look at happiness and power from the perspective of  ‘form and content ’. Transference and egoism are the repertoire, or content, of happiness and power. What is their form?  This is the psychological mechanism of projection and introjection.

Projection and introjection are form.

Transference and egoism are content.

Projection means that we imagine that our own virtues and vices and attitudes are embodied in other people. We see in other people what is in ourself. This psychological stratagem is particularly noticeable with regard to our vices. We try to escape from our faults by denying them; we see them only as aspects of other people – it is always other people that are the source of conflict.

Introjection is the complementary process. We emulate the virtues (and vices) in the people that we admire. We incorporate into ourself the attitudes of people that are significant to us. Our own idealised image of ourself can also act as a source for introjection: we can use such an image as an object from which we can introject virtues that we need. It is through introjection that a child absorbs the values of transference.

Projection and introjection operate in a similar manner to suggestion [¹], but at an unconscious level. The difference is that projection and introjection are powered by subconscious motivation [²], thereby producing compelling and permanent results, whereas suggestion is often directed against such motivation and so produces only erratic and transient results.

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The person requires others in order to experience the desires and emotions that satisfy or disappoint him or her. Since the person has little awareness of themself, he or she needs other people to act as a ‘mirror’ in which he or she can ‘see’ or feel themself play their drama of life. Projection and introjection enable the person to be both player and audience. In these stratagems, the social person focuses more on projection and the individual person more on introjection. Projection and introjection are the fundamental basis of all relationships. The reason for this is:

Projection and introjection are the means of handling values.

What is it that is distinctive about values?  Values are objective. Yet though they are objective, they always have their origin in a person’s subjectivity. Values arise from the transformation of subjective attitudes and desires into tangible skills and achievements. And this transformation takes place within the framework of projection and introjection. [³]

Transference creates social values and egoism creates values of individuality. These can be changed by love or hate. Love (as a positive attachment) and hate (as a negative attachment, or rejection) help produce the making of value judgements. [4]

Projection and introjection are unconscious mechanisms. However, introjection can also be accomplished subconsciously: we can be directly influenced by other people, especially in crowded spaces. In this situation, introjection is accomplished subconsciously through the aura. The physical body is surrounded by an aura, which is a psychic form of energy (this aura can only be seen by clairvoyant vision or by using psychedelic drugs). When two or more people are close enough together so that their auras touch and blend (a distance of about five to six feet or less), emotions can freely pass from one person to the other (this phenomenon in the therapy situation is called the ‘counter-transference’).

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Introjection can easily produce confusion. Consider a situation where introjection occurs at a subconscious level. When two people are close together, emotions from one person are absorbed by the other person, who however has his own images in his mind. Therefore emotions from the one are mixed with the images of the other, confusing that person as to his motivation and desires. This is perhaps the basis of the fear of crowds in a confined space. In the past, whenever I travelled on the London tube trains in the rush hour I nearly always experienced intense anxiety, even panic attacks as my aura became hemmed in. I was alright if I could stand by a window and look out into space. Even on crowded buses I used to pick up depression from any depressed person sitting near me.

Transference and egoism are states of psychological immaturity; so are the mechanisms of projection and introjection. The immaturity denotes that the person has no awareness of using subconscious material. The material is subconscious because it is repressed. Although a person uses repression he /she is not aware of what they have repressed, beyond the feeling that it is unpleasant. Everything that is unpleasant is lumped together in the subconscious mind.

Projection and introjection are unconscious mechanisms and much of their content is subconscious. Looking at it in an abstract way, projection and introjection are the processes of casting undifferentiated emotions and attitudes and desires into existence. This is why introspection is so difficult: the undifferentiated emotions and attitudes and desires have to be concretised as a response to a particular situation before they can be identified. In picturesque language, the subconscious mind is a melting pot of emotions and attitudes and desires; these have to be separated into distinct responses before they can be identified. 

This identification is the purpose of awareness training. [5]

Transference and egoism are undifferentiated emotions, attitudes and desires. Hence a person’s identity as an individual is also undifferentiated to the degree that he /she automatically responds to transference and egoism.

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Projection and introjection cease when equanimity is attained. Equanimity means the cessation of making value judgements. When we cease to make value judgements, then there is no longer any need to use the mechanisms of projection and introjection. However, equanimity is extremely difficult to attain. The most effective way of stopping projection and introjection, at least temporarily, is to step outside of all value systems. The traditional Buddhist method of doing this is to practise mindfulness. Mindfulness switches perception into neutral mode, so that no values are projected or introjected. The standard way of formulating mindfulness in a concise manner is :

in the seeing, only the seen,
in the hearing, only the heard,
in the touching, only the touch,
in the smelling, only the smell,
in the tasting, only the taste.

Hence no evaluation is made of sensory impressions. One day, on the bus coming home from work, I managed quite easily to refrain from thinking, and just observed; holding my mind still, but remaining aware. Without the mind cogitating, nothing is projected or introjected, and awareness is neutral. The absence of value systems means that I do not make any judgements. This state of mind is the basis of equanimity.

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Vanity and Anxiety

The ground of the mechanism of projection and introjection is either vanity or anxiety. Anxiety equals vanity plus fear. When the person is in a social situation that he or she is uncomfortable with then anxiety arises.

This anxiety is the ground of the social use of projection and introjection.

However, for the individual centred within their egoism, the ground of projection and introjection is vanity alone.

Projection implies excess vanity, whereas introjection denotes an insufficiency of it. From birth (of ego) to death the ‘normal’ person oscillates between transference and egoism – projection and introjection never cease. Through all their life the emotional ground of the person is either vanity or anxiety. Therefore, in order to stop projection and introjection and thereby attain equanimity, either temporarily or permanently, the person has to neutralise vanity and anxiety.

What is projected and introjected in any particular situation depends upon the person’s current need. If the person is feeling bad in some way, then he or she will project this badness onto suitable candidates. For example, a person who is conservative by nature may subconsciously prefer to project onto a person who looks like a liberal; a liberal may project onto someone who looks working-class, etc. Projection and introjection handle values. Usually these values fall into pre-set or stereotyped patterns. Hence a person is more comfortable with using stereotypes of other people than in genuinely relating to others as they really are.

During the period of my self-analysis I had an imperative need to buttress my sense of individuality since I was always focusing on my various weaknesses and limitations. This need carried through into daily life, into all my relationships. 

I phrased my difficulty in the following abstract way. My state of anxiety usually becomes intense in the presence of people. I prefer my own company. Social contact reduces my being (this is the fear factor within anxiety).  My ability to handle projection and introjection determines my ontological status.  The more that I project, the lower is my sense of being, and the more socially dependent am I.  I am only comfortable when any particular relationship does not induce excessive anxiety in me. 

I generalised my difficulty:

Social relations stabilise at the level in which anxiety can be handled.

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Some Rules

One day I put together some rules of dynamic psychology. These link together and apply to situations in which a person feels strong emotions.

1. Emotions
These are the driving force, but the channels that they flow in depend upon subconscious motivation.

2. Subconscious motivation
This produces the pattern of anxiety. This pattern is generated by whichever aspect of a relationship is currently causing problems. The pattern produces stereotype responses to the regular occurrences of the same situation.

3. Anxiety
The pattern of anxiety determines the pattern of projection and introjection.

4. Projection and introjection
The pattern of these two determines the emotions that are experienced.

So far this is a circular process. Now I bring in free will.

5. Free will
Free will means how we decide consciously to respond to subconscious motivation.

The intensity of anxiety can also depend upon the intensity of karmic experiences (important experiences in former incarnations on Earth) and what the person has learned from them. This means that the intensity of anxiety usually relates to the degree of sensitivity and level of evolution of the person. [6]

Greater evolution generates greater ability to accept personal responsibility for one’s life. As one ceases to blame other people for one’s problems so one cannot discharge the anxiety – one has to bear it alone. Blaming others is always guaranteed to reduce one’s current anxiety level.

Rules (1) to (4) are circular in their operation. I have found that a favourite occupation of the subconscious mind is to go round in circles or loops. [7]
I give an example below.

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The Structure of Projection and Introjection

How do projection and introjection actually work?  First of all, the way that I separate them is that projection centres primarily on desire and introjection primarily on emotion. Then the way that I put them back together forms them into a loop. The two mechanisms can be thought of as meshing together and forming a loop, or circle, in the way that they function. Therefore the loop is a circle of desire and emotion. The loop ties together desire with emotion. Attitudes are more durable then desires and emotions and so have a moderating effect on the functioning of the loop.

Projection and introjection form a loop of desire and emotion. 

As an example, a simple desire-emotion loop occurs when I satisfy my desire for food by eating something that gives me pleasure. Projection and introjection handle values. The need to satisfy my hunger is one of my values, and so is the use of food that gives me pleasure when I eat it. Hence projection and introjection are involved in satisfying hunger. I project desire onto food that I prefer, and then introject the good feelings either from the appearance of the food or from memories of past meals. Here introjection functions as suggestion. This loop can be completed as soon as the desire arises.

A problem is created when no fast solution is possible. For example, if I am a weakling and get bullied I may desire to build my body into a physical hulk in order to be able to defend myself and to derive satisfaction from the banishment of fear. The desire to defend myself becomes one of my values. But the creation of a strong body will take time and cannot be accomplished immediately. In this type of situation I find that phantasy arises so as to fill the gap. The desire-emotion loop becomes completed in imagination. I have to remain content with imagining what my quality of life will be like once I achieve a strong body. Imagination or phantasy is used to create deferred value.

Values arise from the transformation of my subjective attitudes and desires into objective, tangible skills and achievements. When I have to defer a value then I have to postpone the objective fulfilment of a subjective attitude to life. As I continue my body-building exercises my body transforms into a hulk, and fear ceases. Then phantasy has become fact, and deferred value has transformed into present reality. Deferred value has become objective value.

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However, a more complex spectacle occurs in a social situation. Understanding how the loop actually operates clarifies the basis of social dynamics, that is, the basic way that people behave in any relationship.

To understand how the loop operates consider two people relating to each other, one being a master X and the other one a slave Y (extreme forms of relationships are usually easier to understand than moderate forms). At first glance it seems that master X expresses his desires and commands, and that slave Y’s emotional response is to accept his lot in life by obeying the master. But this glance is deceptive; what is going on is not quite what the two participants think is going on. The master is issuing commands and the slave is obeying them. That is true enough. However, it is the roles of desire and emotion that complicate the relationship.

First the two people agree (voluntarily or involuntarily) to the form of their relationship (for example, master-slave, husband-wife). Then each person brings to that relationship a common feature, which is the manner in which desires and emotions are handled.

In the first article on Emotion, I gave definitions of desire and emotion. I repeat them here.

Desire is a will-concept, a concept that directs the use of will.
Emotion is a feeling-concept, a concept that directs the use of feeling. [8]

Concepts are part of the contents of mind. So the common feature of the relationship centres on a certain manner of using the mind. When desires and emotions are influencing each person then what is going on is that mind is being both projected and introjected. What the two people are doing is using their minds in such a way that each can be both player and audience.

I go into more detail about what is happening between master X and slave Y. Master X projects a desire and so displays an attitude or creates an impression of himself. Slave Y subconsciously feels or senses that attitude /impression. Past associations with that kind of attitude /impression induces in him a requisite (for him) emotion, such as the joy or the sadness in having little or no freedom. Introjection occurs from a person’s own expectations and memory, and not from the other person. Slave Y can then project the attitude /impression that he accepts being a slave. When master X senses this attitude /impression then it induces in him a requisite (for him) emotion, such as the joy of being in control of someone else.

When the projection from X matches the introjection by Y, and the introjection by X matches the projection from Y then we have a complementary relationship. When they do not match then the relationship is a dissonant one. What is at issue is a concept of relationship. This means that in a complementary one, the master X projects the impression that he is the master and that Y is the slave. The slave Y introjects the impression that he is the slave and that X is the master. So X’s projection of desire induces in him a requisite emotion (the satisfaction due to being a master). And Y’s introjection of emotion induces in him a requisite desire (the desire to remain a slave). Hence in a complementary relationship we have two individual loops of projection and introjection meshing together harmoniously.

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I summarise the importance of these ideas.

For a loop to occur, both X and Y are projecting and introjecting as self-contained units. Y projects an impression on X. Y then introjects from that impression. If Y’s projection is coherent with X’s impression of himself then Y confirms X’s impression. The whole circuit of projection and introjection occurs within Y and does not need any contribution by X (except to be a screen that can reflect the desires and emotions of Y). Similarly, X has a self-contained loop operating. So, except for the occasion when people are close enough together for their auras to blend, projection and introjection do not occur between people. But they do occur as a self-contained loop within the mind of each person.

The whole mechanism of the loop is geared to the person’s maintenance (based on his sense of vanity) of his self-image or to his desire for happiness and /or power. Normal relationships function via this mechanism. The loop denotes psychological immaturity. Therefore, no matter how good a person thinks that his relationships are, they are still grounded in delusion. Stripping away the delusions from this process and understanding how and why it actually works is the first step in trying to achieve genuine communication.

A relationship between two people is normally just an opportunity for each to act according to his or her current need of projection and introjection.

Each person brings into their relationship only those concepts that they need to work with and express. As some concepts are worked through till their allurement ends, and other concepts arise to take their place, so the relationship changes, so the loop changes in its content too.

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Forming the Loop

In order to establish the connection between projection and introjection I need to present a couple of ideas. In the early period of my self-analysis I had been given, in a dream communication, the idea that faith acts through belief. And in another communication I was given the idea that faith drives the will. These communications came from my astral guides (other names are spirit guides, or guardian angels, and represent messages from Beings who reside in heaven).

The first idea is not hard to accept. Twentieth-century Liberal theology has tried to remove the symbolic accretions to the story of the life of Jesus. When, for many people, these traditional beliefs crumbled so then a crisis of faith was precipitated. Without a supporting belief so a life of faith can only drift this way and that, rudderless, causing moral perplexity, and becoming ineffective in the daily round. Faith is the means of tying emotion to a belief; when the belief crumbles, so the underlying emotion has no outlet for expressing itself in an harmonious way.

The second idea is more difficult to accept, since faith hardly features in the mind of any ambitious will-driven materialistic person. It can be presumed by considering the consequences of a collapse of faith (which should not be confused with a collapse of belief). When faith is completely lost there are two reactions possible. Either the will is shattered, thereby inducing catatonia, or else the person creates an inflexible and domineering will that brooks no opposition. [9]

Why does the will become inflexible?   Without faith so the person cannot adapt to changing times. Without faith so the person cannot respond to the need to change their beliefs. Hence the person tries to prevent change by making their will rigid and dominant enough in order to buttress their weaknesses and control their circumstances. If this stratagem is successful, then eventually it is likely to lead to paranoia (anyone who opposes the person will weaken their control); if it fails, then the person sinks into catatonia.

Average man, average woman, has some degree of faith but they prefer desire: they centre on desire as a means of utilising the will rather than on faith as a means of controlling and driving the will.

There are two factors that need to be separated :

that which concerns the control of the will, and
that which concerns how the will is used.

The materialist person focuses on the use of will, whereas the higher evolution of mankind necessitates the change of focus to the manner of controlling the will. Will is controlled through beliefs: beliefs govern our values and meanings. Higher development requires that beliefs become harmonious vehicles for a true faith. In this way faith acts through the belief and so controls the will.

With these ideas about faith, will and belief I worked out the mechanism of the loop of projection and introjection. It has to be self-contained. First, however, I need to point out the difference between mind and consciousness. Some traditional thinkers considered that they were the same. For example, Descartes thought that will and feeling were part of the mind. Whereas, for me, mind and consciousness are different. In my understanding, the factors of consciousness are will, mind, and feeling. This means that will and feeling act on mind:

the interaction of will and mind generates desire,

and the interaction of feeling and mind produces emotion.

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In order to formulate the loop I conceived of two half-circles, arranged around the different factors that affect the will.

a). The route of using the will
This is given below in Diagram 1: Route of Desire. 

In this half-circle, desire is the primary feature. 
The diagram represents consciousness. The will is used to interact with mind and so stimulate desire; this desire has as its aim the generation of an acceptable emotional response. The emotion has its base in feeling. Desire and emotion link together through their common component of mind. Hence this route is from will to feeling.

Diagram 1 : Route of Desire

route of desire

b). The route of controlling the will
This is given below in Diagram 2 : Route of Belief. 

In this half-circle, belief is the primary feature. 
Again, the diagram represents consciousness. The two ideas needed are that faith drives the will, and that faith acts through belief. Feeling is directed, via its interaction with the mind, into beliefs that are of psychological or existential importance to the person. Such beliefs become emotive ones. Unless it has a base in feeling, a belief has no lasting value to the person. Faith is almost the most powerful underpinning that can be given to a belief (only the need to survive can be more powerful); when this underpinning occurs, the belief becomes a very potent factor of consciousness. Faith can be viewed as the primary basis of emotive beliefs; in other words, all such beliefs have a component of faith. Beliefs are the means of creating values and meanings. As such they become the way to control the will.

Diagram 2 : Route of Belief

route of belief

Now the route of desire, from will to feeling, is the mode of projection. 

And the route of belief, from feeling to will, is the mode of introjection.

c). Completing the Loop

Putting these two half circles together we get the basic form of the mechanism of projection and introjection, given in Diagram 3.

Diagram 3 :

Primary Loop of Projection and Introjection

primary loop of projection and introjection

The introvert centres themself on the left-hand side of the loop: he /she finds their motivation from within themself. This focus develops character. The focus on the right-hand side of the loop generates extroversion. Perhaps call this the life style of the person.


The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. The third article on Emotion describes Catharsis and Suggestion. See home page. [1]

[²]. See also section Some Rules.  Subconscious motivation is mentioned in the article Confusion. [2]

[³]. There is an article on Meaning and Value, on my website A Modern Thinker[3]

[4]. My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See home page. [4]

[5]. There is an article Self-Awareness, on my website The Subconscious Mind[5]

[6]. See the article Sensitivity and the Effects of Fear, on my website Discover Your Mind. And the article Personal Evolution, on my website A Modern Thinker[6]

[7]. Examples of loops are given in the article Mind Loops, on my website Patterns of Confusion[7]

[8]. The link between desires and concepts, and emotions and concepts, is explained in the first article on Emotion. See home page. [8]

[9]. Catatonia is explained in the article Guilt and Meaning - Part 1, on my website Patterns of Confusion[9]

More ideas on the loop of projection and introjection are described in the article TV/TS.


Nyanaponika, Thera. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Rider, 1983.
A standard exposition of mindfulness.

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Transference - introduces the patterns of bonding.

Projection and Introjection - the basic loop of desire and emotion.

Power - the loop of power and happiness.

Aspects of Personal Identity - inferiority, social approval, and more.

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so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
London, UK

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