The Strange World of Emotion

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Imprinting and Identification

The focus of this article is on the interaction between a mother and a male child.

The birth of a baby is part of physical creation, the creation of a physical body; however, the baby’s mind is still in ‘the unconscious’. Higher creation, for me, means making conscious what is unconscious. So higher creation is the production of an ego for the infant: a joint process involving the mother’s life experience and the infant’s innate dispositions.

I call this joint process the ‘mother transference’. The mother transference is the matrix that shapes the reincarnating ego. The mother transference is a joint creation between mother and infant; it is the interaction between mother and infant as seen from the infant’s point of view.

Sub - Headings
Mechanics of  Imprinting
Identification and Infancy trauma
Mechanics of Identification
Effects of  Envy
Roles of parents

The infant’s ego is a fusion of :

The infant’s ego is built in its basic form during the first eighteen months of its life; from then on it develops this form as time goes by. In this initial period the mother’s influence is more important than the father’s influence, assuming that it is mainly the mother who cares for the infant. [¹]

In producing its ego through the bonding process, the two main factors acting on the infant are imprinting and identification. I examine each factor in turn. [²]


The infant can introject the mother’s emotions. It needs to do this ; if it is left unattended for long periods of time, as was the fashion in hospital maternity wards some time ago, then it experiences deep distress. But if it introjects unpleasant emotions from the mother then it also becomes distressed. [³]

The infant introjects the mother’s emotions. Both the mother’s emotions and the baby’s emotions include sexual ones. As the baby experiences emotions, it cannot distinguish their source. It cannot distinguish between sexual emotions that arise from within itself from the sexual emotions that are introjected from the mother. This is how the infant experiences sexuality ; it fuses its sexuality with the mother’s sexuality. Since the infant cannot verbalise its feelings, it may take its cues on sexuality from its mother’s attitude to sexuality. The child may have to wait till late childhood or even puberty before its own sexuality develops.

I re-phrase these ideas. The infant introjects the mother’s sexual feelings and attitudes, without being able to distinguish them from its own ones. The mother is a more powerful figure than the baby is. Her attitudes become the signposts and boundaries which guide and shape the ways that the infant can explore sexuality. Therefore the mother establishes the pattern within which the sensitive infant can form his sexual attitudes, that is, these attitudes are his responses to his mother’s pattern of feminine sexuality.

At puberty these attitudes are now externalised and projected outside the family. So from then on his sexual attitudes find harmony with a woman who reflects his mother’s attitudes, his mother’s femininity. Hence the mother imprints on the sensitive infant his sexual identity, and this becomes his pattern of sexuality when puberty forces him to externalise his desires. As an adult he can accept this pattern or choose other modes of sexual relationships ; the choice depends on how he handles sexual anxiety.

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Mechanics of Imprinting

The infant needs love, and it is this need that causes imprinting to occur. This need presents itself when jealousy, in its self-pity mode, is currently dominant in the baby. [4]. What the infant receives from the mother is jealous love. When imprinting occurs, the flow of love is from the mother (jealousy in love mode) to the infant (jealousy in self-pity mode). [5]. The self-pity mode indicates dependency; hence imprinting signifies the dependency of the child on the mother. But since this mode of jealousy is also associated with the introjection of the mother’s sexual feelings, so imprinting also signifies sexual dependency. Imprinting is a sexual form of bonding.

Why does the sexual imprinting occur?
The existential reality of rebirth is that everything is subconscious : this is to say that there are no signs or mental landmarks for the crystallising ego to anchor itself to. The infant is on the receiving end of an endless succession of sensory stimuli which it does not know how to interpret. The psychological attachment to a parent, usually the mother, is the only possible response that the infant can make. In the total sensory confusion of the infant, the mother is the only ‘sign’ in a sign-less world. What the infant takes from the mother is the experience of her emotions : the regular repetition of pleasant emotions becomes the first ‘sign’ that the infant can recognise. This is achieved through the medium of the auras.

When two people are close enough together for their auras to blend then transference of emotion is direct from one aura to the other one. This actuality is the situation that the infant always experiences – it is usually held close enough to the mother to be able to absorb her emotions.

The infant’s emotions include narcissism and jealousy. Which emotion will become dominant depends on the past life, the past incarnation. The infant can respond in two ways to the mother’s sexual feelings. If a person in the previous life was centred on jealousy then in this life as an infant he will prefer sexual desire. Whereas a narcissistic infant will prefer sexual attraction. [6]. The infant then absorbs the mother’s sexual feelings as usual; the combination forms the child’s pattern of sexual identity.

This difference between jealousy and narcissism explains why some young children are more interested in sexual behaviour and sexual desire than other children are.

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Identification and Infancy Trauma

Identification only becomes possible once the crystallising ego can begin to separate its emotions and responses from those of the mother. It is a form of bonding which has both sexual and non-sexual components, whereas imprinting is a sexual form of bonding. I consider how they link up.

Identification revolves around a central difficulty, which is that people are unaware of their emotional motivations and responses to life. This lack of awareness in parents can produce severe problems for the infant. In the parents, the stresses of materialism and the stresses of relationships are usually kept repressed and hence are subconscious. The mother passes these subconscious stresses to the infant, as it introjects her emotions.

A parent may deliberately ill-treat a child. But this is not what I am attempting to analyse. In the following analysis I am assuming that there is no conscious desire to ill-treat a child. I am highlighting the subconscious dynamics of the mother-infant relationship.

The most unpleasant introjected emotions that the infant has to confront are forms of hate, especially the hate mode of pride. In a moralistic or a strong-willed mother the morality or the strong will power go hand-in-hand with a dominant sense of pride. Now pure hate is the emotional dynamic that sustains strong will power (hate enables the person to cut out any irrelevancies and unimportant issues), and strong pride centres on its hate mode. These factors ensure that modes of hate are a regular occurrence for the mother – though primarily it is the mode within pride that distresses the infant (whereas in a weak-willed mother the subconscious hatred is not so intense).

The mother is also likely to be experiencing abreactive hate regularly. [7]. When a marriage partner has a strong will or a strong sense of pride, there is likely to be little emotional support happening between the couple ; so the effects of abreaction will be felt more intensely. Her moralistic stance will intensify her resentments, since resentment is the ground of social morality. And when she gets angry, her anger just intensifies the infant’s problems (in an ideal world, when the mother is angry or feeling hateful she should avoid handling and feeding the infant so that it does not introject these emotions).

The infant absorbs the mother’s subconscious hatred whilst it is trying to construct its ego. The hatred has the effect of de-stabilising the ego whilst it is in the process of formation. In a mother-infant relationship, oscillating between love and hate, the infant cannot be neutral or calm. It has three choices: the first two focus on hatred, and the last one on self-pity. In the first two choices it can either accept the mother’s hate and become distressed ; or it can refute that hate by generating its own hatred, thereby becoming aggressive and rebellious. These choices lead to guilt and pride.

In the third choice, it can become depressed and filled with self-pity ; this choice is not the focus of this article. [8]. I am analysing the effects of hatred on the child.

When the infant accepts the mother’s subconscious hate, it experiences it as being directed at itself ; this turns the introjected emotion into self-hate. The infant is plunged into trauma. Its primary belief is that it has been rejected. It creates guilt as its long-term response to the mother. But even guilt (mode of self-hate) is a terrible emotion, especially for the infant. It ‘escapes’ from its predicament by identifying with the mother.

During my self-analysis, as I worked through my problems with bonding, it became abundantly clear to me that it is the self-hate within guilt that creates identification – not love, nor the love within jealousy or narcissism, but guilt. Identification is established when the infant rejects itself and psychologically clings to the mother. And when the adult, during psycho-analysis, eventually faces the pain of infancy trauma, it is the issue of rejection that he has to resolve. [9]

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Mechanics of Identification

The ego is created by attitudes and beliefs that can support the will. Creating an ego means creating a consistent will, in the way that Nietzsche understood. Consistent attitudes and beliefs create a consistent will. Confused and conflicting attitudes and beliefs generate an uncertain will and thereby form an unstable ego. [10]

Identification requires will and emotion ; the preferred emotion is love, but pure love does not maintain attachments (pure love is just a flow without an object ; only the love within either jealousy or narcissism adheres to objects). Therefore, as it flees from guilt the infant uses imprinting as its route to jealous love. And it takes the model of the mother’s will power as a surrogate for its own will. By focusing on will the child can orientate on jealous love, rather than on the dependency-creating self-pity mode of jealousy. In effect, the child uses will to switch the mode of jealousy from self-pity to love.

Now I can link identification to imprinting.


= will + sexual imprinting.

= will + jealousy (mode of love).

During periods when the infant cannot sustain identification then it becomes a whining child. Jealousy remains in the self-pity mode.

Not all children are troubled to the same extent by identification. I assume that the intensity of identification correlates with the intensity of the child’s feeling of self-hate. The mother’s subconscious hatred (of the husband, or of society, of her job, of life, etc) causes the child to respond by making guilt the essence of its relationship to her.
This is the tragedy of childhood : the child cannot separate the mother’s hatred of husband, society, life, etc, from hatred of itself.

This tragedy is the core of nearly all the psychological problems that the child will experience in life when it becomes an adult. I am not here dealing with deliberate abuse of the child by a parent – that is bad enough. I am trying to explain why a moralistic or a strong-willed mother, with the best of conscious intentions for the child, nevertheless creates the cross that the child will carry in life.

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Effect of Envy

The child may identify with one or both of the parents. If a child does not identify with both of the parents then the likely explanation is that there was little or no occurrence of infancy trauma, so parent – child relations can be happy ones (happiness can lead to attachment, but not to identification).

If the child identifies with one parent but not the other one, then a different pattern exists. The lack of identification indicates the likely presence of a dominant sense of envy towards that parent. Envy prevents a child from forming any strong bond to significant adults (envy is a dominant factor in autism [11]).

The difference between jealousy and envy is:

If an infant does not experience any trauma in childhood, then its attachments to its parents may be genuinely positive and pleasurable ones. But there is a trade-off between happiness and trauma. Happy and pleasurable attachments will lack the intensity of the identification bond. So when the child becomes an adult its relationships to other adults are likely to lack intensity too.

Roles of the Parents

One woman writer presumed that for a female child the mother gives it the sense of nurturing and the father gives it the sense of social relationships. In my view this is only partly correct. Bearing in mind her ideas on the father-daughter relationship, I assume that for heterosexual children :

These ideas mean that for a boy his sense of individuality is a masculine one, whilst for a girl her sense of individuality is a feminine one.

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I summarise my ideas for the period in life when the infant is trying to create its ego (from about seven months of age onwards). The infant assumes that the mother’s subconscious hatred is the mother’s feeling towards it. It experiences self-hate, which is then turned into guilt. It escapes from the guilt by developing identification with the mother – it changes self-hate into love, but this love is the love mode of jealousy. Jealousy follows guilt. Hence the sequence is:

Self-hate leads to guilt, which then leads to identification, which then leads to jealousy.

The jealousy may or may not be obvious, but the guilt is buried in the subconscious mind and so is not visible.

The mother had already imprinted her pattern of sexuality on the child. So now the child ties his jealousy to the mother’s sexual feelings ; hence his image of her always has a sexual component. Through the stratagem of identification he ties his will to the mother’s use of will ; this is his means of stabilising his own will. Finally, when he has become an adolescent he experiences sexual transference in social situations when anxiety acts on his jealousy.

The complete reaction from guilt to sexual transference is the Oedipus complex, as it relates to the child-mother relationship. The factor of identification within the complex generates intense feelings. The man will now find that for sustained passionate and intense sexual relationships to occur, his female partner needs to have traits of personality that are similar to those of his mother. [12]


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 time period for the creation of the infant's ego is explained in the article Vulnerability of the Ego, on my website Patterns of Confusion[1]

[²]. The analysis of the bonding process is begun in the article on Transference. Identification is described in the article Identification and Absorption, on my websites  The Subconscious Mind and Discover Your Mind[2]

[³]. To understand introjection, see the article Projection and Introjection. [3]

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

[5]. The direction of love flow is given in the article Structure of Sexual Response. [5]

[6]. In my use of terms, "sexual desire" is a sexual response based on jealousy, whereas "sexual attraction" is a sexual response based on narcissism. They are explained in the article Two Modes of Sexuality. [6]

[7]. My analysis of the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction. See home page. [7]

[8]. The choice of self-pity brings with it the problem of meaninglessness and catatonia. See the two articles on Guilt & Meaning - parts 1 and 2, on my website Patterns of Confusion[8]

[9]. For more analysis of infancy trauma, there are two articles on my website Patterns of Confusion. The first article, Vulnerability of the Ego, focuses on the origins of violence. And the second one, Guilt & Meaning - part 2, centres on why trauma occurs unintentionally ; a shortened version of this article is Infancy Trauma, on my website  The Subconscious Mind[9]

[10]. Blackham, H. Six Existential Thinkers. Routledge, 1952 and 1986.
A good description of Nietzche's idea of will and how it relates to values, attitudes, beliefs and character. [10]

[11]. Autism is analysed into its emotional dynamics in the article Depression & Autism & other states of despair, on my website Patterns of Confusion[11]

[12]. The Oedipus complex is described in the article Oedipus and Electra. The importance of this complex in establishing a sense of identity is explained on my website which focuses on personal identity : The Subconscious Mind[12]

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Two Modes of Sexuality - sexuality is dual in form.

Bonding - continues the bonding patterns.

Oedipus and Electra - symbolism in sexual practices.

TV / TS - transvestism & trans-sexuality, plus voyeurism and groping.

Sadism and Masochism - sexual violence and degrading phantasies.

Structure of Sexual Response - four relationship responses.

Partnerships - the way that change affects partners.

The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
All Rights Reserved

Ian Heath
London, UK

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