Introjects or Independence

When living with a chronic physical illness one must engage in a tricky balancing act between making sure to give oneself the care that one deserves versus maintaining an active and fulfilling life. At times, folks who have chronic physical illness need to opt out of certain events or delay addressing certain responsibilities in order to maintain a level of health. Other times, these same people may push themselves to get through the day and to see all the people that they need to see. Neither option is more correct, as everything depends on that specific instance and on the context of the situation. The root of the decision-making is also extremely significant. Does the decision come from a place of independent action and desire, or does it come from a deeply seeded fear of letting others down?

According to psychoanalytic theory, all human beings possess what are called introjects. Roughly speaking, introjects are the internalized ways of being and experiences of ourselves that follow from what one's parents persistently and consistently expected/expects from him or her. Some people may have internalized the idea that they are never good enough unless they maintain an impossible ideal of perfection. It is likely that these people have a narcissistic parent who needs to remain as "the best" and therefore creates situations where everyone else can never be good enough, especially his or her children who are viewed as competition. A message gets passed down to the child that no matter how successful he or she is there will always be something wrong or not good enough with the child, which keeps the parent in a dominant position. This critical introject will remain as a part of the person not only through childhood but throughout one's life, and can continue to influence a person's decisions and actions unless analyzed or understood further.

People with such introjects tend to overachieve with an underlying hope that their parent will eventually approve, even after that parent is no longer around. The internalized idea that anything less than perfect will follow with criticism and disappointment drives some people to behave in ways that might actually be harmful to themselves. For example, an individual may not be feeling well, may have a fever, and feel exhausted; however, she or he will still go to their job and work 7 out of the 8 hours in the workday and then will come home and feel guilt and anger for not working the full 8 hours. Others viewing this from the outside are more likely to see how irrational this person's behavior and feelings are, while the person him or herself can only experience him or herself as a failure, despite feeling physically very ill.

It is important for people who live with chronic physical illness to be able to identify the impetus behind their actions. Even when not in an acute moment of illness, some chronic illnesses require preemptive rest in order to avoid future symptomatic periods. Therefore, when one who lives with a chronic physical illness is thinking about pushing him or herself, it is helpful to take a minute and just think about why. Why do I want to give it my all today? Is it because this activity is really meaningful to me? Is it because if I do not I will just be less than perfect, a failure, like my mother always expected me to be? Is pushing myself today and possibly feeling ill tomorrow worth this? Is this my introject or my independence?

Although not every one who has a chronic physical illness has had a narcissistic parent or such a critical introject, it is always important for everyone with a chronic physical illness to put some thought into their actions. Frivolously acting without thought can be dangerous to one's health. Living with a chronic physical illness can really force some into analyzing why they feel the way they do, why they act in the manner they act, and may shed light onto the roles that certain key family members played in their development. Understanding oneself in this deep and meaningful way is the beginning of true independence.