The imaginary content is called an introject and can take negative or positive forms—e.g. the punitive mother, the kindly grandfather, the distant father, and so on.
Freud says introjection plays a role in the development of the superego and in decreasing separation anxiety. It is considered a regular aspect of psychological development leading toward ego independence.¹
However, Freudian theory is often seen as limited or ‘reductionist’ and Freud’s view of introjection gives an example of why some feel too much adherence to Freud could actually drive you crazy.²
Introjection is seen as part of a normal developmental process that involves a series of ‘necessary mistakes’—mistakes that must be overcome for the attainment of true maturity. But we never really stop distorting our world, so determining exactly where unhealthy imagining stops and healthy imagining begins could be problematic. As in most psychological assessments, not a little human bias comes into play.
Another problem, one not really addressed by Freud or his hardcore followers, is that an individual may intuit another’s hostile intentions which are cleverly concealed and publicly hidden. If a hostile aggressor is cunning enough to mask their aggression in social situations, they may appear benevolent when, in fact, brimming with destructive tendencies. If an insightful person recognizes this, they may be duly concerned but a supposedly ‘objective’ psychoanalyst may dismiss their concern as a mere introject (when, in fact, it is an accurate perception of hostility).³
Freud’s leading disciple C. G. Jung talked about the importance of intuitive knowledge far more than Freud. As Jung moved further away from his Freudian roots, he incorporated intuition into his own model of the self. But even Jung doesn’t offer much more than an introduction to intuition—at least, this is how most bona fide mystics would see it.
¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 77-78.
² I am not being glib here. While writing my Ph.D. on Carl Jung an employee in a New Age bookstore once joked, “Jung is okay but Freud will drive you crazy.”
³ The same thing could be said of a criminal posing as a legitimate educator. If a sensitive person picks up that the educator is really a sociopathic operator, few will believe them if the sociopath does a good job in bolstering their cover. Or some may believe but deny it for personal gain.