What are Introjected Values?
Introjected values are values that we adopt from others through the process of introjection. Feltham and Dryden (1993: 97) define introjection as ‘the process of taking representations of others, or parts of others, into one’s inner world … Introjection is specifically concerned with the way in which people absorb aspects of their parents’ attitudes and values as introjects.’
Origins in Person-Centred Theory
The concept of introjected values forms part of Carl Rogers’ 19 propositions on the development of personality. Number 10 of these says (Rogers, 1951: 498):
The values attached to experiences, and the values which are a part of the self structure, in some instances are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
Rory Lees-Oakes (2016: Podcast 14) translates this into plain English as follows: ‘The values I attach to my experiences and how I value myself are based on my own experience but also include values taken and absorbed from others. I may be unaware of some of my values derived from others.’
How Introjected Values Hamper Development
Rogers believed that introjected values get in the way of people being their true (organismic) selves, causing them to adopt others’ values as their own truths. An example of an introjected value might be that of how women ‘should’ look (as implied by, say, magazine covers). This is robustly challenged by Naomi Wolf (2015) in The Beauty Myth.
Merry (2012: 27) writes:
… the self-structure consists both of experiences and the values attached to them. Some of the time, these values are experienced directly, but at other times experiences may become valued either positively or negatively because those values have been absorbed (or introjected) from others, often in a distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
Introjected values can lead to the client experiencing incongruence.
How Therapy Can Help
Person-centred counselling theory suggests that when the six necessary and sufficient conditions are present, the client ‘can relax enough to allow himself [sic] to become aware of his self-experiences and to integrate the evidence of his senses within his self-structure’ (Tolan, 2003: 110).
It is human to hold introjected values. Counsellors are looking out for signs of introjected values in clients, but they too may subject to these. The secret to identifying and dealing with them is good self-awareness, gained through personal development and supervision.
An example of where a counsellor’s introjected values may enter the counselling room is given by Tolan (2003: 67–68). She describes a situation in which a female client, Bernice, is describing the difficulties she is experiencing having her ageing mother living with her, her partner and children, James and Sophie. She adds that Helen has begun to stay out late to avoid the tension.
The counsellor may have:
… a theoretical acceptance of lesbian relationships, but [not be] at ease with the reality. Her self-structure might be struggling with introjected values from childhood saying that homosexuality is ‘abnormal’ or even ‘wrong’”, and the values imparted through her counselling training saying ‘You must be accepting’.
This could lead to the counsellor feeling fearful of clarifying with Bernice who Helen is, and so make it harder to be fully in the client’s frame of reference and to accompany her in her difficulties. If the counsellor had made no progress during training in tackling those introjected values, they might even have denied the experience (e.g., wondered whether Helen might be Bernice’s sister) or distorted the experience (e.g., heard ‘Helen’ as ‘Alan’).
Feltham C and Dryden W (1993) Dictionary of Counselling, Whurr Publishers
Lees-Oakes R (2016) ‘Rogers’ 19 Propositions 2’ in Counselling Tutor Podcast 014: Show-Notes, Counselling Tutor: https://counsellingtutor.com/ctp-014-assignments-19-propositions-rapport-building-integrative-counselling/
Merry T (2012) ‘Classical Client-Centred Therapy’ in Sanders P (ed.) The Tribes of the Person-Centred Nation, PCCS Books
Rogers C (1951) Client-Centered Therapy, Constable
Tolan J (2003) Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage
Wolf N (2015) The Beauty Myth, Vintage Classics