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Strachey, A. (1941). A Note on the Use of the Word 'Internal'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 22:37-43.

(1941). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 22:37-43

A Note on the Use of the Word 'Internal'

Alix Strachey


The word 'internal' has a very wide and varied application in the psychological field. It is used to describe at least three different kinds of things.

1. It is used for functions, structures and constituents of the mind, such as mechanisms of defence, displacement, projection and introjection, ideational and imaginative processes, states of feeling, characterological traits, perceptions, etc., etc. This set of things includes all the phenomena that have an objective existence in the mental sphere in the same way as material phenomena have in the physical world. In this sense 'internal' is equivalent to 'mental' or 'psychological' or 'belonging to the mind'. An example of this meaning would be found in the sentence: 'Though Mr. A. was as poor as a church mouse his internal state was so good that he never felt any want.' Here Mr. A.'s internal state might just as well be called a mental state or a state of mind.

2. It is used for objects, situations and events which are creations of the imagination, as they appear in dreams, delusions and phantasies—such things as good and bad imagos, rescuing a fair maiden from the horrible dragon, being pursued by a wicked giant, etc. These are things which exist only on a subjective level in the mental field—which only exist, that is, in the sense that they are believed in, or thought about, by some person. In this sense 'internal' means 'imaginary' or 'fictitious'. An example of this would be the following sentence: 'Mrs. B. used to fancy that she was being waylaid and carried off by force. These internal adventures were so absorbing that she had no interest for anything else.' Here the words 'internal adventures' could obviously be replaced by 'imaginary adventures'.

3. It is used for objects, situations and events which are specifically imagined as being inside a person, such as a wolf gnawing at the vitals from within or a huge penis filling the whole of the body. This is clearly a special case of Class 2—of imaginary things—and here the word 'internal' means 'imagined as inside' or 'supposedly inside'. In this sense we might say: 'little C.'s

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