Sunday, March 1, 2009

This Terribly Significant Business of Other People---Group Work & Getting It Wrong & Wrong & Wrong Again

[Is this an image of group therapy or the Jerry Springer show? Group dynamics in any context, sacred or secular, appears still to be pretty much the same as it was in classical times; the best depiction of group dynamics as I've experienced them so far. Please click to enlarge the image in order to see all the various sub-groups and reactions, especially the two men in the mid-left edge of the painting. I am seeking the name and artist of this painting in order to give it its legal attributions. If anyone knows the artist then please inform me so I may publish all the legal copyright information. Thank you.

I use extensive quotes here, the most important part of all that follows, as they elucidate and educate regarding group dynamics, all said so much better than I. Regarding groups I am still pretty much inarticulate or, rather, choose to remain more silent than vocal since I have very strong and mostly negative views from my personal experience of groups and their bleeders, I mean, leaders. However, I am not just silent here or in groups but work very hard in my own analysis and inner work to understand and if possible mature in terms of my expectations and experiences of groups.

That said, I would write and publish an "Introverts for Extraverted Dummies Who Run Groups" book for it is usually extraverts who find group work positively numinous whereas introverts find group work negatively so expecially in the extraverted pull for public display and show of internals, vicera, vice, vomit and vox umbilical. I write more about this way, way below what follows if the reader is at all interested.]

defense 1297, from O.Fr. defens, from L. defensum "thing protected or forbidden," from neut. pp. of defendere "ward off, protect"


My nervous system is better than your nervous system.
My nervous system hates your nervous system.
Keep your nervous system away from mine and all betwixt n between the pond and the blue pines. Needles, the word. And spine.
"The nerve!" you say,
"Stick 'em where the sun don't shine."

-- from Gator Trees a 'Coon Behind the Moon and Other Myths of Reptiles and Prehensiles North and South by Wilfred O. Bung (unpublished manuscript)


You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty
of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that--well, lucky you.

-- from Amercian Pastoral, a novel
by Philip Roth, p. 35


The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

-- Emily Dickinson

Our lives teach us who we are. I have learned the hard way that when you permit anyone else's description of reality to supplant your own-- and such descriptions have been raining down on me, from security advisers, governments, journalists, Archbishops, friends, enemies, mullahs--then you might as well be dead. Obviously, a rigid, blinkered absolutist world view is the easiest to keep hold of, whereas the fluid, uncertain, metamorphic picture I've always carried is rather more vulnerable. Yet I must cling with all my might to my own soul; must hold on to its mischievous, iconoclastic, out-of-step clown instincts, no matter how great the storm. And if that plunges me into contradiction and paradox, so be it; I've lived in that messy ocean all my life.

-- from "Our Lives Teach Us Who We Are" by Salmon Rushdie quoted by Clark Moustakis, preface, p.xxi, Being-In, Being-For, Being-With


["In Bion's view, then, what matters in individual and group behaviour is more primitive than the Freudian level of explanation. The ultimate sources of our distress are psychotic anxieties, and much of what happens in individuals and groups is a result of defenses erected against psychotic anxieties, so that we do not have to endure them consciously."

The above and following extensive quote from Robert M. Young's essay "Psychotic Anxieties in Groups and Institutions" is necessary for a psychoanalytic understanding of group dynamics and how fraught with destructive capabilities they are. Young articulates clearly and personally some of these unconscious dynamics present in all groups. If anyone is interested in getting together to read and discuss this essay more deeply please contact me for I am 'most anxious' to do so.
I highly recommend an intensive study and discussion of this article for all who are in groups, run groups or fancy that they would like to do so. Click here for the article (amongst many excellent ones meriting serious study and discussion:

http://www.psychoanalysis-and-therapy.com/human_nature/papers/paper22h.html
]


...My general point is that if you ask the question, 'What is a psychotic anxiety when it's at home and not in the pages of an implausible and nearly unfathomable text by Melanie Klein?', you'll be able to be less sceptical if you interrogate the fringes of your own memories and distressing experiences and, of course, your dreams [see my "Rat Cassoullet" dream exposited further below]. I shall offer more illustrations anon, but for the present I want to assert that psychotic anxieties are ubiquitous, underlie all thought, provide the rationale for all culture and institutions and, in particular cases, help us to make sense of especially galling ways of being. I have in mind at the moment Meltzer's idea of the claustrum, wherein dwell ultra-ambitious and survivalist conformists who live in projective identification, which he takes to mean that their dwelling place in the inner world is inside the rectum, thus confirming the colloquial description of such people as 'arseholes'...

My own experience involved feeling continually on the edge of disintegration as a result of what happened in the various group events (ranging in size from a dozen to over 100 people) which I found appalling and from which there seemed no escape, while efforts to persuade people to behave well produced flight, sadism collusive lowering of the stakes or denial. The potential of the group for uniting around (what was called on occasion) 'cheap reconciliation' or for cruelty, brought me to the point of leaving at several points, and I frequently had the experience of having to use all my resources to hold myself together against forces which I experienced as profoundly immoral, amoral or pathetically conformist. No appeal to standards of group decency was of much avail.

I ended up forming a group in my mind which consisted of all the people I admired in history and in my lifetime, e.g., Socrates, Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Bonhoeffer, Marcuse, Mandela, who had stood up to intolerable social forces without quitting the field or having their spirits broken. I dubbed this 'The PSÖD Solidarity Group' and, armed with their mandate, managed to talk my way into a meeting with the staff, for the purpose of mounting a critique of the rubric of the exercise. I felt contained by the inner solidarity provided by my imagined group, while I was, in truth, actually on my own in the phenomenal context of the conference events. I had blown out of a group in considerable distress, because it had utterly failed to live up to its self-designation of advocating and practising decency and civility among its members and urging such standards on the larger group of conference members.

Just as I was on the point of sitting down to confront the staff group in the name of my inner world group (vainly hoping they would show some interest in its name, membership and values), a representative of the group I had left appeared and bestowed 'plenipotentiary powers' (one of the designated forms of delegation of authority) on me, freeing me from the dreaded status of 'singleton'. A singleton is a person with no role status in he large group (see Miller, 1990, p. 179 and Turquet, 1975, where the plight of the singleton is insightfully and poignantly described). I had felt unutterably alone, almost totally in the grip of paranoid persecutions, holding on for dear life to my hallucinated historical group. The bestowal of my conference group's trust reincorporated me into the social whole on terms I could accept.

My confrontation with the staff group, acting in this exercise as 'Management, was predictably without issue, but I went away feeling that I had spoken my piece without suffering the humiliation that many others had experienced. I had offered my analysis of the situation and their role in it, one dimension of which was that they would - as a part of the exercise's point - continue to behave as that were doing, i.e., act as an immovable object on to which the groups would project their phantasies about authority and (hopefully) begin to take responsibility for themselves. I felt that I had done that and negotiated my own rite of passage - just.

Having gone some way toward resolving my own temporary insanity (though not my omnipotence or my paranoia, which included the belief that the conference Director had slept with my partner) I was only able to bask pleasantly in group membership for a few minutes before members of another group, who had sought refuge in being regressed and silly (they called themselves 'The Potty Training Group'), stormed into the room where the staff/Management group were holding court. The person whom I had considered to be the mildest member of that group proceeded to physically attack a German member of staff with shouts of 'fascist' and other violent epithets. He was aided and cheered on by other members of his group, until one, a woman I felt sure was a Jew but I now recollect was probably not but was a German, broke down sobbing and shouted for all this to stop.

The descent from work or task-oriented groups to groups in the thrall of psychotic basic assumptions is, as Bion pointed out, spontaneous and inevitable, even in a situation which all concerned know to be temporary and 'artificial'. I continue to find this profoundly sobering. I also continue to ruminate it and am far from having digested the experience, though I have found it increasingly helpful in my work and related activities - and in my reflections on what has happened in recent politics, especially the people on the left who have tried to work in relatively non-hierarchical groups [spiritually oriented "leftist groups" take heed. This related point a little further in the essay:

Menzies Lyth also draws a cautionary conclusion: 'In general, it may be postulated that resistance to social change is likely to be greatest in institutions whose social defence systems are dominated by primitive psychic defence mechanisms, those which have been collectively described by Klein as the paranoid-schizoid defences' (Menzies Lyth, p. 79). In recent reflections on her work and that of her colleagues, she has reiterated just how refractory to change institutions are (Menzies Lyth, 1988, pp. 1-42, and personal communications). It is obvious to me that these findings apply across the society and culture and to left organizations particularly, where the risks of going against the grain of hegemony can often feel life-threatening and in some societies are.].

After canvassing the literature on psychotic anxieties and reflecting on it and my own personal, clinical and political experience, I am left with a daunting sense of the power of the inner world and an awesome awareness of how very deep, primitive, abiding and alarming its nether regions are. The anxieties I have attempted to outline (and, to a degree, evoke), exist throughout human nature - in all of life from the cradle (some say earlier) to the grave, in all of play and culture, and act as a brake on benignity and social change which it is hard to imagine releasing, even notch by notch.

The history of psychoanalysis has left us with a small number of ideas about the veneer of civilisation. Freud said it was thin and under threat. One reading of those who still speak in his name and quote his slogan: 'Where id was, there ego shall be. It is a work of culture - not unlike the draining of the Zuider Zee' (S.E. 22, p. 80), takes this to mean that the result can be a dry, flowering land, i.e., that there can be a 'conflict-free sphere of the ego'. A second, rather disparate, group proffer a continuum extending from Reich's advocacy of desublimation and a promise of a return to Eden, to the Winnicottian position that eschews Klein's undoubted stress on the power of thantic, destructive forces, and sees rather more decency and hope in liberal society than the Kleinians discern.

I dare say that Klein wrote rather less about the other side of human nature - the constructive or erotic impulses - because she found herself in mutually critical dialogue with colleagues who she felt overemphasised those aspects. Finding the twig bent, as she thought, too far one way, she bent it the other way, perhaps to leave it straight for those that followed. A third group are orthodox Kleinians and point out that the veneer of civilisation is very thin indeed and that the maelstrom beneath is perpetually and rather pathetically defended against. It can be argued that this provides the basis for a psychoanalytic rendering of Gramsci's optimism of the will, coupled with a pessimism of the intellect and, I say again, a belief that it is essential to know what is bubbling away underneath the surface if we are to have any hope of cooling some of the crust and sharing some of the fruits of human endeavour more equitably.

I also believe that this position is consistent with a careful reading of Freud's Civilisation and Its Discontents, written half way through his sixteen-year struggle with cancer. He says there that the history of civilisation is 'the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of... And it is this battle of the giants that our nurse-maids try to appease with their lullaby about Heaven' (S.E. 21, p. 122).

In conclusion, my view of the connection between psychoanalysis, therapy and institutional and social change - and the impediments to change - is that human nature is far more ambivalent and refractory at a much deeper level than we ever imagine when we embark on changing the world. As I have said before, I find myself thinking increasingly of Sisyphus, whom Albert Camus urged us to imagine as happy. Perhaps he comforts himself with the stoical maxim: 'It is not given to us to complete the task, yet we may not give it up'.


[What follows is part of a review of theories regarding individuals in group dynamics from the same article by Young]

In an attempt to shed some light on all this, I want to gather together and draw attention to the implications of Kleinian and neo-Kleinian ideas for how we think of human nature, by which I mean, with respect to individuals and all other levels of culture and civilisation. It turns out that defence against psychotic anxieties is offered by Kleinians as a deeper explanation than the incest taboo as the basis of that thin and all too easily breached veneer that constitutes civility and stands between what passes for the social order, on the one hand, and chaos (or the fear of it), on the other. This turns out to be a mixed blessing, since our defences against psychotic anxieties act as a powerful brake on institutional and social change toward less rigid and more generous relations between individuals and groups. Those of you who are familiar with this literature will not hear anything new. My aim is to think as hard as I can about what it would mean to take its conclusions seriously.

Freud's theory of civilisation drew attention to the taboo against violent sexual competitiveness and rapaciousness as the corner-stone of civilisation. The polymorphously sexual patriarch was said to have been killed by the primal horde, thus establishing the incest taboo, the basis for all other taboos and the system of custom and legality that gave birth to civilisation and culture, terms Freud refused to distinguish. He constantly emphasised that 'man is a wolf to other men', that the veneer of civilisation is thin and under threat from moment to moment and that all of life is a constant struggle conducted in the fraught space between erotic and destructive instincts. For Freud the basic conflicts occurred at this level of the psyche (see Young, 1992, ch. 2). As Meltzer describes it, Freud's world is 'a world of higher animals', 'creatures seeking surcease from the constant bombardment of stimuli from inside and out'. He contrasts Klein's world as 'one of holy babes in holy families plagued by the devils of split off death instinct' (Meltzer, 1978, part 3, pp. 115-16).

This is not merely a difference of emphasis. The difference between the worlds of Freud and Klein may also be described as one of level of explanation and of causality. Bion put the point clearly in the conclusion to his essay, 'Group Dynamics - A Re-view', which, as Menzies Lyth points out, was more explicit about the Kleinian inspiration of his ideas than his better-known collection of essays, Experiences in Groups. Bion says, 'Freud's view of the dynamics of the group seems to me to require supplementing rather than correction' (Bion, 1955, p. 475). He accepts Freud's claim that the family group is the basis for all groups but adds that 'this view does not go far enough... I think that the central position in group dynamics is occupied by the more primitive mechanisms which Melanie Klein has described as peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. In other words, I feel... that it is not simply a matter of the incompleteness of the illumination provided by Freud's discovery of the family group as the prototype of all groups, but the fact that this incompleteness leaves out the source of the main emotional drives of the group' (ibid.). He then summarises the notions of 'work group' and the 'basic assumptions' that assail them - 'dependence', 'pairing', 'fight-flight' - and suggests that these may have a common link or may be different aspects of each other.

'Further investigation shows that each basic assumption contains features that correspond so closely with extremely primitive part objects that sooner or later psychotic anxiety, appertaining to these primitive relationships, is released. These anxieties, and the mechanisms peculiar to them, have already been displayed in psychoanalysis by Melanie Klein, and her descriptions tally well with the emotional states' of the basic assumption group. Such groups have aims 'far different either from the overt task of the group or even from the tasks that would appear to be appropriate to Freud's view of the group as based on the family group. But approached from the angle of psychotic anxiety, associated with phantasies of primitive part object relationships... the basic assumption phenomena appear far more to have the characteristics of defensive reactions to psychotic anxiety, and to be not so much at variance with Freud's views as supplementary to them. In my view, it is necessary to work through both the stresses that appertain to family patterns and the still more primitive anxieties of part object relationships. In fact I consider the latter to contain the ultimate sources of all group behaviour' (p. 476).

In Bion's view, then, what matters in individual and group behaviour is more primitive than the Freudian level of explanation. The ultimate sources of our distress are psychotic anxieties, and much of what happens in individuals and groups is a result of defences erected against psychotic anxieties, so that we do not have to endure them consciously.


[Group dynamics and psychotic anxieties in the following famous story by Uncle Remus. Briar patch group meets the Trickster archetype played against Itself between Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. The group is the briar patch, the tricks of group techniques are designed for such encounters between the Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit headed for a show down with Brer Fox who is the group leader. The psychotic anxieties are shared by one and all in various permutations. The tar baby, the non-participant group member, drives both Brer Rabbit and, ultimately, Brer Fox mad with anxiety and rage. In the end, though, Brer Rabbit has the capacity for some growth in awareness imaged in his sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug." The Tar Baby is also the shadow of individuals, the group and the group leader. Brer Rabbit will most likely defeat Brer Fox because of his capacity to directly encounter his shadow, engage it, learn from it and assimilate/integrate it into conscious use.]

Brer Rabbit meets a Tar Baby
retold by
S. E. Schlosser

Well now, that rascal Brer Fox hated Brer Rabbit on account of he was always cutting capers and bossing everyone around. So Brer Fox decided to capture and kill Brer Rabbit if it was the last thing he ever did! He thought and he thought until he came up with a plan. He would make a tar baby! Brer Fox went and got some tar and he mixed it with some turpentine and he sculpted it into the figure of a cute little baby. Then he stuck a hat on the Tar Baby and sat her in the middle of the road.

Brer Fox hid himself in the bushes near the road and he waited and waited for Brer Rabbit to come along. At long last, he heard someone whistling and chuckling to himself, and he knew that Brer Rabbit was coming up over the hill. As he reached the top, Brer Rabbit spotted the cute little Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was surprised. He stopped and stared at this strange creature. He had never seen anything like it before!

"Good Morning," said Brer Rabbit, doffing his hat. "Nice weather we're having."

The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox laid low and grinned an evil grin. Brer Rabbit tried again.

"And how are you feeling this fine day?" The Tar Baby, she said nothing.

Brer Fox grinned an evil grin and lay low in the bushes.

Brer Rabbit frowned. This strange creature was not very polite. It was beginning to make him mad.

"Ahem!" said Brer Rabbit loudly, wondering if the Tar Baby were deaf. "I said 'HOW ARE YOU THIS MORNING?"

The Tar Baby said nothing.

Brer Fox curled up into a ball to hide his laugher. His plan was working perfectly!

"Are you deaf or just rude?" demanded Brer Rabbit, losing his temper. "I can't stand folks that are stuck up! You take off that hat and say 'Howdy-do' or I'm going to give you such a lickin'!"

The Tar Baby just sat in the middle of the road looking as cute as a button and saying nothing at all.

Brer Fox rolled over and over under the bushes, fit to bust because he didn't dare laugh out loud.

"I'll learn ya!" Brer Rabbit yelled. He took a swing at the cute little Tar Baby and his paw got stuck in the tar.

"Lemme go or I'll hit you again," shouted Brer Rabbit. The Tar Baby, she said nothing.

"Fine! Be that way," said Brer Rabbit, swinging at the Tar Baby with his free paw. Now both his paws were stuck in the tar, and Brer Fox danced with glee behind the bushes.

"I'm gonna kick the stuffin' out of you," Brer Rabbit said and pounced on the Tar Baby with both feet. They sank deep into the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was so furious he head-butted the cute little creature until he was completely covered with tar and unable to move.

Brer Fox leapt out of the bushes and strolled over to Brer Rabbit. "Well, well, what have we here?" he asked, grinning an evil grin.

Brer Rabbit gulped. He was stuck fast. He did some fast thinking while Brer Fox rolled about on the road, laughing himself sick over Brer Rabbit's dilemma.

"I've got you this time, Brer Rabbit," said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. "You've sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?"

Brer Rabbit's eyes got very large. "Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you," mused Brer Fox. "No, that's too much trouble. Maybe I'll hang you instead."

"Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"If I'm going to hang you, I'll need some string," said Brer Fox. "And I don't have any string handy. But the stream's not far away, so maybe I'll drown you instead."

"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"The briar patch, eh?" said Brer Fox. "What a wonderful idea! You'll be torn into little pieces!"

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox's fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.

Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Brer Rabbit's death rattle. He heard nothing.

Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill.

Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.

"I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox," he called. "Born and bred in the briar patch."

And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.

-- from Spooky South by S.E. Schlosser Click here for the website with this story:

http://www.americanfolklore.net/folktales/ga2.html


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