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CORRESPONDENCES BETWEEN BION'S BASIC ASSUMPTION THEORY AND KLEIN'S DEVELOPMENTAL POSITIONS: AN OUTLINE
by Laurence J. Gould, Ph.D.
While Bion's theory of basic assumptions in groups is well known, the linkages and correspondences between his theory and the Kleinian theory of development that he himself suggests - specifically, with the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, and the early origins of the Oedipus complex - have never been detailed. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to propose that there are direct "binocular" correspondences between Bion's baF and Klein's paranoid-schizoid position, between baD and the depressive position, and between baP and the early Oedipus complex. It is argued that these correspondences are precisely what Bion came to understand when he alluded to them in his introduction to Experiences in Groups (1961). It is also suggested that attempting to detail the Kleinian correspondences with Bion's theories will stimulate further advances in the study of group life, and that such advances are not likely to occur in their absence.
My present work, which I hope to publish, convinces me of the central importance of the Kleinian theories of . . . the interplay between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. (Bion's Introduction to "Experiences in Groups" [1961, p. 8])
It may be noted that the conception of sophisticated tasks derives from Bion's conception of the sophisticated task of the work or W group. I am refraining from using Bion's more elaborate conceptual scheme defining what he terms the "basic assumptions" of groups, since the relationship between the operation of basic assumptions and of depressive and persecutory phenomena remains to be worked out. (Jacques, 1955, p. 487)
As the above two quotes indicate, there is a presumed, direct conceptual connection between Bion's theory of basic assumptions in groups and Klein's theory of developmental positions. But, as Jacques (1955) noted, the precise correspondences and linkages between them remained to be worked out. This state of affairs still prevails. While the reasons will be discussed later, why Bion himself did not do so is perhaps less obvious. The most likely reason though probably had to do with the timing and circumstance of Bion's development as a psychoanalytic theorist, and the emergence of his particular interests and concerns. Initially, when he wrote his first paper on groups (1943) with Rickman, Bion had not yet begun his analysis with Klein, although he no doubt had some awareness of her theories. Further, while clearly conversant with psychoanalysis, as attested to by his references to Freud (1913, 1921) in seventh and last paper of his original series of publications on groups in Human Relations (1948-1951), the specific links with Klein's theories, as Bion himself tells us, while incubating during this time, developed later on, subsequent to writing these papers. It was not until a year after his final paper (VII) in the series on groups was completed, that the summary chapter titled Re-View, which closes Experiences in
Groups (1961), was initially published (1952). In it, Bion explicitly sets out to do what Freud did in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) - that is, apply the insights of psycho-analysis to the study of the human group, but in this case with a particular emphasis on the work of Melanie Klein. Here, Bion makes explicit, for the first time, the importance of many Kleinian concepts including projective identification, splitting, psychotic anxiety, symbol formation, schizoid mechanisms and part-objects, and her general theory of development for understanding groups. However, with the exception of one brief, passing comment, he does not even mention Klein's fundamental concept of developmental positions. However, to return to the quote from his Introduction to Experiences in Groups, it seems clear that Bion had indeed, by the time these papers were reprinted, some seven years later, explicitly considered the "central importance" of Klein's theories of developmental positions for understanding groups, which he had hoped to publish subsequently. However, since he never directly continued his clinical and conceptual work in group psychology, this task remained undone.
The major purpose of the present paper, therefore, is to begin this task, which is, by now, already long overdue, with the hope is that it may provide a useful starting point for continuing to develop and extend the powerful and useful ideas about groups adumbrated by Bion. His use of the word "adumbrate" to describe his views clearly implies that they were a work in progress, and not a completely developed conceptual scheme. Unfortunately, the brilliance of Bion's ideas has led (utilizing one of his own concepts) to an aberrant form of bible-making, by which they have been cast in stone. Hence, the relative paucity of further significant developments in Bion's group theories (Trist, 1985), despite the fact that references to his work in this area are, at this point, far too numerous to count! It is hoped, therefore, that detailing the hypothesized Kleinian linkages with basic assumption theory will provide some impetus for more extended clinical and conceptual advances in the study of group life, and that such advances, I suggest, are not likely to occur without them.
Specifically, the view put forth is that Bion's basic assumption theory provides, to use his term, a direct "binocular" correspondence with Klein's theory of developmental positions. In what follows, an attempt will be made to articulate these linkages and correspondences and to argue - largely in a contextual manner - that they are precisely what Bion eventually came to recognize as a result of his immersion in Kleinian psychoanalysis, even though he himself never returned to spelling them out.
My approach is straightforward. I'll first briefly provide an overview of both Klein's developmental positions and Bion's basic assumptions. I'll then detail the presumed correspondences, utilizing a constellation of dimensions around which both theoretical frameworks can be organized in direct parallel. These will be presented in a series of three tables - one for each set of hypothesized correspondences - the paranoid-schizoid position and baF; the depressive position and baD; and the Oedipus complex and baP.
KLEIN'S DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY
In Klein's view, development during the very earliest months and years provides the anlage for the structuralization of character which will endure throughout life. Klein postulates early development as being comprised of two distinct but overlapping developmental positions, called respectively the paranoid-schizoid (1946, 1957) and the depressive positions (1935, 1940). In one sense these positions may be thought of as phases of early development. Segal (1973), for example, notes that they can be viewed as sub-phases of the oral stage, with the paranoid-schizoid position occurring during the first three to four months, and the depressive position occupying the remaining months of the first year. In essence, Klein conceptualizes these positions as configurations of psychic phenomena each organized around a distinct constellation of anxieties, object relations and defenses. Further, it should be emphasized that Klein uses the term position to suggest that these are not simply transitory or passing phases or stages, but rather the bases of the psyche's enduring orientation throughout life. Depending on the level of integration, therefore, one can observe, at all times, elements of oscillation between the two positions. In addition, later difficulties and developmental tasks requiring mastery, as in the Oedipal situation, are met with patterned responses which derive from paranoid-schizoid and depressive resolutions. Finally, in the Kleinian view, the origins of the Oedipus complex coincide with, and are integral to, the depressive position, since it is during this time that the infant in beginning to recognize the mother as a whole person, in contradistinction to the pre or part-object orientation of the paranoid-schizoid position, also comes to recognize others as well, and as such, interpersonal, as well as personal relations begin to develop.
In briefly summarizing Klein's view of early psychic life, it may be stressed that the central developmental trajectory she postulates involves the origin and transformation of object relations. From an original state of unawareness of persons as whole objects during the paranoid-schizoid position, such an awareness begins to gradually develop and flower during the depressive position, together with an awareness and recognition of interpersonal relations, which form the core of the Oedipus complex. In essence, it is through this line of development, including concordant anxieties and defenses, that enduring patterns of object relations become psychically structured.
BION'S BASIC ASSUMPTION THEORY
It is useful to introduce Bion's theory of basic assumptions in the context of this paper by generally comparing it with Freud's (1913, 1922) views on the correspondences between aspects of an individual's early development and the complexities of group life in adulthood. Bion's overarching point, following Klein, is that the material that emerges in groups more often closely approximates very early (pre-Oedipal) part-object relationships, and associated primitive phantasies and psychotic anxieties, than it does the more fully developed Oedipal stage interplay of whole-object relationships which form the core of Freud's group psychology. In keeping with this view Bion (1961) says: "The more disturbed the group, the more easily discernible are . . . primitive phantasies and mechanisms; the more stable the group, the more it corresponds with Freud's description of the group as a repetition of family group patterns and neurotic mechanisms. But even in the 'stable' group the deep psychotic levels [can] be demonstrated, though it may involve temporarily an apparent increase in the 'illness' of the group (p. 165)." Bion's basic assumption theory, therefore, can be viewed, in general, as elaborating the various patterns that these deep psychotic levels and part-object relationships can take in group situations. It is in this sense that Bion's view of groups, while complementing Freud's, clearly emphasizes the pervasiveness and influence of pre-Oedipal, rather than Oedipal psychic processes.
Since the major aspects of Bion's (1961) basic assumption theory are well known and have been widely summarized in many secondary sources (e.g., Rioch, 1970; Turquet, 1974; Bléandonu, 1994; Lawrence, Bain and Gould, 1996), they will not be reviewed in detail. Suffice it to say, therefore, that the basic assumptions - baF, baD and baP - may be viewed as modes of group behavior which coalesce around different patterns of drives, affects, mental contents, object relations and defenses. That is, when Bion speaks of a basic assumption group he is not talking about its members, but rather the mental state of the group characterized by a particular constellation of affects and processes driven by a need for emotional security. These basic assumption modes are contrasted by Bion with another mode - the work or W group - the aim of which is task performance. A useful, and by now conventional way of understanding basic assumption states is to regard their operation from an "as if" perspective. For example, when a group is in baF, one would say "it is acting as if its survival depends on fighting (or fleeing)." As Bion (1961) puts it: "From the basic assumption about groups there springs a number of subsidiary assumptions, some of immediate importance. The individual feels that in a group the welfare of the individual is a matter of secondary consideration - the group comes first, in flight (for example) the individual is abandoned; the paramount need is for the group to survive - not the individual (p. 64)." From this vantage point, survival drives all of the basic assumptions, and can be viewed as the meta ba - "the group is met to survive".
Finally, while Bion alludes to the "central importance of . . . the interplay between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions" in the introductory quote, he never detailed, as I've indicated, the correspondences between the mental states and collective processes of group members in the thrall of the various basic assumptions, with the different points on the trajectory of early development in Klein's theory of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, and the origins of the Oedipus complex. These hypothesized correspondences - the explication of which is the central purpose of this paper - are outlined below.
LINKING BASIC ASSUMPTIONS TO DEVELOPMENTAL POSITIONS
In Tables 1-3 the correspondences between each developmental position and its hypothesized basic assumption analog are made by placing their salient characteristics side by side utilizing, as I've noted, a constellation of arguably comparable dimensions by which both theoretical frameworks can be organized: source(s) of anxiety, affects, mode(s) of object-relations; major defenses(s); secondary defense(s); and, adaptive capacities. Further, the term correspondence is used since it does not imply causality, or reduce group phenomena to a derivation of collective individual behaviors - that is, as simply applied psychoanalysis. Only the concepts are derived and linked - behavior at any level of social aggregation must be explained within the terms of reference appropriate to that level. Surely, Bion's need to create new concepts for his group theory - e.g., basic assumptions - makes it clear he explicitly held the view that group phenomena could not be approached through a reduction to any other vertex.
The direct correspondences that are postulated between baF and the paranoid-schizoid position are shown in Table 1., between baD and the depressive position in Table 2., and between baP and the Oedipus complex in Table 3. These correspondences are, for the most part, reasonably obvious and self-evident, so they will be discussed only briefly.
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Adaptive Precursors|
|Paranoid-Schizoid Position||Fears of persecution and of the destruction of the ideal object and the self||Anxiety
|Part-object and split-object orientation - e.g. the good and bad breast||Splitting of impulses and objects into positive and negative aspects||Denial
Ability to act
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Sophisticated Use of baF|
|Basic Assumption Fight/Flight
|Fear of persecution by powerful enemies||Anxiety
|Group members undifferentiated
In group/Out group mentality
Unambivalent intragroup relations
Unambivalent leader/follower relations
|Splitting off and projecting outward intra-group sources of anxiety and aggression||Idealization of the leader
Denial of aggression
|Realistic action orientations
Sensitivity to danger and threat
The Paranoid-Schizoid Position and Basic Assumption Fight/Flight (Table 1.)
The major source of anxiety in the paranoid-schizoid position is the fear of persecution, and the destruction of the ideal object and the rudimentary self - hence, the paranoid designation of this position. This fear, which is
accompanied by acute anxiety, dread and primitive terror is defended against by the splitting of both impulses and objects into positive and negative aspects - hence, the schizoid designation. The presumed earliest form of this process is the splitting of the libidinal and aggressive drives which are located respectively in the good and bad breast. Klein also emphasizes that splitting, as well as being used defensively, forms the basis for important adaptive capacities, such as the ability to sort out and order experience, suspend judgment, develop healthy suspicion and skepticism, develop ideals and act unambivalently.
Bion's view of the group under the sway of baF is that persecutory anxieties and defensive splitting are both much in evidence. The major manifestations of these underlying anxieties, and the defenses against them, can be seen in the dominant group affects, and the nature of intra-group and inter-group object relations. The essential cognitive structure of a baF group is that of undifferentiated members who are either loyal or traitorous (the essential part-object qualities that the group recognizes), accompanied by an idealization of the in-group, and a splitting off of all aggression and hostility onto a despised out-group which is feared and hated. Such splitting defends against ambivalence and the emotional complexities of taking responsibility for and integrating one's own aggressive and destructive impulses. Bion, like Klein, notes that such processes also have considerable adaptive value if they are linked to work or W in a "sophisticated" manner. That is, the sophisticated use of baF can provide the basis for action, commitment, and loyal followership in the service of task performance, as well as the basis for appropriate defensive measures when a group is faced with realistic external threats. To have the capacity to fight and flee, if necessary, is to survive.
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Adaptive Precursors|
|Depressive Position||Recognition of dependency and fear that aggressive impulses will destroy the caretaker, or lead to hostile retaliation||Guilt
|Whole object awareness accompanied by dependency on the object||Reparation
Manic denial of aggressive impulses
Aggression turned inward
Capacity for creativity
Capacity for linking internal states and external behavior
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Sophisticated Use of baD|
|Basic Assumption Dependency
|Dependency on the leader and fear of retaliation or abandonment||Helplessness
|Dependency on the leader
Submission to authority
Hierarchical disciple-like relations with the leader
Leveling of peers
|Denial and repression of aggressive and destructive impulses
toward the leader
Idealization of the leader
|Splitting - e.g. Idealization of the group
"believers" and hatred of "non-believers"
|Appropriate submission to authority
Learning from authority
Capacity for discriminating followership
The Depressive Position and Basic Assumption Dependency (Table 2.)
With emotional, cognitive and perceptual development, the infant comes to recognize the mother as a whole person - the beginning of personal relations - as distinct from experiencing her as separate part-objects. In Klein's view, this means, for example, that the infant recognizes that the good and bad breast belong to the same mother. Or, put another way, the mother is the source of both pleasurable and painful experience. The awareness of the mother as a whole person results in a corresponding awareness of the infant's dependency on her. The emotional challenge this creates involves the infant's anxieties that any negative, aggressive or destructive impulses felt toward the mother will, if expressed, either destroy her, and therefore her goodness as well, or result in powerful hostile retaliation. Anxieties about one's own destructive, envious or greedy impulses and their impact on the mother and her responses, are accompanied by feelings of guilt, depression and despair. The major pattern of defenses against such anxieties take the form of compensatory reparative strivings and maneuvers and the manic denial of aggressive and destructive impulses, which are often turned against the self, with depression and despair as a consequence. As with the psychic processes that predominate in the paranoid-schizoid position, those of the depressive position also need to be viewed simultaneously as important adaptive precursors. These include the capacity for impulse control, the basis of symbol formation and other crucial sublimations, and the ability to link internal states and external behavior. The successful integration of depressive anxieties leads as well to the capacity for realistic gratitude and appropriate reparative behaviors.
On the level of group behavior, baD is manifested in anxieties around abandonment by, and retaliation from the all-powerful leader on whom the members depend, and is accompanied by feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and depression. Such groups essentially present a picture of hierarchical, non-symmetrical leader-follower relations, a leveling of peers, and an indiscriminate or idealized view of the leader's greatness and powers. Bion also notes that the anxieties, affects and defenses of the baD group are quite adaptive when utilized in the sophisticated support of W. The performance of many sorts of tasks is facilitated by appropriate submission to authority, the ability to learn from others, the capacity for dependent relationships without losing self-esteem, the ability to collaborate (mutual dependence), and the emotional coin of realistic gratitude - all of which are related to sophisticated baD group processes.
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Adaptive Precursors|
|Oedipus Complex||Fear of exclusion
Fear of retaliation
Exclusion and loneliness
|Diadic/triangular interpersonal relations - e.g. rivaly and competitions with one parent for the favor of the other||Identification with the aggressor
Phantasy of the combined parent (e.g. the phallic mother)
|Regression to earlier defences (splitting) associated with the paranoid-schizoid position - e.g. idealizing one parent and derogating the other||Capacity for passion
Capacity for mature sexuality and romantic love
|Source(s) of Anxiety||Affects||Object Relations||Major Defense(s)||Secondary Defense(s)||Sophisticated Use of baP|
|Basic Assumption Pairing
|Recognition of separateness and fear of exclusion||Libidinal excitement
|Mobilization and maintenance of the pair
Vicarious engagement with the pair
Competition to be the pair's favorite child
|Idealization and preservation of the pair in order to sustain
Repressions of rivalry and competition with either member of the pair
|Identification with the pair
Denial of despair
Repression and denial of one's sexuality
|Recognition of a pair as a source of creativity
Recognition of a pair as a source of change and renewal and continuity
Reproduction of the group and realistic future orientation
The Oedipus Complex and Basic Assumption Pairing (Table 3.)
Since the infant's recognition of the mother as a whole person during the depressive position is coincident with the recognition of others, Klein (1928, 1945) views the Oedipus complex as originating during this period, as well. That is, as noted, the developmental achievement of whole object recognition results quite naturally in the infant's dawning awareness of interpersonal relations as well as personal ones. Hence, it is at this time that the characteristic Oedipal dynamics of dyadic/triangular object relations begin. The infant's Oedipal anxieties, therefore, center around fears of exclusion and fears of retaliation resulting from desires directed toward one parent. The latter is, for example, the basis of castration anxiety - the prototypical Oedipal retaliation phantasy for males. These anxieties and the accompanying affects and experiences of jealously, deprivation and loneliness form the core of the Oedipus complex. To defend against them, two psychic maneuvers commonly occur - those related to the origins of defensive identifications (e.g., identification with the aggressor), and those related to denial, repression and idealization. These latter often take the form of denying the separate existence of both parents. This usually involves some sort of phantasy in which the parents are combined (e.g., a common condensation is the phallic mother). In addition, any or all of the defenses noted previously in the discussion of paranoid-schizoid and depressive anxieties, can come into play to defend against Oedipal anxieties. For example, some regressive attempts to split the parents into an idealized object and a derogated object are inevitable. The fate of such attempts depends, of course, on the nature of the parental relationship and their respective responses to the infant's needs, as well as on the quality of earlier resolutions. Further, if development is felicitous, Oedipal resolutions also provide the basis for crucial adaptations and emotional capacities. These include the capacity for passion, robust sexuality, romantic love, and mutuality, which are the major requisites for mature reproductive desire and generativity later in life, whether personally or in the world of work.
Correspondingly, in groups, anxieties and defenses centering on the role of a pair are not uncommon. In such a group - which Bion terms the pairing group - the recognition of separateness is manifested in the mobilization and maintenance of a pair (the group parental couple). On the level of defense, the group can relate to the pair by a passive and/or vicarious engagement with the pair's social intercourse. When this occurs the pair is often idealized and is made the repository for hope, which is thus preserved. The phantasy is that the pair, in its intercourse, will produce a savior who will lead the group out of its difficulties. For the group to maintain this view, many aspects of each individual's experience must be split off, deflected, repressed or denied - particularly those impulses and experiences related to rivalry, competition and sexual jealously. Further, as Bion (1961) notes, while all basic assumptions include the existence of a leader, in baP groups, for hope to be sustained, the leader, in phantasy, must be invested with messianic qualities and remain unborn. Finally, it may once again be emphasized that pairing, when utilized by a group in a sophisticated manner, allows for the possibility of mobilizing productive and creative forces in the service of W by selectively recognizing and supporting special relationships (pairings). When these are permitted, or better yet actively encouraged by the group, such pairings can provide hopeful, realistic and creative leadership in the service of required change, renewal and continuity.
IMPLICATIONS AND DISCUSSION
Detailing the correspondences between Bion's basic assumption theory and Klein's theory of developmental positions has a number of important and obvious implications, as well as some which are implicit but no less compelling. As noted previously, with but few exceptions, several of which are quite recent, (e.g., Turquet, 1974; Pines, 1985; Armstrong, 1992; and, Lawrence, Bain and Gould, 1996), little work has been done theoretically to advance Bion's group theories. Further, it also may be observed that the vast majority of the clinical and social uses of his theories have been in their application, as if the theories themselves were valid, self-evident and confirmed. Nothing could be further from the truth - at least in Bion's view. For him, the papers comprising Experiences in Groups were the beginning of an attempt to develop a group psychology. In this project, as I've tried to show, he eventually came to draw, both directly and indirectly, on a large, rich and considerably developed body of psychoanalytic work, centrally including the studies of Klein and many of her colleagues regarding the origins of mental life and psychological development.
Further, as I have noted elsewhere (Gould, 1988), ". . . the limitations of (Freud's) predominantly intrapsychic model of drive and impulse/defense analysis made it difficult to understand any but the most selective aspects of group behavior, or (provide) much in the way of a conceptual bridge between the individual and the group (p. 114)." Within psychoanalysis, therefore, further advances in group psychology had to wait for the emergence of more fully developed object relational concepts, such as those put forth by Klein. Not to fully appreciate this is to simplify and decontextualize Bion's thought - which is precisely the state of affairs that has, for the most part, prevailed, to date. For example, it is not surprising that two of the other important early contributions to group psychology came from Kleinian analysts - namely, Jacques (1955), and Menzies (1967). But it may also be further noted, for emphasis, that both Jacques and Menzies applied the constructs of paranoid-schizoid and depressive anxieties directly to group life, with only passing reference to Bion's basic assumption theory. Now needed, therefore, are theoretical and clinical studies that derive from a sophisticated dependency on Bion's views, rather than those which simply perpetuate the thralldom in which they have been held. One useful and obvious place to start is to recognize and appreciate more fully, as Bion did, the extent to which aspects of his own brilliant and creative contributions to group psychology came to rest, in large measure, on Klein's psychoanalytic theories.
The major purpose of this present paper has been to undertake the task of working out the correspondences between Bion's basic assumption theory, and Klein's theory of developmental positions. It is hoped that this attempt may provide a useful starting point for a more ongoing, systematic, extended, in-depth clinical and theoretical study of group life, without which the powerful and useful ideas adumbrated by Bion are not likely to develop further. While it is not within the scope of the present paper, it may be noted parenthetically, that the converse holds equal promise - namely, that Bion's group theories, which provide a binocular psychological perspective, may also shed considerable light on both normal and pathological individual development and, as such, contribute important insights to basic psychoanalytic theory and its clinical applications as well.
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Laurence J. Gould, PhD is Professor of Psychology, The Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, The Graduate Center and City College, The City University of New York; Faculty and Director, The Organizational Consultation Service, The Program in Organizational Development and Consultation, The William Alanson White Institute of Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry and Psychology; Adjunct Professor, The Martin Buber Center for Continuing Education, and Visiting Scholar, The Sigmund Freud Center, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
This article will appear in Free Associations no. 41, July 1997 issue
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