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GROUP RELATIONS: AN INTRODUCTION

MENTAL SPACE AND GROUP RELATIONS

by Robert M. Young

Mental space is a philosophically odd phrase, because the modern philosophical tradition makes the juxtaposition of the mental with the spatial awkward. The spatial is the realm of science, of objectivity, of Cartesian matter or, as Descartes put it, of ‘extended substances’, while the mental is the realm of the arts, of subjectivity, of Cartesian ‘mental substances’. Putting them in a single phrase poses the problem of trying to integrate the external and objective with the internal and subjective. Since Descartes first posed it starkly in 1637 in his Discourse on Method, a document many regard as the founding document of the modern world view, we have not got very far with this problem, one on which I will not have time to dwell further today.

The relationship between the mental and the physical is not only a philosophical issue. ‘Mental space’ has a whole other and more practical set of resonances. How much do we feel that we have mental space — space to reflect, to create, to feel, to express ourselves, to develop, to be free? Too little mental space brings claustrophobia, too much agoraphobia; mental space which is too embattled brings paranoia; mental space which is too excited brings mania. Mental space which has suffered too much and is beleaguered brings despondency and cynicism. What can we — as students of the mental and social disciplines which make up the human sciences — do to enhance mental space, the qualities of which are beneficial and relatively free from those obstacles and forms of pollution?.

It should be obvious that the philosophical, the political, the social scientific and the subjective aspects of this issue are intricately and problematically intertwined. What I want to do today is to sketch some of the ways the psychoanalytic understanding of profound aspects of what affects the qualities of our mental space can perhaps be enhanced by the study of group relations. This may seem a parochial place to begin, but I will argue that it is the best and most important place. I say this partly because I believe it and partly because we are here to urge you to make group relations work an important feature of the contribution of the NBU to the renaissance of cultural, political and personal spaces in Bulgaria. I may as well say that I have brought with me the two people widely regarded as the most eminent and experienced practitioners of this work in the world, Gordon Lawrence and David Armstrong, and it is a privilege to work with them.

How, you may ask, does psychoanalysis bear on groups? This is the question Wilfred Bion asked at the outset of his work, work which began in some unlikely places. He was a British tank commander in the First World War and a psychiatrist in the second (Bion, 1982). In the first he was to be awarded the country’s highest military decoration but ended up with a lesser one because he spoke his mind about how the war was being run (Trist, 1985, p. 10). What one might say from reading his autobiography is that what he learned most profoundly in that war was about strange organisations and about terror, sheer dread of annihilation, where one literally doesn’t know what one is doing or why one acted as one did or how one survived. I believe that this knowledge was the key to his later discoveries. In the Second World War he was involved in a number of exercises which have borne a rich fruit. He devised the procedures by which officers were (and still are) selected (Trist, 1985, pp. 6-10) and went on to create settings in which officers who had broken down could regain their dignity and their will to fight (Brisger, 1985; Trist, 1985, pp. 14-25.

The way he did this is vividly described in a number of reminiscences by him and colleagues. There were two key elements. The first was to place people in a situation where they were constrained to cooperate, to work for the good of the group and not merely for survival of the self, and the second was to create an anxious-making setting in which one could, with luck, think about what one was doing while doing it. He developed a phrase for this in his later work which I think is wonderful: ‘thinking under fire’ in the here and now and not just with hindsight. What successful group relations work does is to help people to learn to think under fire. To put it another way, it helps people to retain mental space of a creative and constructive kind — to be neither a saint or a shit but an effective, considerate human being. Religions have always tried to do this — without notable success, in my opinion. I believe that the group relations approach, if applied consistently and ambitiously enough, can do it.

The key to all this is an insight which Bion had and which everyone who has worked in this tradition has held on to. It is this. Put people under stress (and that includes the stress generated in ambiguous situations), and you will evoke their most primitive anxieties, anxieties which it is appropriate to call psychotic, hence, the phrase ‘psychotic anxieties’. It was Bion’s belief that groups and institutions were designed in order to constrain and contain such anxieties and that much of what we find so odd about them is that they do two things at once. They protect us from a perpetual sense of being about to be destroyed, yet they do so by creating defensive social structures and forms of organisation and behaviour which are dreadful, inhuman, even cruel. They are based on strange unconscious phantasies which his work in group relations and (as David Armstrong has shown, 1992) as a psychoanalyst has done much to illuminate. This is the deep paradox of life above the individual level — families, groups, clubs, institutions, cultures, countries. Bion showed this exquisitely in the experiments with groups he created in the army. The first lasted six weeks, was hugely successful, and he was rapidly got rid of in an utterly strange way (Trist, 1985, p. 16; deMare, 1985). He went on to create groups at the Tavistock Clinic in London, and others came after him and set up regular venues for group relations events and conferences which are now conduced on a regular basis throughout the world (Miller, 1990, 1990a; Colman and Bexton, 1975; Colman and Geller, 1985; Hinshelwood, 1987). Bion’s own papers in this field were collected and published in 1961 as Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. Toward the end of his work in this field he began to explain his findings in terms of the work of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (Bion, 1961, pp. 141-92, who has done much to illuminate very primitive unconscious processes, particularly those associated with anxiety, aggression and destructiveness (Klein, 1975). It is my opinion and that of many others that she has a great deal to say to those of us who are trying to save the world - here, in former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Oklahoma City, in Tokyo, and wherever the dark side of human nature is engaged in virulent projective identification (which I will define in a moment) — from destroying itself

People who work in this field tend to do two sorts of things. The first is to act as staff on conferences of the kind which grew out of Bion’s work. We held one here in December 1992, and it was such a success that the next one was cancelled, and we have not, until today, succeeded in getting anything to do with group relations in Bulgaria off the ground. This is the sort of thing our insights into group and institutional dynamics leads us to expect and helps us to explain. We are here to advocate more, much more. The other thing group relations people do is to consult to institutions in trouble. The nature of this work is such that much of it is confidential. However, there are some notable exceptions, the most famous of which is an account of work in a hospital, by a consultant who was asked to try to understand why nurses left the service in such high numbers. The researcher, Isabel Menzies (later Menzies Lyth) discovered that the work of nurses at the extremes of life and death stirred up the very primitive anxieties of annihilation which Melanie Klein, Bion and co-workers, especially Elliott Jaques, had seen in work with children and in industry. In the case of nurses, the defences against the anxieties which were erected and which became the routines of the nursing service, had the effect of leading people who went into the field out of compassion for human suffering with a strong desire to alleviate it, to behave in thoughtless and routinised ways and to treat the patients as if they were not fully human — to treat the relations between people as if they were relations between things, recalling Marx on fetishism (1867, pp. 163-77) and Lukács on reification (1923, pp. 83-222). I shall give you a list of the things they found themselves doing. As you listen to it, I ask you to note what this list has in common with your experiences in institutions in Bulgaria. It will help us to see that we are dealing here with quite general phenomena, ones which we can discern in a London teaching hospital or an institution in a university or government department in Sofia:

Here are the defensive techniques she discovered: splitting up the nurse-patient relationship; depersonalization, categorisation, and denial of the significance of the individual; detachment and denial of feelings; the attempt to eliminate decisions by ritual task-performance; reducing the weight of responsibility in decision-making by checks and counter-checks; collusive social redistribution of responsibility and irresponsibility; purposeful obscurity in the formal distribution of responsibility; the reduction of the impact of responsibility by delegation to superiors; idealisation and underestimation of personal development possibilities; avoidance of change (Menzies Lyth, 1959, pp. 51-63). On a previous visit to your country someone told me that a person who wants to keep his or her job here never does anything he or she was not told to do. It’s the same all around the world.

Two examples she cites rang painfully true to my own experience. The first falls under the category of 'depersonalization, categorisation, and denial of the significance of the individual’. ‘The protection afforded by the task-list system is reinforced by a number of other devices that inhibit the development of a full person-to-person relationship between nurse and patient, with its consequent anxiety. The implicit aim of such devices, which operate both structurally and culturally, may be described as a kind of depersonalisation or elimination of individual distinctiveness in both nurse and patient. For, example, nurses often talk about patients not by name, but by bed numbers or by their disease or a diseased organ: "the liver in bed 10" or "the pneumonia in bed 15". Nurses themselves deprecate this practice, but it persists. Nor should one underestimate the difficulties of remembering the names of, say, thirty patients on a ward, especially the high-turnover wards' (p. 52). The patient is not seen as whole person needing care but a number, an illness, or a damaged part of the body, that is, 'a part-object only, the retreat into part-objects being another feature Bion attributes to basic assumption group phenomena [‘basic assumption’ functioning is a concept Bion uses to describe groups in the grip of an escapist unconscious phantasy]' (Menzies Lyth, 1969, p. 16).

A similar depersonalization occurs for the hospital staff through the use of identical uniforms with a rigid hierarchy of roles and tasks appropriate to various levels of seniority. The nurses become their roles and skills, and are thereby experienced and experience themselves less as individuals: charge nurse, staff, student, aide. Like a soldier or policeman, they are cloaked in their uniforms and positions in society and are thereby more respectable (one of Florence Nightingale's intentions when she created the nursing profession), while both less vulnerable and less accessible. The starch is a powerful barrier; so are the colours of the uniforms and their quasi-military markings. The bizarre hats are part of a code whereby those in the know can locate a nurse's training hospital in the complex culture of the hierarchy of trainings, like a college or club tie or the insignia of a nun's order.

The problem of depersonalization is made even more acute in recent times in Britain by the fact that staff shortages — due to the factors here described — lead to increased use of external commercial agency nurses who are quite often present on a given ward for a single shift and in an entirely different hospital the next working day. Callousness can also be born of boredom and doing routine tasks with only prostrate bodies for company. If one is sitting alone in a recovery room waiting for a patient to come round from an anaesthetic, conversation from a passing colleague is very welcome and unlikely to take account of the fact that the patient may be taking in what is said as he or she regains consciousness. When I was thirteen, I was wheeled in my bed from my hospital room for a test. On the way back, when the nurses pushing the bed thought I was asleep or unconscious, they were discussing my alarmingly low pulse and respiration rates and speculating that I would not survive another night. Once I realised what was being said, I kept quiet for fear of being caught eavesdropping.

My second example is of underemployment of nurses and getting them to do stupid things. This is the example always cited from Menzies Lyth’s classic paper, because it is so familiar to people who have spent time in hospitals. Hospital routines are 'routinely' followed slavishly to the point that common sense utterly disappears: 'Underemployment of this kind stimulates anxiety and guilt, which are particularly acute when underemployment implies failing to use one's own capacities fully in the service of other people in need. Nurses find the limitations of their performance very frustrating. They often experience a painful sense of failure when they have faithfully performed their prescribed tasks, and express guilt and concern about incidents in which they have carried out instructions to the letter but, in so doing, have practised what they consider to be bad nursing. For example, a nurse had been told to give a patient who had been sleeping badly a sleeping draught at a certain time. In the interval he had fallen into a deep natural sleep, Obeying her orders, she woke him up to give him the medicine. Her common sense and judgement told her to leave him asleep and she felt very guilty that she had disturbed him' (Menzies Lyth, 1959. p. 69).

In industry this is called 'working to rule' and is considered to border on industrial sabotage. Doing exactly what one is told is a characteristic of the roles of prisoners, people in the military and children under the yoke of particularly authoritarian parents. Of course, to follow orders to the letter, without using one's discretion and common sense, very frequently leads to disaster, which is why so much slapstick comedy illustrates this form of revenge against silly rules and rulers. The outstretched hands, accompanied with a shrug and a look of pseudo-innocence, completes the moment of Oedipal triumph, just before the chase by the would-be punisher begins. Having been addressed like an idiot and told to do 'exactly as I say', one then behaves like a fool, thereby protecting the vulnerable, sensible self from further humiliation. Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Stan Laurel and Lou Costello got some of their most reliable laughs this way.

The defences described here and in the essays by Bion and Jaques do not, to say the least, bring out or reflect the best in people. 'These defences are oriented to the terrifying situations of infancy, and rely heavily on violent splitting which dissipates the anxiety. They avoid the experience of anxiety and effectively prevent the individual from confronting it. Thus the individual cannot bring the content of the phantasy anxiety situations into effective contact with reality. Unrealistic or pathological anxiety cannot be differentiated from realistic anxiety arising from real dangers. Therefore, anxiety tends to remain permanently at a level determined more by the phantasies than by the reality. The forced introjection of the hospital defence system therefore perpetuates in the individual a considerable degree of pathological anxiety' (pp. 74-5).

I believe that this sort of thing is characteristic of bureaucracies, of street gangs, of nations in dealing with each another. The primitive mechanisms at work here generate unconscious phantasies of others and of one’s place in the group which Bion and his successors have been a pains to spell out. Most importantly, they involve the projection of split off, unwanted or taboo parts of the self into others, with such evocative force that they elicit in the other the projected behaviour and put the two in a symbiosis which confirms and sustains the unfortunate features of behaviour. As importantly, they get built into the fabric of the institution and — as we saw in the example of the nurses — lead to the institutionalisation of anti-human behaviour. Everyone knows this; it is the source of endless jokes and of passionate indictments of apparatchiki. whether in Washington or Moscow, London or Sofia. We need institutions in order not to be overwhelmed by dread, but since fundamental features of those institutions are created to contain and to defend us against those anxieties, they are inherently conservative, often reactionary.

What happens in group relations work is that people are put in situations which are designed to be safe and contained enough so that when those anxieties are — quite deliberately — evoked by the staff, it is just possible to see them in operation and to think about them. It is the staff’s role to take in and detoxify the poisonous projections and group madness and to make interpretations which are designed to help the members of the conference to come to understand — and to some extent transcend — the situation of being in the grip of psychotic anxieties and thereby learn to behave rather better than they did before being given access to this insight, this training in thinking under fire. The group experiences are usually complemented with individual consultations where each member is invited, in the presence of others in a small group, to reflect on the potential relevance to that person’s work and life of what has been experienced at the conference The hope is that if you do this a few times, you may be able to think under fire yourself in your work role and perhaps even at home..

I hope it is obvious that if this works, it is of immense potential importance to a society which is attempting to move from an authoritarian social organisation to a democratic one. Our experience is that — to a degree — all institutions have these features as fundamental aspects of their structure and dynamics, that psychotic anxiety is as much a feature of relatively democratic groups and institutions as is it of more rigid ones. In fact, one of the most striking discoveries in the student movement of the 1960s and of the ensuing feminist movement was that throwing off the shackles of the existing ways of doing things very quickly led to what was called ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’ and the creation of new and sometimes worse institutional structures. I published a lovely book entitled Asylum to Anarchy (Baron, 1987) which studied what happened to a therapeutic community when total freedom was declared. It was closed down in fairly short order, not because the outside authorities were alarmed but because of the internal chaos. I dare say that some of you have some idea of the sorts of process to which I am referring.

Speaking for a moment more about my own experiences, I have lived and worked in a number of institutional settings, beginning with family, neighbourhood, schools, military organisations and camps, to medicine, university teaching, cultural politics, television, publishing and professional psychotherapy. In each and every one of these settings there have been (more often than I care to remember) periods when dreadful things were happening between individuals, in factions and sometimes throughout the group which were quite literally mad, but no matter what was said, they persisted, sometimes to the point of the demise of the project, more often to the point of a split or expulsion. I always secretly felt it was my doing, and others sometimes agreed. Now I know that individuals play causal roles, but the structural causation is the most important factor. People act within those group dynamic constraints, constraints which are powerfully coercive. There is even a force at work called ‘role suction’; the individual gets pulled into the position which the group dynamic requires, and the requisite behaviour is sucked out of that person, as if by a vacuum cleaner (Horowtz, 1983, pp. 29-30).

The history of political sects is notoriously about this sort of thing, and splits, betrayals, purges and scapegoating are routine. What is striking is that such dynamics occur in nominally concensual groups. Indeed, someone once wrote a book about the dynamics of one of the most concensual groups in history - the Puritans who emigrated from England to America to practice their strict beliefs. Crime, deviance and serious group problems appeared almost immediately Erikson, 1966). So, it seems, we are here looking at human nature on the hoof. I want to say that in spite of all my experience of working in groups, collectives and institutions I never felt I had the least understanding of these processes or any hope of getting beyond them until I got involved with group relations. It is not a panacea, but it is certainly more than a beginning.

I want now to go back to some of the insight of the pioneers of this tradition. The reason I am moving back and forth in this way is to draw your attention to the fact that we at last have some sense of the very basic dynamics of these processes which are so debilitating in society, culture and politics, whether local, regional, national or international.

Here is Bion on the relationship between group phenomena and primitive anxieties. 'My impression is that the group approximates too closely, in the minds of the individuals composing it, to very primitive phantasies about the contents of the mother's body. The attempt to make a rational investigation of the dynamics of the group is therefore perturbed by fears, and mechanisms for dealing with them, which are characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position [which I’ll define in a moment]. The investigation cannot be carried out without the stimulation and activation of those levels... the elements of the emotional situation are so closely allied to phantasies of the earliest anxieties that the group is compelled, whenever the pressure of anxiety becomes too great, to take defensive action' (Bion, 1961, p. 163). The psychotic anxieties in question involve splitting and projective identification and are characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions described by Melanie Klein as at work throughout individual unconscious psychological processes, now presented by Bion as group processes (p. 164).

The move from the individual to the group does not raise new issues about explanation. He says a little further on, 'The apparent difference between group psychology and individual psychology is an illusion produced by the fact that the group brings into prominence phenomena which appear alien to an observer unaccustomed to using the group' (p. 169). I think it is a profound point that the usual split between individual and group psychology evaporates in Bion. We find the group deep in the unconscious of the individual and the processes characteristic of the group are those at work in the individual but writ large.

My second point is that those of us who have tried to change institutions, and have learned that there are things that'll knock you down that you didn't see coming, will be relieved to have this illumination and to be better informed about what we are up against. Looking back from the vantage point of a number of years of conducting and being supervised on group therapy, trying to assimilate the experience of a Leicester Conference (which all acknowledge takes years) and being a member of staff at group relations events, I am persuaded that unless we understand the psychotic anxieties Bion is on about, we will never know what we are up against in human nature and in trying to change things. Bion says that falling into the forms of basic assumption functioning which he describes is instinctive, involuntary, automatic, instantaneous and inevitable (pp. 153, 165). However much experience one may have of groups and institutions, I am arguing that group relations events provide a unique setting for reflection about the primitive processes at work in them.

Bion’s best known immediate followers, Elliott Jaques and Isabel Menzies Lyth, are also very sober and stoical in their assessments of the barriers to change. Jaques begins his essay on 'Social Systems as a Defence against Persecutory and Depressive Anxiety' (1955) by reiterating that 'social phenomena show a striking correspondence with psychotic processes in individuals', that 'institutions are used by their individual members to reinforce individual mechanisms of defence against anxiety', and 'that the mechanisms of projective and introjective identification operate in linking individual and social behaviour'. He argues the thesis that 'the primary cohesive elements binding individuals into institutionalised human association is that of defence against psychotic anxiety' (Jaques, 1955, pp. 478-9). He points out that the projective and introjective processes he is investigating are basic to even the most complex social processes (p. 481, cf. 481n).

Jaques’ conclusion is cautionary and points out the conservative — even reactionary — consequences of our psychotic anxieties and our group and institutional defences against them. He suggests that as a result of these reflections on human nature 'it may become more clear why social change is so difficult to achieve, and why many social problems are so intractable. From the point of view here elaborated, changes in social relationships and procedures call for a restructuring of relationships at the phantasy level, with a consequent demand upon individuals to accept and tolerate changes in their existing patterns of defences against psychotic anxiety. Effective social change is likely to require analysis of the common anxieties and unconscious collusions underlying the social defences determining phantasy social relationships' (p. 498).

All of the figures I have mentioned fall within the Kleinian tradition in psychoanalysis. Melanie Klein was born in Vienna and lived in Hungary and Berlin and from 1926 in London, until she died in 1960 (Grosskurth, 1985). I think it is fair to say that, after Freud, she was the most original psychoanalytic thinker and clinician. Her particular forte was the psychoanalysis of children and the understanding of the content of primitive anxieties. It is said that Freud laid out the forms of the Unconscious, where Klein — at first loyally and later in her own voice — spelled out the most primitive mechanisms and the most distressing manifestations in the inner world of the aggressive and destructive components of human nature (Klein et al., 1952, esp. chs. 1-3). I have already mentioned some of the technical terms in Kleinian psychoanalysis. I now want to speak about them in a more formal way. I shall briefly sketch three concepts: projective identification, and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

Projective identification is the Kleinian concept which has had the greatest influence both inside and outside Kleinian circles, although — like many original ideas — it has been so widely interpreted that it sometimes seems to be all things to all people, especially in America (Young, 1994, ch. 7). Here is Klein’s original formulation. It is densely-worded. However, since she says it forms the prototype for all aggressive relationships in the mind, I ask your indulgence for a long quotation.

Klein concludes seven pages on the fine texture of early paranoid and schizoid mechanisms as follows: 'So far, in dealing with persecutory fear, I have singled out the oral element. However, while the oral libido still has the lead, libidinal and aggressive impulses and phantasies from other sources come to the fore and lead to a confluence or oral, urethral and anal desires, both libidinal and aggressive. Also the attacks on the mother's breast develop into attacks of a similar nature on her body, which comes to be felt as it were as an extension of the breast, even before the mother is conceived of as a complete person. The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents... The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother. Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. [Klein adds a footnote at this crucial point, to the effect that she is describing primitive, pre-verbal processes and that projecting 'into another person' seems to her 'the only way of conveying the unconscious process I am trying to describe'. Much misunderstanding and lampooning of Kleinianism could have been avoided if this point was more widely understood.] These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self.

'Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed towards the mother. This leads to a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation' (Klein, 1946, pp. 7-8). Note carefully that we have here the model — the template, the fundamental experience — of all of the aggressive features of human relations. Six years later Klein adds the following sentence: 'I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (ibid.). You could say that this passage introduces us to the psychoanalytic equivalent of the Christian notion of original sin. We all have these aggressive impulses; they are central to human nature. The problem is how we work with them — whether they will be benign or virulent.

She goes on to say that if the infant's impulse is to harm, the mother is experienced as persecuting, and that in psychotic disorders the identification of the object with hated parts of the self 'contributes to the intensity of the hatred directed against other people', that this process weakens the ego, that good parts are also projected and that 'The processes of splitting off parts of the self and projecting them into objects are thus of vital importance for normal development as well as for normal object-relations' (pp. 8-9). In the course of all this, Klein makes it quite clear that the very same processes involve 'anxieties characteristic of psychosis' (p. 2). I am relating these matters in the way that I am in order to make it apparent that the very same mechanisms are at work in a wide range of internal processes.

Reams of paper have been used up in elaborating the concept of projective identification, several chapters’ worth by me. So I can only announce some of its parameters. It is basic to all communication and learning. It occurs intrapsychically and interpersonally. That is, we can project into parts of our own minds as well as into other people. When we project into another it is rather like fly-fishing: we cast something out that teases something out; it catches something that is there and brings it out. What we catch may have been swimming around minding its own business until its attention was caught by our lure. I stress this, because the person engaged in projective identification does not cast his or her projected parts into the blue; the projection finds its Other and evokes (and usually exaggerates) something that was there but perhaps not virulently so.

The process puts the projector in a symbiotic relationship with the other, so the split off part or feeling is not truly purged, as any political group could tell you. Projective identification is also basic to love, to being a disciple or fan, to having beliefs and ideals. It is the basic mechanism for becoming a member of any group or institution. To become a ‘member’ is to acquire the projective identifications of a group for good or ill. This is as true of becoming a Christian or Muslim as it is of racism, virulent nationalism, or of a gang in Los Angeles or Moscow or Sicily. Such projective identifications bind people with a force as strong as superglue and are deeply sedimented into their minds, so much so that they become second nature. I retain all the forms of bigotry I learned as a boy in Texas without ever knowing that I was doing so. They are layered over by education, ethical precepts and political beliefs, but they are still there, primitive, nasty prejudices, covered by the thin veneer of civilization. We have seen in the former USSR and former Yugoslavia how easily that veneer is broken through when repression is removed (Young, 1994, ch. 6).

It is the thesis of Kleinian psychoanalysis and group relations that the primitive is never transcended in human nature and that anyone trying to make a better world had better take this fact seriously and make due allowance for that fact. You might think that all this is effete indulgence in psychology when we should be concentrating on common-sense reality. But ccommon-sense reality consists of love and hate, domination, gangs, regional conflicts, genocide, scapegoating Jews and gypsies. These supposedly esoteric disciplines of psychoanalysis and group relations are there to illuminate and alter the primitive dynamics underlying what is, after all, primitive behaviour. I don’t think this should need saying in this part of the world. Perhaps it did in America, in spite of all the gangs and drive-by murders, but the bombings of the World Trade Centre and in Oklahoma City and the revelations about militias and private armies should finally make the point, which one would have thought the Vietnam War would have made obvious, even though slavery, the American Civil War and the genocide of tens of millions of native Americans should have made clear. This is the destructive side of human nature in action.

I want now to speak about two aspects of human personality, ones which Klein came to feel are ubiquitous. Indeed, we are said to move back and forth between two basic psychological stances or positions. Notice that they have the names of mental illnesses tucked inside their designations: the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’ and the ‘depressive position’. Klein came to see these as universal in three stages of her thinking. In the first she sought the point in psychological development at which the foundations were laid for paranoia, on the one hand, and manic-depressive psychosis, on the other. Next she came to see these as developmental stages in everyone. Finally, she and those influenced by her work came to see them as basic to the inner worlds of everyone all the time. We move back and forth between these positions, sometimes in a moment, and the hope is that we will dwell as little as possible in the one involving persecution and splitting and violent projective identification and as much as possible in the one involving concern for others, reparation and bearing what a mixture life is. I offer here definitions of the two positions drawn from the work of the Kleinian analyst John Steiner.

‘As a brief summary: in the paranoid-schizoid position anxieties of a primitive nature threaten the immature ego and lead to a mobilisation of primitive defences. Splitting, idealisation and projective identification operate to create rudimentary structures made up of idealised good objects kept far apart from persecuting bad ones. The individual’s own impulses are similarly split and he directs all his love towards the good object and all his hatred against the bad one. As a consequence of the projection, the leading anxiety is paranoid, and the preoccupation is with survival of the self. Thinking is concrete because of the confusion between self and object which is one of the consequences of projective identification (Segal, 1957).

‘The depressive position represents an important developmental advance in which whole objects begin to be recognised and ambivalent impulses become directed towards the primary object. These changes result from an increased capacity to integrate experiences and lead to a shift in primary concern from the survival of the self to a concern for the object upon which the individual depends. Destructive impulses lead to feelings of loss and guilt which can be more fully experienced and which consequently enable mourning to take place. The consequences include a development of symbolic function and the emergence of reparative capacities which become possible when thinking no longer has to remain concrete’ (Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70; see also Steiner, 1993, pp. 26-34).

I want to add here some information about the relationship between these positions and the developments which lead to maturation. According to psychoanalysis the classical Oedipus complex is the psychological path the child takes to join civilisation. It completes my idea of what we need to be decent people. It could be said to be the prerequisite for thinking under fire. There is a way of looking at the resolution of the Oedipus complex which integrates it with the move from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position.

'The primitive Oedipal conflict described by Klein takes place in the paranoid-schizoid position when the infant's world is widely split and relations are mainly to part objects. This means that any object which threatens the exclusive possession of the idealised breast/mother is felt as a persecutor and has projected into it all the hostile feelings deriving from pregenital impulses' (Bell, 1992, p. 172)

If development proceeds satisfactorily, secure relations with good internal objects leads to integration, healing of splits and taking back projections. 'The mother is then, so to speak, free to be involved with a third object in a loving intercourse which, instead of being a threat, becomes the foundation of a secure relation to internal and external reality. The capacity to represent internally the loving intercourse between the parents as whole objects results, through the ensuing identifications, in the capacity for full genital maturity. For Klein, the resolution of the Oedipus complex and the achievement of the depressive position refer to the same phenomena viewed from different perspectives' (ibid.). Ron Britton puts it very elegantly: 'the two situations are inextricably intertwined in such a way that one cannot be resolved without the other: we resolve the Oedipus complex by working through the depressive position and the depressive position by working through the Oedipus complex' (Britton, 1992, p. 35).

Isn't that neat and tidy — a sort of Rosetta Stone, providing a key to translating between the Freudian and Kleinian conceptual schemes? In the recent work of Kleinians this way of thinking has been applied to broader issues, in particular, the ability to symbolise and learn from experience. Integration of the depressive position — which we can now see as resolution of the Oedipus complex — is the sine qua non of the development of 'a capacity for symbol formation and rational thought' (p. 37). Greater knowledge of the object 'includes awareness of its continuity of existence in time and space and also therefore of the other relationships of the object implied by that realization. The Oedipus situation exemplifies that knowledge. Hence the depressive position cannot be worked through without working through the Oedipus complex and vice versa' (p. 39). Britton also sees 'the depressive position and the Oedipus situation as never finished but as having top be re-worked in each new life situation, at each stage of development, and with each major addition to experience or knowledge' (p. 38).

This way of looking at the Oedipal situation also offers a way of thinking of self-knowledge or insight: 'The primal family triangle provides the child with two links connecting him separately with each parent and confronts him with the link between them which excludes him. Initially this parental link is conceived in primitive part-object terms and in the modes of his own oral, anal and genital desires, and in terms of his hatred expressed in oral, anal and genital terms. If the link between the parents perceived in love and hate can be tolerated in the child's mind, it provides him with a prototype for an object relationship of a third kind in which he is a witness and not a participant. A third position then comes into existence from which object relationships can be observed. Given this, we can also envisage being observed. This provides us with a capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves' (Britton, 1989, p. 87). I find this very helpful, indeed, profound. We could say that this is the way we first learn to think under fire, i.e., in the midst of life.

There is another feature of the way Kleinians think about the Oedipal triangle. They do not think it is resolved once and for all in the age period from three to six. Indeed, they think it arises at every important life crisis. To make this point they speak in terms of the ‘Oedipal situation’, not just the Oedipus complex (Young, 1994a). I am mentioning this - and, indeed, going into this matter at all - because I believe that the thinking we do about groups and institutions can usefully parallel what I have said here about the Kleinian positions and the Oedipal triangle, complex and situation. I think that the ‘temporary institutions’ which make up group relations events are places where the move from paranoid-schizoid to depressive functioning can be facilitated.

There is a also third position, where we are stuck between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. I think it also applies to groups and institutions. Indeed, although the concept I will now mention was originally coined to refer to individuals, the phrase brings institutions to mind. The phrase is ‘pathological organisation’; it refers to a Kleinian concept for considering what others describe as ‘borderline’ psychotic states, the subject of a burgeoning literature (Spillius, 1988, vol. 1, Part 4; Steiner, 1987, 1993; cf. Searles, 1986, who considers these phenomena in different terms). In discussing this, Herbert Rosenfeld explicitly describes the individual as in projective identification with a 'gang in the mind': 'The destructive narcissism of these patients appears often highly organised, as if one were dealing with a powerful gang dominated by a leader, who controls all the members of the gang to see that they support one another in making the criminal destructive work more efficient and powerful. However, the narcissistic organisation not only increases the strength of the destructive narcissism, but it has a defensive purpose to keep itself in power and so maintain the status quo. The main aim seems to be to prevent the weakening of the organisation and to control the members of the gang so that they will not desert the destructive organisation and join the positive parts of the self or betray the secrets of the gang to the police, the protecting superego, standing for the helpful analyst, who might be able to save the patient' (Rosenfeld, 1971, p. 174).

Just so we will all be clear about what is going on here, I am attempting to show the interrelations and congruences between the most primitive levels of the individual unconscious and the features of institutions which puzzle and dismay us. I am sure you all have a strong intuitive sense of what the phrase ‘pathological organisation’ means in your own institutional roles. I have heard many such stories about such places in your country and can tell you many about mine. Closely allied with this idea, my colleague, David Armstrong, offers us the idea of ‘the institution in the mind’ (Armstrong, 1991), while Gordon Lawrence’s concept of ‘social dreaming’ brings us the intriguing prospect of the individual dreaming on behalf of the group and institutional dynamic (Lawrence, 1991, in press). I mention these as further promising aspects of the illumination group relations can being to better social dynamics in institutions and societies.

I shall offer one more example of the interrelations between Kleinian psychoanalysis and institutions. One of Klein’s most assiduous followers with respect to the importance of primitive functioning is Donald Meltzer. In his recent book, The Claustrum (1992), he investigates a personality type — people who have to win and will do anything to reach the top. They become authoritarian leaders in institutions, companies, countries: ruthless apparatchiki, tycoons, dictators They have a survivalist mentality and are unmerciful to competitors. They absolutely must prevail. I am sure I need say no more. I would bet that each of you is thinking of several such people at this very moment. What Meltzer has to say about them is that in their inner worlds they are dwelling at the very extreme of the psychic digestive tract, just inside the anus. Their ruthless behaviour is a desperate defence, parallel to what we saw in the nurses and also parallel in being a bulwark against psychotic distress, in this case, the prospect of schizophrenic breakdown. Meltzer explores the inner worlds of such people with great care and subtlety.

In conclusion, I have sketched ideas drawn from Klein, Bion, Jaques, Menzies Lyth, Rosenfeld, Steiner, Armstrong, Lawrence, and Meltzer. If you have lost count, here are the ideas I have mentioned: psychotic anxieties, projective identification, paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, pathological organisations, the institution in the mind, social dreaming and the claustrum. All are concerned with primitive functioning, and all are relevant to understanding the dynamics of groups, factions, institutions, regions, racism, nationalism, international relations. I believe they hold out hope for humankind, hope of a kind which is not available to the same degree from any other framework of ideas. The reason they do so is that they take very seriously the need to understand and work through the large role of the aggressive and destructive aspects of human nature. They help us to see what restricts and persecutes the whole tone and mood of mental space, and group relations practitioners provide temporary institutions and consultations which promise to make mental space more capacious, contained, benign and creative. They will not solve everything, but I say of that what Churchill said of democracy: it’s the worst form of government except for all the others. Kleinian psychoanalysis and group relations are the least successful ways of improving the quality of mental space except for all the others. I do not think they will make us perfect, but they can certainly make us more insightful, perhaps wise, and they do — in their increasing use throughout the world — help people not to act as badly and as desperately as they did before and often to co-operate more than they did, as well. In this period of dashed hopes and fearful prospects, that’s a lot.

 

This is the text of a talk given a seminar on Group Relations and Organizational Behaviour, New Bulgarian University, 14 May 1995.

REFERENCES

(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)

Anderson, Robin, ed. (1992), Clinical Lectures on Klein and Bion. Routledge.

Armstrong, David (1991) ‘The “Institution in the Mind”:: Reflections on the Relation of Psycho-analysis to Work with Institutions’, paper read to conference on Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere, Polytechnic of East London.

______ (1992) ‘Names, Thoughts and Lies: The Relevance of Bion’s Later Writing to Experiences in Groups’, Free Assns. (no. 26) 3: 261-82.

Baron, Claire (1987) Asylum to Anarchy. Free Association Books.

Bell, David. (1992) 'Hysteria — A Contemporary Kleinian Perspective', Brit. J. Psychother. 9: 169-80.

Bion, W. R. (1961) Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. Tavistock.

______ (1982) The Long Week-End 1897-1919: Part of a Life. Abingdon: Fleetwood Press; reprinted Free Association Books, 1986.

Bridger, Harold (1985) ‘Northfield Revisited’, in M. Pines, ed. (1985), pp. 87-107.

Britton, Ronald (1989) 'The Missing Link: Parental Sexuality in the Oedipus Complex', in Britton et al. (1989), pp. 83-102.

______ (1992) 'The Oedipus Situation and the Depressive Position', in R. Anderson, ed. (1992), pp. 34-45.

______ et al. (1989) The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications. Karnac.

Colman, A, D. and Bexton, W. H. (1975) Group Relations Reader 1. Washington, D. C.: A. K. Rice Institute.

______ and Geller, M. H. (1985) Group Relations Reader 2. Washington, D. C.: A. K. Rice Institute.

deMare, Patrick (1985) ‘Major Bion’, in M. Pines, ed. (1985), pp. 108-13.

Descartes, René (1637) Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences, in Discourse on Method and The Meditations. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968, pp. 25-91

Erikson, Kai T. (1966) Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. Wiley.

Grosskurth, Phyllis (1985) Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work. Hodder and Staughton.

Hinshelwood, Robert D. (1987) What Happens in Groups. Free Association Books.

Horowitz, L. (1983) 'Projective Identification in Dyads and Groups', Int. J. Group. Psychother. 33: 259-79. reprinted in A. D. Colman and M. H. Geller, eds. (1985), pp. 21-35.

Jaques, Elliott (1951) The Changing Culture of a Factory: A Study of Authority and Participation in an Industrial Setting. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

______(1955) 'Social Systems as a Defence against Persecutory and Depressive Anxiety', in Klein et al., eds. (1955), pp. 478-98.

Klein, Melanie (1946) 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms', reprinted in W. M. K. III, pp. 1-24.

______ (1975) The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Hogarth. Vol. I: Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works., 1921-1945. Vol. II: The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Vol. III Envy and Gratitude and Other Works; 1946-1963; . Vol. IV: Narrative of a Child Analysis. all reprinted Virago, 1988. (W. M. K. )

______ et al. (1952) Developments in Psycho-Analysis. Hogarth.

______ et al., eds. (1955) New Directions in Psycho-Analysis: The Significance of Infant Conflicts in the Patterns of Adult Behaviour. Tavistock; reprinted Maresfield,

Lawrence, W. Gordon (1991) ‘Won from the Void of the Infinite: Experiences of Social Dreaming’, Free Associations (no. 22) 2: 259-94.

______ (in press) To Surprise the Soul: Psychoanalytic Explorations of Experiences in Groups, Institutions and Society in the Bion-Tavistock Tradition. Process Press.

Lukács, Georg (1923) History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Merlin, 1971.

Marx, Karl (1867) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976. .

Meltzer, Donald (1992) The Claustrum: An Investigation of Claustrophobic Phenomena. Strath Tay: Clunie.

Menzies Lyth, Isabel (1959) 'The Functions of Social Systems as a Defence Against Anxiety: A Report on a Study of the Nursing Service of a General Hospital', Human Relations 13: 95-121; reprinted in Menzies Lyth (1988), pp. 43-88

_____ (1988) Containing Anxiety in Institutions: Selected Essays, vol. 1. Free Association Books.

______ (1989) The Dynamics of the Social: Selected Essays, vol. II. Free Association Books.

Miller, Eric (1990) 'Experiential Learning Groups I: The Development of the Leicester Model', in E. Trist and H. Murray, eds., The Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology, Vol. 1: The Socio-Psychological Perspective. Free Association Books, pp. 165-85.

______ (1990a) ‘Experiential Learning Groups II: Recent Developments in Dissemination and Application’, in ibid., pp. 186-98

Pines, Malcolm, ed. (1985) Bion and Group Psychotherapy. Routledge.

Rosenfeld, Herbert (1971) 'A Clinical Approach to the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Life and Death Instincts: An Investigation into the Aggressive Aspects of Narcissism', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 52: 169-78; reprinted in Spillius (1988), vol. 1, pp. 239-55.

Searles, Harold (1986) My Work with Borderline Patients. Aronson

Segal, Hanna (1957) ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 38: 391-7; reprinted in Segal (1981), pp. 49-65.

______ (1981) The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. Aronson; reprinted Free Association Books/ Maresfield Library, 1986.

Spillius, Elizabeth B.(1988) Melanie Klein Today, 2 vols. Routledge

Steiner, John (1987) ‘The Interplay between Pathological Organizations and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 68: 69-80; reprinted in E. B. Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 1, pp. 324-42.

______ (1994) Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients. Routledge.

Sutherland, John D. (1985) ‘Bion Revisited: Group Dynamics and Group Psychotherapy’, in M. Pines, ed. (1985), pp. 47-86.

Trist, Eric (1985) ‘Working with Bion in the 1940s: The Group Decade’, in M. Pines, ed. (1985), pp. 1-46.

Young, (1994) Mental Space. Process Press.

______ (1994a) ‘New Ideas about the Oedipus Complex’, Melanie Klein and Object Relations 12 (no. 2): 1-20, 1994.


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