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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP19: FEAR and CARE: The Emotional Brain and recovery from trauma in an unpredictable future.

Parallel Papers Session 5
Saturday 2 July 10.15am-11.30am CET
Paper Code: PP19

Fear and CARE: The Emotional Brain and recovery from trauma in an unpredictable future.

Presenter: Gry Osnes


The practice aim of this paper is look into the future, with a firm look into the past and trauma, so as to explore the emotional struggle for emergency services to contain and prevent environment disaster. The cases presented about trauma and the need for care in organisations directly influenced by global warming. Their relevance is broader than the emergency services sector. With increased threats in crime online and in the Metaverse, with immigration, global warming many organisations will have members affected by trauma due to their work role. Not only public services but also private or listed companies are increasingly including CARE in the primary task of the organisation.

The paper also has the theory development aim of integrating new advances in affective neuroscience, or the Emotional brain, which revises aspects of Freuds thinking. It further integrates Winnicott and Bowlby’s contributions where one has found that PLAY is a hard-wired biological emotional need, triggering feelings, and that attachment and safety in object, or PANIC-GRIEF, when not met is a hard-wired socio-emotional need. A contribution from affective neuroscience more broadly to psychoanalytic theory, is that CARE, is a part of attachment but is different from the attachment, PANIC-GRIEF. Attachment is, from a biological and brain circuit point of view, consisting of two different drives and to give CARE is one of them.

Case material

This paper discusses and analyses observed dynamics in emergency services organisations in Australia and Sweden. Such services organisations respond to a range of emergencies including fire, flood, wind-storm, air hazards, bio-hazards, terrorism and accidents. They are typically hierarchical masculine organisations with a command and control culture. Climate change and globalisation have ushered in catastrophic emergency events at an unprecedented level. This new set of conditions demands a paradigm shift in thinking.

Command and control stereotypes about “strong” leadership often work at odds with collaborative problem solving. In addition, community, political and social media expectations also play a role in how emergency managers are judged, for instance, after an emergency event. On the one hand leaders are expected to be “all knowing” and even to be able to stop disaster events from occurring. They get caught into a dependency assumption within the communities that they are expected to protect.

As researchers, consultants and practitioners we draw on our collective experiences in these organisations to examine how affective neuroscience opens up new lines of thinking about the interplay of tensions and contradictions within the cultures of emergency services.


Unpredictability and the loss of safe, and earlier established, procedures for managing emergencies, poses the challenge of SEEKING new solutions. The capability of SEEKING, and openness to new types of solutions, are reduced if we are traumatized and have FEAR and if one is depressed, and in either PANIC or GRIEF, of a lost ideal-self and/or the loss of what has been safe institutional templates. We will discuss how CARE as a capability is necessary for repair and for establishing, despite the threat of trauma and panic. The usefulness of affective neuroscience, and a revision of aspects of psychoanalytic theory, is discussed.