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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP20: Basic assumption mode victimism/supremacism as a result of crisis and trauma and the need for hope and identity to move towards the future

Parallel Papers Session 5
Sunday 3 July 10.15am-11.30am CEST
Paper Code: PP20
CE credits available

Basic assumption mode victimism/supremacism as a result of crisis and trauma and the need for hope and identity to move towards the future

Presenter: Claudia Nagel


In times of crisis, uncertainty and insecurity rise and lead to heightened anxiety and fear. This might be perceived as a traumatic experience. To overcome these emotions, hope and identity are needed. In this paper I would like to explore the psychodynamics of hope and identity, the role they play in overcoming crisis, how they are connected in good and in bad times and how leaders can create real hope and real identity.

My major point will be, that hope and identity are linked via fear and containment – in defensive and destructive ways, forming both fake hope and fake identity and in constructive healthy and healing ways, improving the well-being and - functioning/performing of individuals, organizations and societies.

This paper will show that the crisis also induces a new basic assumption mentality which I have already called in earlier papers “victimism” and which I will develop further here with the addition of supremacism. Victimism/supremacism as basic assumption mentality (BA V/S) in the sense of Bion are critical in understanding the development of prevailing larger phenomena such as populism, the rise of authoritarian leaders, identitarian movements, identity politics and similar developments on organizational level as well.

By victimism I want to refer to a new development which can be observed on many different organizational and societal levels across different countries. In this mode, people claim to be a ‘victim’, and together with other ‘victims’ of the seemingly same class of subdued people they create a new group and membership. However, this membership is built on an illusion of belonging and identity and presents us with a new psychosocial defense mechanism.

Leaders need this knowledge to move beyond the BA V/S mentality, the crisis and the trauma into hope and the future of organisations and society.

This paper links the two parts of the AM theme: Trauma and new engagement with the future as it explores the BA victimism/supremacism as result of traumatic experiences in societal and organizational context ending up in giving a sense of hope and identity but both are fake in the light of how they are achieved – a leader (ab)using fear, splitting, denial of reality and aggressive discrimination. Real hope and real identity can be co-created by the leader and the leadership of an organization via containment and holding with the aim to overcome the basic assumption mentality and to continue working on the primary task.

Learning Objectives

After this session participants will be able to:

  1. Recognize organisational hope and identity as key for containment in times of crisis.
  2. Identify the new Basic Assumption Mode victimism/supremacism.
  3. List possible leadership aspects to create organizational hope and identity.

Biographic Summary

Claudia Nagel, PhD, is a professor at the VU, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, holding a chair on change and identity in Organisation Sciences. She works as consultant, coach, author and senior advisor to international organizations and their board members. As an economist (MBA), organisational psychologist (PhD) and chartered psychoanalyst (ISAP), Claudia is an expert on strategic management, leadership, and change processes. She runs Nagel & Company, is President of ISPSO and Visiting Professor at HUBS, UK. She publishes extensively on Behavioral Strategy, and recently wrote “Psychodynamic Coaching” (2020, Routledge).