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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP23: Creating Space for Reasonable Hate and Exploring How trauma Impacts on Organisational Cohesion, Effectiveness and Results

Parallel Papers Session 6
Sunday 2 July 2.30pm-3:45pm (14.30-15.45) CET
Paper Code: PP23

Creating Space for Reasonable Hate and Exploring How trauma Impacts on Organisational Cohesion, Effectiveness and Results

Presenter: Catherine Holland


This paper describes a consultancy project with the executive board of a national charity that provides support and advocacy services to victims of hate violence. It explores the concept of hate, as well as the complex emotions associated with loss, trauma and fear. It is argued that the use of process consultancy with traumatised organisations, alongside the creation of individual reflective space for those paralysed by the unknown, can foster reparative processes that allow the unmentionable to be processed and integrated to enhance cohesion and effectiveness within systems. My role as process consultant was to bring authority and permission from the outside world. This allowed me to facilitate a conversation that appeared to be needed to resolve the disunity amongst board members and enable a more relational and effective leadership team to emerge.

In fact, what occurred was an overcompensation of intervention on my part as I absorbed and began to understand the difficult emotions reverberating within the organisation. Fantasies, projections and fears of annihilation dominated the culture. As such, my primary role during the early stages of the consulting process was to respond to the individual needs of the CEO, in order to provide enough of a container (Bion, 1970) for her to be able to move to a position of working with and accepting the trustees.

In this paper, I highlight some of the conscious and unconscious dynamics that unfolded within and outside the organisation when the hurt and wounded could not be heard and defences against anxiety (Menzies, 1959, 1961, 1961b, 1970) were deployed. This revealed a narcissistically powerful seduction of the need to be needed, but masked a fear of not being good enough and fantasies of annihilation. This dominance of hate and the fear of not being a good enough leader evoked an anxiety that overwhelmed the organisation to the point of potentially threatening its existence. This dynamic is considered through several vignettes illustrating CEO and board level transference which prevented me, as consultant, from carrying out the negotiated task.

The central hypothesis of this work is that when working with wounding, hate and trauma, the pain of engagement can become so unbearable that a contagion of defences against anxiety gets into the system and causes a perverse state of mind. This can distort, for example, effective communication, engagement and effective management. It is therefore hypothesized that organisations working with hate and trauma must create space for the articulation of unspeakable fears and vulnerabilities, so that “reasonable hate” can be owned. When “reasonable hate” can be owned and explored, the situation of locating hate in others dissolves. When hate can be considered in a meaningful way and we allow ourselves to come to terms with our own hate, distortion of hatred towards others diminishes.

This paper would describes the painful engagement and journey of a leadership team that discovered its capacity to function reflectively, own “reasonable hate” and move towards becoming an organisation that could holistically consider embracing differences and vulnerabilities alongside a commitment to working together.

The neurobiological aspects of trauma and what happens to individuals will also be introduced.