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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021



Parallel Papers Session 2
Friday 5 July 3.30pm-4.45pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP5

The Developmental Conflict in Groups.

Presenter: Conrad S Chrzanowski

Wilfred Bion's (1961) ideas regarding schisms can illuminate paths into the future for organizations, communities and civilizations.

In his landmark book, Experiences in Groups, Bion (1961) proposed a number of novel and complex ideas regarding group experience. Most notably, his dependent, fight flight and pairing basic assumptions organize the group emotionally when in a regressed state. This is opposed to the work group mentality.

However, an often overlooked aspect of Bion's group work are his ideas regarding group schism. Schism is the breakdown of the group into two or more subgroups. Bion describes the breakdown as hinging on the group's task of containing the developmental conflict. The developmental conflict refers to the tension and conflict generated by the atempt to contain primitive and sophisticated. My claim is that Bion's work in this area allows for theoretical and practical advancements in our understanding of conflictual group processes, in particular, despair and discontentedness at the (real and psychological) border between one group and another.

Nations, organizations, and groups are quick to overemphasize and draw the line between each other over differences that appear small to outside observers but are experienced as very large and crucial to themselves and their neighbors. Freud notes this phenomenon in Civilization and its Discontents. There he writes of the "narcissism of small differences", in regards to conflicts between neighboring ethnic groups. The charge otien made and enacted by each group toward the other is that the other group is regressed, stupid, lazy, overpopulated, over-sexed, over-drugged, etc. This resembles Bion's comment regarding within-group tensions and schism- "I am reminded of allegations that a society breeds copiously from its less cultured or less educated members, while the ‘best’ people remain obstinately sterile" (Bion, 1961, p. 127-128).

While Freud's concept of the narcissism of small differences fits well with the phenomenology of the inter-group tensions, it does litle, as even Freud points out, to explain anything about the phenomenon. In my view, Bion's idea that the tension and complexities produced by the atempts to contain the developmental conflict, (between groups, and even between members of a romantic pair - as I am developing elsewhere) is a phenomenon that generates, or, at the very least, supports these extremely conflictual, hostile, biased, perceptual- emotional experiences between opposed groups. The developmental conflict is an unconscious group conflict produced by the necessary pairing of primitive and sophisticated. These are necessarily paired because goals necessarily bring primitive and sophisticated, instinct and development, together. As Bion notes, whenever a group forms, it is always there to "do" something. That "doing" is toward a goal- i.e., a work task, joining together on an emotional theme, or some combination of the two. The intent of this presentation is to help further articulate the dynamic factors related to schism that impede and affect a group's focus and functioning, especially in regard to its relation with adjacent or opposed groups.

Biographical Summary

Conrad S Chrzanowski PhD received his bachelor's degree in psychology and philosophy from Rutgers College in NJ and his doctoral degree from Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, NYC. He is a clinical psychologist, college lecturer, and professional coach. Conrad specializes in couples therapy, the individual treatment of severe psychopathology and primitive states of mind, group/political psychology theory and leadership development. Conrad's professional background spans non-profit work with at-risk youth, consultation work with the International Refugee Assistance Project, outpatient hospital psychology, geriatric psychology, and professional coaching. His special interests include studying the work of Wilfred Bion, personality development, social systems, creative states of mind, coaching methodologies, and leadership presence.