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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


Parallel Papers Session 5
Saturday 6 July 3.30pm-4.45 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP7

CE Credits Available
Presented Online

Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Racial, Gender and Other Forms of Systemic Othering with Some Implications for Contemporary Organizational Leadership and Consulting.

Presenter: Wally Fletcher
Moderator: Jeffrey Axelbank

Sigmund Freud never wrote a special paper on “Racial, Gender and Other Forms of Othering” as he did other socio-cultural topics like group dynamics, religion, and the future of civilization in his post-war writings. Yet, the theme of systemic, and oppressive forms of ‘othering’ deeply influenced his personal narrative, psychoanalytic treatment, and the psychoanalytic “movement.” For Freud the concept of systemic othering referred to both the individual and group’s external and internal worlds, and the interplay between them. While Freud’s early psychoanalytic writings focused on his discoveries related to the intrapsychic, his post-war focus shifted decisively toward socio-cultural psychodynamics and the social in the intra-psychic. Despite the othering ‘Bad Freud’ reputation still popular in many circles, Freud and his early followers were committed social progressivists and activists. While many examples can be cited of Freud’s own ‘othering’ attitudes, positions, and enactments his core convictions and social justice aims were true and impactful. This paper will draw from Freud’s important references to systemic othering and consider six overarching themes that together represent his psychoanalytic views on the depth psychology of othering:

1. “The psychology of groups is the oldest human psychology.” Freud hypothesized that individual psychology evolved from social psychology -rooted in the earliest human prototypes of family and herd/group dynamics internalized and passed on from generation to generation.

2. “A Jew from Freiburg”: Freud’s lived experiences as an Eastern European Jew during a period of intense anti-Semitism in Vienna had profound impacts on his life and his psychoanalytic writings.

3. The social in the psyche: Freud’s perspectives on how human minds are conditioned from infancy for racial, gender and other forms of ‘othering’ remain foundational for the depth understanding and treatment of these social pathologies.

4. The de-othering and re-othering of some others: Freud’s boldly progressive but often ambiguous ‘de-othering’ of people with mental illness, “perverse” sexual tendencies, religious beliefs, and femininity show the complexities of his struggles with “othering” and the influences of his own unconscious biases.

5. Whiteness and “the wall which brings us to a stop”: Freud’s views on cultural narcissism have crucial implications for understanding and addressing white privilege.

6. Disillusion, discontent and hope for human civilization: Freud asserted that a leading source of humankind’s disillusion and discontent has been civilization’s inability to restrain and re-direct instinctual aggression in the service of libidinal aims. Hence, colonialist civilizations perpetuate inter-generational trauma by rationalizing the destruction of enemies and providing increasingly efficient technologies with which to annihilate despised “others” Freud implies that however painful our disillusion and discontent, they may also be a necessary pre-condition for realistic hope.

Reading through the lenses of Freud’s own times as well as those of modern psychoanalysis, critical theory, and liberation psychology, I will propose that Freud’s depth psychology of othering provides critical insights and tools for advancing social justice causes in our turbulent times. I will also offer a brief case example of my application of some of Freud’s concepts in the context of organizational consultancy.

Biographical Summary

Wally Fletcher, D.Min., NCPsyA has extensive training and experience as a therapist, consultant, educator, and non-profit executive. He is a certified psychoanalyst and clinical supervisor in the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis and is chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis. He is also a member of The International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations (ISPO) and The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education-ACPE Psychotherapist category. He taught courses in the Masters in Business and Organizational Leadership at Neuman University for over 15 years. He also taught counseling courses in Neuman University’s Masters in Clinical Pastoral Counseling for over 15 years. He presently teaches the history and technique of psychoanalysis at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis (PSP) and at the Colorado Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. He also teaches courses in PSP’s Organizational Dynamics, Leadership and Consulting Program and serves as Program Coordinator.