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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

CHANGES: A Psychoanalytic Project on Youth, Authority, and Toxicity

If one asks a group of young people to explain what they associate with the word 'authority', the responses one may receive are overwhelmingly negative: 'dictator', 'fear,' 'internalized oppression', 'elitism', even 'Hitler'. This demonstrates how deeply youth have internalized the idea that authority is fundamentally toxic. How does this happen? How can we learn from this? And how can youth, who will soon be in positions of leadership and authority themselves, develop positive and more healthy visions of leadership and authority? In a project titled Changes, the boutique consultancy firm Bureau Kensington Inc. in Toronto, Canada, attempted to uncover the status of the relationship youth had with leadership and authority. Spanning five 5 discussion sessions involving youth between the ages of 22-28 interested or engaged in social justice, activism and the non-profit sector, the authors of this paper (also the facilitators of this project) explored topics such as transitions, toxicity, leadership, online vs IRL (in real life) communities, and group relations through the use of media, facilitated discussions, and experiential exercises. Throughout the project the facilitators/authors discovered that despite being highly aware of issues pertaining to racism, sexism, power-politics etc. participants were reluctant to broach these subjects further among the group. While the project was progressing, facilitators hypothesized that participants were hesitant to discuss these issues because one of the facilitators was an older (30-something), white woman. However this hypothesis was proven wrong when a session was facilitated without the presence of said facilitator and participants still did not probe the issues further. Conversations about online toxicity garnered a strong response from the participants, despite having varying levels of social media use. Furthermore during the project facilitators learned that the participants made distinctions between authority and leadership which would explain their reluctance to take up and recognize their own authority. However, despite the participants' reluctance to assume authority, they displayed an eagerness to take up other concepts of psychology, psychoanalysis, and group relations points to an avenue to develop interest in applied psychoanalysis and group relations training for this age group. We hope further research can expand on our findings.