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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Holding the Center Leadership, Depressive Position Values, and the Moral Order

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The Falcon cannot hear the Falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. -- (The Second Coming - W. B. Yeats) My preoccupation is with the nature of leadership and those who exercise it. I need to say at the outset however, that I'm not talking about the leader's personality, but rather the psychological capacities required for mature and constructive leadership, whatever other elements of personality there may be. These preoccupations are contained in the title. Let me begin, therefore, by providing a brief synopsis of each of its elements which, taken together, provide the orienting framework for the main purposes of this paper -namely to link these elements together in what I hope is a coherent narrative. Holding the Center refers to the line in a quite extraordinary poem by Yeats called The Second Coming ('Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold'). The first five lines of this poem (above) contain this reference, and provide the starting point for my thesis about leadership capacities, and as importantly, the critical emotional context for a concern about them. What is this center that is alluded to, and who holds it? The answer is contained, I believe, in two of the title's conjunctions. Holding the center is the basis of the moral order, and the responsibility for holding it is the core function of enlightened and mature leadership the third element of the title Depressive Position Values, refers to the required developmental achievements which, in turn, form the psychological bases for such leadership. I approach the origin of these from several psychoanalytic perspectives on early development, with a particular focus on M. Klein's (1935, 1940) theory of developmental positions, and Bion's (1961) concept of valency. I will also argue that these capacities, while necessary, are by no means sufficient. The metaphor of holding the center has, I think, wide applicability. For example, Anna Freud refers to the necessity of the analyst positioning him or herself equidistant between the id, ego and superego, with the obvious implication of this being the only place from which one can work effectively. Or put another way, not colluding with the operation of any particular function which would translate into skewed, anti-task behavior. In a parallel manner, I believe that the central pillar of the moral order in institutions, and in society (the center) is the commitment to task, informed by what I am referring to as depressive position achievements - namely a cohesive framework of values, dispositions and attitudes, including the capacities for integration vs. splitting, reconciliation and making reparation, openhandedness, general amnesty, tolerating ambivalence and uncertainty, realistic gratitude for those who have helped along the way by contributing to the task, and a desire to contribute to social and institutional development and reproduction. This paper, therefore, offers and explicates the following hypotheses linking leadership capacity to depressive position resolutions on the one hand, and its role in maintaining the moral order by working to hold the center, on the other. Hypothesis The achievement of enlightened values, and hence enlightened leadership, depends on the depth and stability of depressive position resolutions, and the capacity to maintain them under conditions of emotional duress (see, for example, Adorno, et. al. 'The Authoritarian Personality' which make a powerful case for the essential lack of values that characterize a personality configuration dominated by splitting and the preponderance of a paranoid/schizoid mental states). Subsidiary Hypothesis 1. With respect to leadership, the greater the regression from depressive position states of mind, the greater the departure from moral behavior. This means that splitting and denial represent greater lapses than sublimation or intellectualization (note that repression, suppression and displacement occupy the middle range). Put another way, primitive defenses associated with paranoid/schizoid states of mind are not only anti-task, they are 'anti-moral', as well, with all of the obvious implications for the nature of society and its institutions. Subsidiary Hypothesis 2. All primitive defenses are lapses from the moral order, but in their sophisticated, adaptive form (in Bion's view), necessary for individual and group survival. Therefore, the inherent nature of individual and collective psychology is a constraint on the continuous maintenance of an ideal moral state. References Bion, W.R. (1961). Experiences in groups. New York Basic Books. Gould, L. J. (1997). Correspondences between Bion's basic assumption theory and Klein's developmental positions. Free Associations, Vol. 7, Part One, No. 41, 15-30. Klein, M. (1935). A contribution to the psychogenisis of manic depressive states. The International Joumal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 16. Klein, M. (1940). Mouming and its relation to manic depressive states. The Intemational Joumal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 21.'