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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


ISPSO should be open to discovery and transformation by encountering reality. Wemust accept the multi-dimensional and indeterminate nature of reality, truth not onlyseen as hypothetical, but contingent upon the stance of the agent seeking it. We haveshown in the past our capacity for doing so. It is also not beyond us to broaden the scopeof our own structure to include a regular scrutiny of our institutional life, includingits conflicts. Intra-organizational change may, at times, become necessary and inevitable. How may this be effected without altering meaning and without undermining motivation for those who have, often as pioneers, developed and sustained the organization? The obvious dangers include dissafection and loss via redundancy or disillusionment, the creative potential of the organization replaced by internal competitiveness, mutual contempt and envy, the work group replaced by basic assumptions, (Bion 1961), and the results sterility. The Sterile Organization, scientifically, politically, organizationally, risking nothing produces nothing of value. If the only remedy is to update the question of meaning to the pinnacle of a cause, an ideology, then the situation becomes a battle to defend or destroy the focus. In such circumstances it is easy to become confused as to whether one is inspired or misled and a cause, an ideology, can like a boa constrictor, swallow a whole life or a previously viable organization such as ours, in a single gulp.Bion (1980), echoing Freud described paramensia as, 'being an invention which is intended to fill a space where a fact ought to be. We can produce a fine body of theory in the hope that it will block up the hole forever, so that we shall never need to learn anything more about ourselves either as people or as organizations, '(p.36). It may even be possible that, like normotic children of normotic parents described by Bollas (1987), we indulge in a great deal of activity, useful, legitimate and even educative in itself, but which ends in becoming 'an alternative to living from the core of the self', (p.145)..If we should deny or ignore the anxiety existing within a group, we may find ourselves, via projective processes, in a situation with blurred boundaries between what is inside and what is outside the group, the inevitable disturbance in the group's contact with reality leading to ineffectiveness and ultimately to the loss of scientific or creative energy. (DeBoard 1978). Assaults upon the central concept of trust in Organizations are linked to primitive psychological mechanisms which may result in both mystification and idealisation. Any attempt to understand and transcend such processes must pay attention to group phenomena, something beyond individuals having difficulty with one another. I am a psychoanalyst who has come to study Organizations. Psychoanalysis is concerned with the domain of ideas, including thoughts and feelings of all kinds, and is therefore concerned with lies and evasions, fictions and phantasies. Whilst Psychoanalysis does by no means have possession of the whole truth, it does provide a conceptual method of investigating the truth and rationality, or to quote Meltzer, 'it adds a little note of caution to our sense of certainty', (1986). It should not, to my mind become a certainty itself. Mental functioning is only apparently individual. My mind is not altogether my own and my objectivity should not be completely trusted. This is especially so if one takes account in this and in all Organizations, the temptation to expose, accuse, taunt and humiliate the other and to disown my own culpability. And this is to say nothing of the influence on me of my membership of this group, potentially subject to projecting into and introjecting from it, a constantly dynamic flow of unconscious experience. Therefore in the matter of examples, I must ask you to contribute from your own experience and observations of this group as a whole, the membership, the scientific programs, and the role and functioning of the Executive and Board of Directors. Of course you may wish to discuss other organisations as well. I will be examining the situation from two perspectives. First, some comments on thedevelopment of group and social systems and of the way they defend against anxieties inherent in their functioning. Second, looking briefly at the very specific anxieties arising in the course of the work in which we are all involved, and for which this Society stands and the way in which these may mitigate against mature task organization.