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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Struggle of Staying with Toxic Emotions. When All you Want to do is Leave. An exploration of the potential idea of mindfulness in fostering negative capability

Much has been debated about the importance of negative capability for managers as well as employees in meeting with organisational turbulence and demands. Negative capability is defined as the ability to stay with disturbing and toxic emotions, tolerate anxiety, fear, not-knowing and uncertainty. This is a critical - though not an easy achievable - capability. Whereas there is much agreement on the importance of this capability, less is known on how to foster negative capability; In this paper I argue that the fostering of negative capability has been underexposed in psychodynamic theory as well as practice. With the aim of adding to theoretical offerings, this paper introduces potential additional key notions from mindfulness (attention, awareness, detachment, compassion and self-compassion), as possible entry points to and enablers of negative capability. It is suggested that such key notions may facilitate 'embracing of' and 'staying with' what is perceived as disturbing or toxic. It is argued that - in fostering negative capability - an increased awareness on balancing 'embracing' and 'exploring', toxins and de-toxins, well-functioning and dys-functioning, may be needed. An exemplary case from a research project is introduced and drawn upon to illustrate this argument. Finally a link is made to felt issues of application within psychodynamics.'