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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Toxicity in space. Bullying around vacuums and black holes.

Research shows that bullying can be rife in some teams, or groups, within an organisation whilst other areas are relatively free from conflict (White, 2013, 2007). This paper explores the development of bullying scenarios and the formation of toxic bullying relationships in terms of vacuums and black holes in organisational space. Vacuums and black holes are viewed from three perspectives - theories on bullying, cosmic space and psychoanalysis. These theories are brought together in the discussion of a case study of bullying in a student services department within a UK university. Bullying is conceptualised as forming around vacuums of support and lack of recognition for the other. Potential bullies are fearful of these spaces, whilst victims are attracted to them. Together they are drawn into a whirlpool of negativity created by the toxic environment in which they work (White, 2007). On the surface the group dynamics fragment but beneath there is a collusion of subservience. Stuck in projective gridlock, the fate of both bullies and victims is a dance of death and repetition compulsion. The paper concludes with suggestions on how practitioners can identify areas in their organisations which are most likely to develop bullying scenarios.