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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

When she lost her temper: On conditions for learning from experience.

This paper draws upon data collected for my Ph.D project where the goal is to explore the conditions for 'learning from experience' (Bion 1991(1962)) among teachers. According to psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, thinking is a continuous transformation of emotions and experience, which irrevocably changes the thinker and his/her perception of inner and outer reality. The process of learning from experience is, in Bions's understanding of the term, considered as a personal development. It is described as acknowledgement of emotions, and thought processes that lead to what Bion calls action. The opposite process is an anti-developmental one, where the person instead of 'learning from' experience, is 'learning about', that is acting as a means of avoiding thought. Failure to learn from experience is linked to fear of thinking, a lack of capability to contain feelings. Which of the two processes a person is capable of in a frustrating situation is related to the person's tolerance of the uncertainty that exists until a thought arises. If a person does not manage this uncertainty, it is denied by defence. This process of anti development is a process of repetition and stagnation.With the same model, Bion (1996 (1961)), also describes development or anti-development in groups, Work Groups and Basic Assumptions Groups. On a Basic Assumptions level, the group culture is suffused with unspoken and unconscious assumptions shared by all the group members. In contrast the members of a Work group address the consciously defined and accepted task of the group. In this paper I attempt to relate learning from experience and basic'assumptions characteristics to a particular teacher's everyday life, and especially to one incident when the teacher said she lost her temper with a student. I want to contrast these psychoanalytic concepts with the concept 'feeling rules' from a Social constructive perspective (Hochschild 1975, inYanay and Shahar 1998). Feeling rules define what employees' believe is acceptable to feel in different circumstances. I want to explore the following question: What is the difference between following 'feeling rules' and being able to 'contain' feelings?