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Can we repress our feelings or emotions? This is a question that puzzled Freud over a period of many years. After all, if affects are experienced as feelings, and "it is the essence of a feeling to be felt," that is, to be fully conscious perceptions, then it makes little sense to argue that a feeling can be repressed Stein, , p. In "Negation," Freud offered the suggestion that a repressed desire may enter consciousness only by being disowned.

The repressed content is accepted intellectually but not emotionally. Anna Freud subsequently generalized this principle as the isolation of affect, a process where many repressed ideas may be expressed at the intellectual level without being confronted emotionally. It is possible, for example, to recognize having acted wrongly and even apologize without actually feeling any remorse. Discussing threatening or painful topics in a highly cerebral manner, for example, feelings of abandonment, failure, or loss, may be a way of stopping oneself from experiencing these feelings.

Thus, in Freud's later work, psychological defenses can operate against both unacceptable emotions and painful ideas. Sandler and Sandler have enlarged on this view by arguing that an emotion may be repressed very shortly after it has been experienced or felt and then disavowed. In this way, it is suppressed, choked, and unacknowledged, yet not entirely obliterated; an example of such a choked emotion is the "unconscious sense of guilt" that Freud regarded as a fundamental cost of culture. No single psychological process provides as sharp a testing ground for the transformation of emotions as transference.

Transference is, in the first place, part of the complex emotional bond that develops between patient and analyst in an analytic situation. The seminal characteristic of this situation, and the one that provides vital leverage for psychoanalytic interpretations, is the repetition of earlier emotional experiences. The patient does not merely recollect these experiences but actually relives them emotionally, redirecting many feelings, such as love, hate, fear, anger, and envy, onto the person of the analyst. In this manner, emotions, qualities, and symbols that once held a powerful grip over an individual resurface in the analytic situation to provide strong evidence as to the origins of mental disturbances.

If transference is the bedrock of psychoanalytic interventions within the therapeutic situation, its significance extends to groups and organizations. It has been recognized since Ferenczi's work in the s that repressed feelings may be transferred onto nonanalytic people, for example, political or religious leaders. In so doing, an individual may enhance positive feelings by introjecting them from external objects "As a follower of Christ, I am virtuous" or cast out negative feelings by projecting them onto external objects "It is not I who wishes to destroy him, but he who wishes to destroy me".

These processes are vital for a psychoanalytic understanding of the emotions of followers toward their leaders Gabriel, ; Oglensky, Kleinian theorists have moved a stage further by arguing that through projection and introjection, the ego actually divests itself of unwanted parts of itself and incorporates desirable parts from the external world. In this way, an individual may gain some mastery over his or her emotions by manipulating objects. Instead of repressing threatening or painful emotions, the ego may project them onto external objects or split them off.

Klein's concept of splitting is of considerable interest. In such a Manichaean universe, idealization and vilification take hold of mental functioning and may affect whole groups or even nations; scapegoats are charged with every conceivable fault and attract collective hate, whereas idealized love objects are endowed with every perfection and, through introjection, result in narcissistic self-love. Klein attaches affects far more closely to objects than Freud did and, in so doing dissolves the distinction between desire and affect and gives even greater primacy to feelings than Freud.

If, for Freud, emotions derive from fantasies, which in turn are compromise formations between desire and the forces of repression, then for Klein, fantasies are derivatives, not causes of emotions. Bad feelings, bad emotions, and bad objects become amalgamated, as do their good equivalents. Feelings, conflicts between feelings, and the ability to tolerate them become the primary motive forces of mental life, encouraging or inhibiting development. Feelings may trigger off other feelings in chain reactions-for instance, sadness may generate anger, which in turn may lead to anxiety.

These chain reactions may form self-reinforcing emotional cycles, vicious circles of bad feelings and magic circles of good feelings. The underlying opposition is that between love and hate, which in Klein's work, assume a primary importance rather than being seen as derivative of other conflicts. The concepts love and hate, good and bad, become themselves evaluative. Hate is bad, love is good. Manichaeanism, that is, the division of the world into pure good and pure evil, is therefore not only a characteristic of the phenomena addressed by Klein's theory but a feature of the theory itself.

Vital Signs Crip Culture Talks Back Part 2

This judgmental quality is entirely absent from the work of Freud, who believed that life and death instincts, love and hate, all have the right to exist, can all be good as well as bad. By contrast, many authors influenced by Klein who have developed these ideas and used them to understand group and organizational processes, have been concerned with improving the way groups and organizations function, enhancing reparative, supportive, and learning processes and containing the destructive ones. The self emerges as the product of fantasy scenarios and conflicting emotions with little regard for deeper political and economic realities.

Her work highlights the problematic of whether emotions drive political and social events or whether they are derivative of such events. Nowhere is this problematic more clearly in evidence than in the study of crowds and groups. The emotional qualities of groups had fascinated conservative historians of the French Revolution and were of great interest to revolutionary theorists like Sorel. The psychology of group emotion had received two important contributions in the early part of the century, in the works of Gustave Le Bon and William McDougall.

The observations of these two theorists form the starting point of Freud's investigations in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego-the intensification of emotions in groups, the contagiousness of specific emotions, suggestibility, the lowering of critical abilities and moral restraints, the thirst for illusions; these were wellknown emotional qualities of group life. There is no doubt that something exists in us which, when we become aware of signs of an emotion in someone else, tends to make us fall into the same emotion; but how often do we not successfully oppose it, resist the emotion, and react in quite an opposite way.

Why, therefore, do we invariably give way to this contagion when we are in a group? Freud, , p. Freud's arguments, however, soon leave emotions behind, treating them as outcomes of deeper psychological vicissitudes, namely identification, group bonding, and the formation of an ego-ideal. By contrast, Bion placed emotions squarely at the center of his investigations into the mental life of groups.

A group may be a work group or a sophisticated group, drawing on its own resources to carry out its task. Such a group is outward looking, engaging in creative exchange with its environment, and recalls Freud's notion of the managerial ego which is generally able to keep its harsh masters satisfied. Yet, a group whose task causes anxiety may lapse into a basic-assumption functioning, in which it becomes overpowered by emotional forces. Basic-assumption groups defend themselves against anxiety by closing themselves to their environments and allowing emotion, fantasy, and delusion to take over from task.

Each of Bion's three types of basic-assumption group displays its own characteristic batch of self-reinforcing emotions. The dependency assumption revolves around blind faith in the leader, trust, reverence, loyalty, devotion, respect, and submissiveness. The fight or flight assumption commandeers many of the emotions characteristic of the paranoidschizoid position, rage, hate, envy, destructiveness, and fear.

The pairing assumption revolves around feelings of hope, optimism, confidence, and self-assurance. In all of these instances, emotions undermine the group's ability to think or reason, to plan, to control, and to administer its task-in short, they represent pathologies, analogous to individual pathologies.

Effective groups, therefore, may not lapse into basic-assumption functioning. The leader, the group therapist, or the organizational consultant, as much as the members of groups, therefore must be on their guards for signs of basic-assumption functioning. Bion's theory has received extensive support from the work of organizational researchers and consultants, who have found in it a valuable key for unlocking the emotional tangles of work groups, especially highly ineffectual ones.

Many writers with a psychodynamic perspective have employed basic-assumption theory first to analyze group functioning and then to effect change, restoring the group to its task. See, e. Nevertheless, the sharp distinction between the basic-assumptions group and the sophisticated group has been hard to maintain, and certain authors, such as Mant , have suggested that under certain circumstances, primary assumption functioning may be beneficial for the attainment of collective tasks. Although Bion's theory has found many applications in relatively unstructured groups, the emotional life of organizations is considerably more complex.

The theories developed by Jaques, Menzies Lyth, Trist, Bridger, Miller, and other theorists associated with the Tavistock Institute in London have addressed directly the effects of bureaucratic forms, hierarchies, and rules on the emotional lives of their members. Drawing from Klein's theories, Tavistock research has studied how individuals in large bureaucratic organizations, faced with uncertainty and anxiety, set up psychological boundaries through projections and introjections that seriously distort organizational rationality and task.

The overall perspective is not dissimilar to Bion's, inasmuch as emotion is seen as both the cause and the result of defensive reactions, which undermine clarity of purpose and execution.

Vital Signs: Nature, Culture, Psychoanalysis

But instead of looking for defenses against anxiety in emotional-group functioning, the Tavistock theorists have looked at how organizations themselves may furnish individuals with defensive devices. Transposing the Kleinian theory of defenses against anxiety onto the organizational and the social levels, Elliott Jaques , argued that individuals may collectively project bad objects onto a single member of an organization or a stigmatized social group, while introjecting the idealized qualities of a good object.

The first officer of a ship, for instance, is usually held responsible for everything that is wrong on the ship, allowing the captain to be seen as a kind, protecting figure. Scapegoating is thus a feature of many societies and organizations which enables individuals to deal with internal anxieties as though they originated from the outside and may therefore be fought against or destroyed.

Jaques's view that organizations supply individuals with suitable defenses against anxiety was supported by Menzies Lyth's research on nurses in a London teaching hospital.


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This study has made a lasting contribution to the study of emotion in organizations and is still widely cited. Nurses confront many different emotions from patients and their relatives, gratitude for the care they offer, admiration as well as envy of their skills, resentment stemming from forced dependence.

Their own feelings toward the patients, especially feelings of closeness and personal caring, are tempered by the knowledge that the patient may die. Faced with such an emotional cauldron, many nurses reexperience infantile persecutory anxieties, from which they seek to defend themselves through the familiar mechanisms of projection, splitting, and denial.

Menzies Lyth's important contribution was to establish how an organization's own bureaucratic features, its rules and procedures, rosters, task lists, checks and counterchecks, paperwork, hierarchies, and so onall of these impersonal devices act as supports for the defensive techniques. By allowing for ritual task performance, by depersonalizing relations with the patients, by using organizational hierarchies, nurses contained their anxieties.

Yet, in Menzies Lyth's view, such organizational defenses against anxiety were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to failure to train and retain nurses, chronically low morale, high levels of stress, and absence of work satisfaction. Along with other psychoanalytically trained consultants, Menzies Lyth views the role of the consultant as one who may help restore an organization to health by implementing a number of principles:.

These principles match quite closely the criteria for a healthy personality as derived from psychoanalysis. They include avoiding dealing with anxiety by the use of regressed defenses; more uses of adaptations and sublimation; the ability to confront and work through problems; opportunities for people to deploy their capacities to their fullest, no more or less than they are able to do; opportunity to operate realistic control over their life in the institution while being able to take due account of the needs and contributions of others; independence without undue supervision; and visible relation between efforts and rewards, not only financial.

Menzies Lyth's prescriptions have been taken up with greater or lesser success by numerous psychoanalytically oriented consultants. Countless instances of backfiring social defenses against anxiety have been documented by writers working within this psychodynamic perspective, and outstanding contributions in establishing the crippling effects of such defenses both on individuals and on organizations have been made by Gould , Krantz , Lapierre , Diamond , , Hirschhorn , , and Hirschhorn and Gilmore In The Workplace Within, Hirschhorn uses his experiences as an organizational consultant to show how anxiety in organizations triggers primitive fears of annihilation, which in turn call for social defenses.

To Bion's basic assumption, Hirschhorn adds two further modes of social defense, organizational rituals and covert coalitions. Following Menzies Lyth, Hirschhorn views organizational rituals as depersonalized routines that create a distance between the individuals and their roles, screening out threatening emotional involvements and replacing them with a set of mechanical actions. Covert coalitions, on the other hand, constitute a kind of unconscious psychological deal, whereby members of an organization call a truce to conflict or disagreement, by assuming roles drawn from family life, which provide them with a model for anxiety containment.

The price of such a truce, observes Hirschhorn, is the creation of taboo subjects that may not be referred to and the perpetuation of dysfunctional arrangements within the organization.


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  7. The psychoanalytic idea of social defenses against anxiety has become increasingly accepted by numerous scholars, including those working outside depth psychology. One particular version of the arguments presents rationality itself-the use of quasi-scientific procedures such as forecasting, planning, monitoring, evaluating, testing, and so on-as no more than emotional rituals whose function is entirely the allaying of managers' anxieties in a highly unpredictable and even chaotic environment Cleverley, ; Gabriel, ; MacIntyre, ; A.

    Thomas, ; Watson, Of considerable interest in this regard is Stacey's , pioneering contribution, which brings together the psychoanalytic theory of social defenses and MacIntyre's critique of quasi-scientific managerial procedures with complexity theory to elucidate the nature of managerial work. Stacey maintains that successful organizations are those that function in a state of bounded instability, a near-chaos state that is neither one of catastrophic disequilibrium nor one of static ossification and death.

    Functioning in this mode, organizations are unpredictable beyond a very small time span, much like weather patterns. Learning, creativity, and innovation, according to Stacey, are the result of operating at the edge of the abyss, which creates feelings of realistic anxiety, as numerous organizations once thought invulnerable collapse, and others make large numbers of people including executives redundant. Using psychoanalytic theory, Stacey has argued that managers hold on to outdated and virtually useless procedures of control in an attempt to contain such anxieties, seeking to create islands of calm in a turbulent sea.

    Needless to say, such procedures have no more chance of success than ancient rites of weather control, as MacIntyre has memorably put it. The study of the containment mechanisms for anxiety offered by organizations, as well as subsequent complications, distortions, and dysfunctions, is one of the foremost contributions of depth psychology in this area. A smaller number of theorists, however, have focused on the obverse proposition, namely that organizations are also sources of anxiety.

    Whereas the former position has preoccupied mainly theorists influenced by Klein and the object relations tradition in psychoanalysis, the latter has drawn more directly from Freud's own theory of anxiety as a signal of danger. A valuable contribution in this area has been made by Howell S. Baum in his book The Invisible Bureaucracy. Like Hirschhorn, Baum explores the matching of psychological and organizational processes, only the emphasis here is in the opposite direction.

    Bureaucracy, argues Baum, contains certain features that function as systematic generators of anxiety. Foremost among these is hierarchy, which disperses responsibility while concentrating power. Responsibilities of individuals tend to be highly ambiguous, compounded by the endemic impersonality and distance between individuals across organizational ranks. Individuals then adopt a defensive attitude seeking to cover their own backs at all times. Bureaucratic impersonality creates an empty psychological space between subordinates and superiors that is filled with fantasies.

    Baum notes two especially common ones among subordinates, the "moral paragon" and the "superiority in competence and strength. It is noteworthy that, unlike the object relations approach, Baum reverts to a more orthodox view of emotion as the product of fantasy, rather than vice versa. Yet, like Hirschhorn, Baum views blame and credit as the vital currency in which organizational participants continuously trade. Blaming, victimization, and scapegoating not only are major ingredients of the emotional life of organizations, but derive from the nature of bureaucracy itself, rather than from maladministration.

    When wrongly accused, individuals frequently feel threats of annihilation out of proportion to the actual blame placed on them. The strong feelings of rage, anxiety, and fear generated by such events are evidence of regression to an earlier, more vulnerable age.

    Fineman and Gabriel offer numerous organizational stories illustrating how bureaucratic procedures frustrate the employees' need for clear lines of responsibility. In one story, a student accused of tampering with a superior's computer bursts into an almost inarticulate rage: "I left with awful feelings of frustration, angriness, uselessness, and betrayal" p.

    In another story, a young trainee reports how he was cajoled by a senior and respected manager to become an accomplice in the cover-up of a 50, blunder. Yet another employee, who confesses a serious computer mistake to his manager, is told,.

    Charles Shepherdson, Vital Signs: Nature, Culture, Psychoanalysis - PhilPapers

    Listen, you haven't made a mistake, but the system has. Whenever something is wrong you must come and tell me that the accounts system has screwed up. The system will lose prestige and value, whereas you have gained recognition because you spotted the error. You see, this company likes winners. Organizational hierarchies become highways along which blame travels: superiors blame subordinates for filling in the wrong forms or pulling the wrong levers; subordinates blame superiors for designing forms and levers wrongly or giving the wrong instructions.

    Apportioning blame can become a highly unpredictable business. Under these circumstances, people may learn the simple, but demoralizing lesson, that the best thing to do is simply to protect themselves. This author has noted how organizations, especially authoritarian ones, maintain a continuous level of anxiety through alarmist gossip and horror stories of sadism, injustice, and humiliation Gabriel, a, b, Several such stories were collected in a naval camp, where the vicious pranks of officers at the expense of recruits were lodged in organizational folklore, being further embellished by older conscripts, who used them to educate their younger colleagues to the iniquities of military life and keep them on their guard.

    If organizations harbor unseen dangers, potential victimization, unexpected responsibilities, and dangerous dormant regulations, anxiety warns the individual of such threats and offers a partial inoculation against injury when misfortune strikes. In summary, depth psychology views the display, channeling, unleashing, containment, control, and management of emotions as a set of core processes in organizations, which frequently account for the difference between success and failure. Feelings, emotions, and fantasies shape the world of work, rather than being mere by-products of work process.

    Of course, work processes generate distinct feelings, emotions, and fantasies, but these irrational phenomena become embedded in work processes, at times enhancing and at others inhibiting them. Many organizational emotions recreate instances from both the personal and collective past. Superior-subordinate relations, for example, may be charged with emotions, especially anxiety, envy, and guilt, first experienced within a parent-child relationship Gabriel, ; Krantz, ; Lapierre, ; relations across race boundaries may be burdened by intergenerationally transmitted emotions rooted in the experiences of slavery and racial exploitation D.

    Thomas, Organizations are complex mazes in which different emotions travel, mutate, and interact, as individuals trade in resources, information, and power, but above all, in credit and blame. Anxiety is a preeminent emotion resulting from the demands that bureaucratic settings induce, yet these same settings offer various defenses against anxiety, which sometimes protect individuals, yet, at other times, reinforce the very causes of individuals' discomfort.

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    For example, glamorous organizational images may reinforce individuals' sense of their own merit and perfection or even provide a partial consolation for their individual mortality, yet it may also generate feelings of powerlessness, dependence, and resentment Gabriel, ; Schwartz, , Some scholars continue to emphasize the dysfunctional consequences of fantasies and emotions for organizations, seeking to vindicate the primacy of the rational, task-oriented processes.

    The majority of depth psychologists, however, would view emotion itself as vital in breaking out of dysfunctional processes that inhibit performance and exacerbate anxieties and discontents. Organizational learning, far from being a dispassionate Socratic pursuit, is driven by some emotions and opposed by others.

    Learning is, therefore, no mere cognitive experience of gradual enlightenment but a frequently painful process of "unlearning" past defensive and dysfunctional postures and working against inner and institutional resistances. Fineman , , , an author who generally favors a social constructionist approach to the study of organizational emotion, is a sympathetic critic of psychodynamic theory at two levels.

    First, he observes that psychodynamic approaches, while paying lip service to the socialsituational dimension of emotion, tend to disregard it in practice, treating emotions and feelings as virtually interchangeable entities. We are a group drawn from the psychological professions.

    She is leading on CPA therapeutic outreach. She has worked with others to bring Climate Change to the attention of psychotherapy organisations. He co-founded his local group of Friends of the Earth in and is interested in the science and economics of climate change. Cycling is a particular passion. She is the founder with Andy Brown of the Carbon Conversations project and writes widely on climate change and psychology. Her most recent book is In Time for Tomorrow?

    Surefoot Her current writing is on the culture of uncare that drives disavowal of climate change. Her roots have been in psychoanalysis and Quaker influences have been key in continuing to try and face difficult truths.