Emulate those you admire but look at yourself when you starting resenting others


I have often wondered about the impact of role models in my life whether it be the role played by my parents, siblings, teachers, friends or other significant others. I have benefited from the insightful work of Alfred Adler, and his ideas about the birth order, especially since I am from a large family.  My personal family constellations can be very dynamic when I have to interact with other people, which is usually every day. But I also speculate about the nature nurture aspect of personality such as whether I have predisposed genes to certain behaviours. However, that might be an issue for another day.

I benefit from acknowledging the feelings I get when I engage in group process.  Indeed, group-work affords the opportunity to reflect upon my own stuff in a way that can be very dynamic and potentially trans-formative.  It can be like walking down a hall of mirrors where I am seeing reflections of myself in each participant in the group. In group-work the key seems to be to reflect on experience while having experience rather than getting caught up in the emotion.

Wilfred Ruprecht Bion (1897-1979) is famous, certainly in the therapy world,  for his ideas on group processes, but he was also a major contributor on the treatment of psychosis and on thinking, as well as developing psychoanalytic theory on art and creativity. Bion is arguably the most original and the most intriguing psychoanalyst after Freud and Klein.

So, what does Bion say about groups? Essentially groups are set up to pursue sensible and realistic goals, what he calls the ‘work group’, but groups will inevitably descend into madness every now and then.  For Bion this is called the ‘basic assumption’ functioning and he theorised that there were three types of basic assumption functioning.

The three types of basic assumption functioning for Bion:

  • dependency there is a clear leader, who assumes a “parental” role but resentment at being dependent may eventually lead the group members to “take down” the leader, and then search for a new leader to repeat the process,
  • pairing two people, regardless the sex of either, carry out the work of the group through their continued interaction,
  • fight-flight the group behaves as though it has met to preserve itself at all costs; the shared unconscious assumption, often carried out through action. The leader for this group is the one who can mobilize the group for attack, or lead it in flight.

From my family constellations I have a tendency to fight for attention, to become the scapegoat and/or to resent power imbalances.  Meeting the first child in the birth order and the only child can be an interesting reflection for me.

What one projects in groups invariably has an external target, and the target usually responds and displays some degree of what they are being accused of (a process called projective identification). The projector is vindicated. However, there is an opportunity to notice this process in group-work, to become reflective and to take back the projection. Thus, learning to take responsibility for your own projections and take them back is the essence of successful psychotherapy and of the experiential learning that occurs in Bionian groups.

From a Kleinian perspective, one’s minds are always in one or the other of two positions: paranoid-schizoid functioning or depressive position. The paranoid-schizoid state entails extreme splits such as guilt, blaming, hating, scapegoating, paranoia and the tendency to aggression and fighting, whether verbal or physical. The depressive state involves accepting the middle ground where guilt is not punitive but reparative. Therefore, one is not in a manic state but is in a rather subdued, depressive state (not to say depressed). In this state miracles don’t happen but hard graft is one’s lot. You have to sit on your extreme feelings and live and let live.

The goal is to avoid the pit of paranoid-schizoid functioning and strive to remain as much as can be managed in the depressive position.

For me, group-work can be like walking down a hall of mirrors. As I mentioned earlier the key seems to be to be able to reflect on experience whilst having experience.  In other words rather than getting caught up in the emotion of whatever you are going through it is better to try and witness it.  Say, for instance, that you are being attacked in a group. It can be more useful to reflect that you are being attacked and try to uncover what is going on within yourself rather than developing feelings of hostility towards others in the group.

You might just learn more about yourself in one session that you do in a multitude of individual therapy sessions.   The Chinese have a proverb that says something like Emulate those you admire but look at yourself when you start resenting others. Perhaps there is some truth in this sentiment ……


Group-work in psychiatry
Different types of group therapies
Group processes
Group therapy for psychological trauma


4 thoughts on “Emulate those you admire but look at yourself when you starting resenting others

  1. What about Lewin?
    The study of groups in a psychological manner was first founded by Kurt Lewin (1943), which consisted of explaining the way small groups and individuals act and react to different circumstances; he called this group dynamics. Group dynamics is based on group processes that develop within a group that is not present in a random collection of individuals. The processes develop through the interactions and influences between individuals and the group. A group is a special circumstance that consists of two or more individuals who are connected through common goals and a shared identity. These individuals interact with, and have strong social attractions to, one another; therefore, developing certain processes which, in turn, affect the group and its members. It is important to look at group dynamics of all groups to understand group behaviors. Why are some groups capable of accomplishing positive goals (Habitat For Humanity) and other groups capable of accomplishing negative goals (Nazi’s)? Looking at the different processes that develop within a group, the group dynamics, could help one understand how and why it is possible that, in certain situations, groups can evolve to act and behave immorally.

  2. Life Stages of a Team
    When developing a team, it helps a great deal to have some basic sense of the stages that a typical team moves through when evolving into a high-performing team. Awareness of each stage helps leaders to understand the reasons for members’ behavior during that stage, and to guide members to behavior required to evolve the team into the next stage.

    1. Forming
    Members first get together during this stage. Individually, they are considering questions like, “What am I here for?”, “Who else is here?” and “Who am I comfortable with?” It is important for members to get involved with each other, including introducing themselves to each other. Clear and strong leadership is required from the team leader during this stage to ensure the group members feel the clarity and comfort required to evolve to the next stage.

    2. Storming
    During this stage, members are beginning to voice their individual differences, join with others who share the same beliefs, and jockey for position in the group. Therefore, it is important for members to continue to be highly involved with each other, including to voice any concerns in order to feel represented and understood. The team leader should help members to voice their views, and to achieve consensus (or commonality of views) about their purpose and priorities.

    3. Norming
    In this stage, members are beginning to share a common commitment to the purpose of the group, including to its overall goals and how each of the goals can be achieved. The team leader should focus on continuing to clarify the roles of each member, and a clear and workable structure and process for the group to achieve its goals.

    4. Performing
    In this stage, the team is working effectively and efficiently toward achieving its goals. During this stage, the style of leadership becomes more indirect as members take on stronger participation and involvement in the group process. Ideally, the style includes helping members to reflect on their experiences and to learn from them.

    5. Closing and Celebration
    At this stage, it is clear to members and their organization that the team has achieved its goals (or a major milestone along the way toward the goal). It is critical to acknowledge this point in the life of the team, lest members feel unfulfilled and skeptical about future team efforts.

  3. Schutz believed that we begin any group, whether or not we are the leader or one of the led, being concerned with thoughts and feelings about membership, belonging, acceptance, commitment, and physical and emotional comfort – what he termed Inclusion. In the case of people who apparently know each other well, as in a work team, these points are often taken for granted – they shouldn’t be! In meetings, they are usually nominally attended to by the introductions process – this is not enough. People need to be comfortable, be able to see everyone, and be quite clear what the meeting is about.

  4. Resolving the control issues satisfactorily is vital to the next stage – Affection.

    ‘Affection’, according to the Schutz model, describes the creative bonds which form between members, rather than whether people like each other or not. These bonds help the group to enter its most productive stage, and make it effective and enjoyable. This is when things get done, decisions made, plans evolved. The chairperson needs only to place light touches on the reins, keep things on track and watch the timekeeping. As in all groups, it is to be hoped that there will be contributions from all members.

    and then an ending stage

    and what about Yalom?


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