The Interplay between Small Groups and the Large Group in a Group Analytic Training Situation
The author focuses on observed clinical material of interplay between the large group and small groups in a training situation. Cross border interplay have seldom been described: specific material from a large group setting is brought up in the context of another, the small group, or vice versa. These phenomena need to be conceptualized. The author makes use of Freud’s and Mario Erdheim’s concept of the antagonism between family and civilization, developing a conceptualization from Erdheim’s interpretation of adolescence as a dynamic factor of progress in civilization. The interplay between the small and large group is seen as a re-staging of the adolescent process. After applying this concept to the described material, the implications and consequences for group-analytic interpretation are discussed.
Key words: interplay between large and small group, cross border traffic, adolescence, deferred action, block training, restaging of adolescent conflict, interpretation of interplay, imago, decentration, relativization
The blocked training in group analysis, taking place twice a year for nine days in Altaussee, Austria involves an intended interplay between the large group and small groups. These two settings are completed by the non-analytic Altaussee setting, i.e., the sphere where all experi- ences take place that are gathered after the analytic group sessions in the Austrian mountain village. The 17 group analytic sessions in each of the various small groups are framed by eight large group sessions. The workshop both begins and ends with a large group session. This conception of a training situation leads to interesting interactions between the large group and the various small groups.
Take two examples: The workshop convenes the first evening with a large group. The next morning, in the first small group session, participants bring up how they felt in the large group, what was strange, how difficult it was for them to contribute to the large group. Or: A conflict erupts in the first session of a small group provoking strong emotions. In the follow-up large group a member brings up his difficulties with the conflict in the small group. What is happening here? How can we understand this interplay between two settings? What is the significance of this cross border traffic?
These observations include, for example, the phenomenon of osmotic permeability when topics such as loss, death and grief that were previously discussed in the large group have an impact on the small groups and are then worked through further, in the context of a small group. Sometimes, feedback in staff sessions conveys the impression that both large group and small groups of the workshop function as a whole, as a group body of its own one might say, where identical issues are worked through in synchrony. In reverse, it may also occur that issues from a small group are brought up in the large group by the participants concerned, where they are then worked through further with the instruments of the large group. Josef Shaked (1994; 1995) has presented material on how group atmosphere, regressive processes, even shared dreams can activate an interplay between the large group and small groups. And also, how powerful images or symbols migrate from a small group to the large group and vice versa. The same applies to conflicts. Disputes in the small group may be continued in the large group and vice versa. From time to time, I could even observe a kind of ping-pong effect, when a conflict from a small group was immediately transferred to the large group, where new shades and aspects were added to it. The large group experience was then taken up in the subsequent small group session where it was dealt with and turned into a new experience.
Even a process of interplay in the course of the workshop can be observed (Shaked 1994; 1995): In the beginning the archaic processes in the large group with its primitive affects and defence mechanisms seem to trigger more mature defence mechanisms and behaviour in the small groups. Then, during the first days, the archaic processes in the large group begins to set the pace for more regression, first in the large group, then in the small groups. In reverse, the growing intimacy and reduction of fear in the small groups starts to have its effect on the large group, which also becomes more intimate.
In this article I want to concentrate on interplay material that could be understood as ‘cross-border traffic’, i.e. specific interactions from one setting to the other. I maintain that these phenomena are of great importance. They have not yet been sufficiently described. (For inter- esting material on interplay between large and small groups in the virtual world see (Rippa et al., 2011). Above all, they need new con- ceptualizing. This is why they could neither be classified from a group analytic point of view nor be used for interpreting group pro- cesses. Since there is no preliminary work available that deals with this specific question, this venture can only be a first cautious attempt to do justice to the described phenomena.
My clinical material is based on seven workshops in which I participated either as an observer in the large group and one small group, or as a co-conductor in the small group and an observer in the large group.
After suggesting a conceptualization of these ‘cross-border traffic’ phenomena, which is based on psychosocial theories developed by Mario Erdheim and its application to the observed material, the con- sequences for the technique of group analytic interpretation will be discussed.
Conceptualization of the Interplay
Visualizing a group analytic training on Foulkesean terms, we see in each setting, large group, small group and the Altaussee setting on a vertical level all three matrices at work: foundation matrix, dynamic matrix and individual matrix (Behr et al., 1985; Roberts, 1982). These matrices pervade all specific settings of the block training situ- ation. For a graphic illustration see (Foulkes, 1990: 261) and Nitzgen’s keen analysis of this illustration (Nitzgen, 2008a). The importance of the holistic concept of Foulkes has been recently emphasized by Nitzgen (2008b; 2009; 2010), deriving it from influences of Goldstein on Foulkes and also by Roseneil’s careful reassessment of the early Foulkes (Roseneil, 2013). The primary interest of this article however is the analysis of the horizontal processes.
For the conceptualization of the observed interplay between large and small group I want to refer primarily to Mario Erdheim’s ground- breaking ethno-psychoanalytic study unfortunately not yet translated into English: Die gesellschaftliche Produktion von Unbewußtheit. Eine Einführung in den ethnopsychoanalytischen Prozess (The Societal Production of Unconsciousness. An Introduction to the Ethnopsychoanalytical Process) (1982). Erdheim raises the issue of the interrelationship between cultural evolution and societal production of unconsciousness.
His chief concern is not a matter of the individual unconscious, but of the production of unconsciousness that is made supra-individually in collectives.
The process of cultural change has so far been seen under the aspects of the rising complexity of cognitive structures and its evolution, focusing on the evolution of consciousness. Erdheim, however, raises the question as to the significance of the unconscious for cultural evolution.
He analyses the process of social production of unconsciousness under the aspects of power and authority and attributes to adolescence a central role in the social process of cultural change. In carv- ing out the pivotal role of adolescence in this process, Erdheim gains specific and unique profile in comparison to the group analytic dis- cussion of the social unconscious (Hopper, 2001; 2006; 2007a; 2007b; Dalal, 2001; Weinberg, 2007; Roth et al., 2011).
I will focus on his observations on adolescence. Erdheim sees the crisis of adolescence as ‘the life-historical expression’ of the antago- nistic relation between family and culture. The basic idea of the antagonism between the family unit and its surrounding culture was developed by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents (Freud, 1930a: 102; see also: Freud, 1909: 237). In his analysis of the relation between adolescence and cultural change, Erdheim concludes that adolescence is one of the requirements and a decisive factor for man- kind shaping history, not only for passing on traditional institutions, but also for changing them. His observations are based on a specifi- cally dynamic concept of culture, which is devolved from Freud. According to Erdheim, adolescence has a specific potential for bring- ing about cultural change (1982: XV).
This is based on Freud’s observation on the diphasic onset of psy- chosexual development. Erdheim explains this process:
The first surge of drives, which ends with the Oedipal phase, results in the assimilation to the stable and conservative family structure; the second one, begins during puberty, results in the adaptation to the dynamic and expansive cultural structure. The former is mainly about the acquirement of predetermined circumstances. In the second assimilation process, however, innovative factors come to the fore. (Erdheim, 1982: 277). Erdheim states that the surge of drives breaking through during puberty loosens the psychological structures that were previously established within the family, thereby creating the framework for a restructuring of one’s personality. This restructuring allows the individual to begin new experiences that go beyond the family setting. It is now possible to revise the solutions for the Oedipal conflict that were found during the latence period. By breaking up the psychological structures acquired within the family in early childhood, the individual is able to develop new forms of assimilation and culture that can no longer be attributed to the family.
Foulkes did realize this connection when he answered, during a seminar in Switzerland, the allegation of a young Bostonian analyst, who maintained that group analysis is fake, because it has no regression:
You’re right, but we do have transferences, we do go back in history as we relive our lives without recalling it . . . Let’s look at therapy as a forward-looking instrument . . . let’s take the adolescent. He really has a group of peers that pull him away from the resurgence of the Oedipal conflict and into the real world . . . releasing him from the bondage with his parents. (Ormont, 1999; 2008; Power; 2013)
Under the pressure of the antagonism between family and culture, Erdheim maintains, the individual is supposed to develop abilities of cultural and social adaptation. This antagonism is dialectical and ultimately not to be resolved: even after adolescence, it remains conflict-ridden, except that it takes on different forms. This leads to what Eissler had formulated as the ‘second chance’ of adolescence:
Adolescence appears to afford the individual a second chance; it is a kind of lease permitting revision of the solutions found during latency which had been formed in direct reaction to the Oedipal conflict. Some structure of the earlier personality seems to dissolve in the course of adolescence. Perhaps a comparison with a process of liquefaction is more appropriate. Regressive features are certain to appear, but I prefer to emphasize the release of forces that were bound in the structure and the ensuing reorganization through new identifications and the cathexis of new objects. (Eissler, 1958: 250)
Wolfgang Martin Roth:
Erdheim’s conceptualization of the antagonism between family and culture and of adolescence as a surge of decentration, shattering the ‘fixation’ within the family, opens up space for a new understanding of the group analytic ‘cross-border traffic’, i.e. the specific interaction between the large group and small groups.
My thesis is as follows:
The transference potential in a training block such as in Altaussee opens up space for an experience, which must be considered as a re-staging of adolescence. The interplay between the small groups and the large group reproduce the specific ‘cross-border traffic’, similar to the one between family and civilization in adolescence. The intended transgression of the small group by the large group ultimately simulates the transgression of the family by civilization. As a consequence, the participants are thrown back into a conflict very much akin to the adolescent process. Therefore, we are talking about a simulation of a primarily adolescent process: it is a re-staging of adolescence.
What are the arguments for this thesis?
By having the workshop begin and end with the large group, the small group is deliberately put into perspective. The intimacy of the small group is, right from the start, subjected to an irritation. From the very beginning, there is a surge of decentration, which emerges with the specific impact of the large group effect. At the same time, the afternoon off on Tuesday in the middle of the workshop provides opportunities for a more intensive ‘cross-border traffic’ in the Altaussee setting. The resulting effects that put into perspective the self-centred small groups correspond to the surge of adolescence. This creates space for a process of deferred action, which corresponds to the ‘second chance’ (Eissler, 1958) of adolescence. However, the space for experi- ence beyond the small group that is created by the large group also gives rise to a specific phenomenon, namely that of ‘cross-border traf- fic’ between the various settings. The large group eo ipso causes a pow- erful decentration of the small group. If we assume the small group to be family-like in its constitutive intimacy, the large group must be seen as an analogy to civilization. Thus, the setting reflects the dynamics of an adolescent surge because the large group sessions have the same effect as decentration surges. The ‘cross-border traffic’, i.e. the con- tinuous exchange between the large group and the small groups, cor- responds to the antagonism between family and culture. The resulting dynamics can be understood as a re-staging of adolescence. Through Erdheim’s conceptualization of the adolescent crisis as an initial surge in the conflict-laden antagonism between family and civilization, we are able to gain essential insights into the cross border traffic between the large group and the small groups. With that in mind, the interactions I focus on, seem like attempts to cope with this antagonism, which, according to Erdheim, remains dialectical, it cannot be resolved. The training setting in Altaussee allows for a specific dynamic in using the available framework to break up rigid structures, to loosen and sof- ten early childhood fixations in order to open up new space for experience.
Let us first take a look at the different settings:
By having a male and a female conductor, the small group offers transference potential to raise awareness of and to identify unconscious common relations and conflicts among the participants; it is thus comparable to the intimate family setting. In the process of regression, family-like patterns of conflict constitute the group’s setting. Conflicts among the participants have the characteristics of sibling rivalry and peer confrontation, and parental patterns of transference are repeatedly redirected towards the conductors. Thus, a specific, almost family-like intimacy develops.
The situation in the large group is entirely different: It evokes specific feelings of being powerless and feelings of helplessness. The dynamics of the large group as overpowering and threatening scenery with strong regressive effects and mobilization of early fears gives rise to massive insecurities in experiencing archaic destructiveness. (In the period I observed, the large group was led solely by one male conductor.) The large group offers insights into archaic object relations conflicts. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to encounter the unfamiliar, it is a chance to gain something new through civilization that the family was unable to provide. With its two conductors, male and female, we perceive the small group as a reflection of the family model. Things are entirely differ- ent where the conductor of the large group is concerned. Josef Shaked, who, in accordance with his concept, has been conducting the large group solely by himself for more than 30 years, is perceived differently by the participants of the large group: they see him as both a caring mother and a protective father, androgynous, maybe even genderless, more like the totem of a clan or a monotheistic god. This is also one of the factors that result in a movement away from the family and towards civilization.
And last but not least, there is the Altaussee setting: the village alone is love at first—and second—sight, nestled on the shores of the lake between the mountain peaks Loser and Trisselwand, the white Dachstein glacier looming in the distance. By the way, the village has a problematic cultural matrix, as it has a history not worked through of being a stronghold in the alpine redoubt, where a group of almost 100 high ranking SS architects of the Holocaust were hiding away in the last months of the war, including Adolf Eichmann and Ernst Kaltenbrunner and where more than 5000 stolen works of art were secured in the Altaussee salt mine in preparation for a planned ‘Führermuseum’. The Altaussee setting provides different arenas: cafés and traditional restaurants where the participants can spend time together at lunch or in the evenings, the lake with its circular route, the afternoon off on Tuesday and the disco on Tuesday night, which is organized by the participants themselves. The Altaussee setting should be considered as a ‘real life’ practice field for acting out inner processes and group experiences, since it is a space where par- ticipants of different small groups can get in touch and meet one another outside the analytic group processes.
Belonging to a setting constitutes a specific identity. The borders in each setting are a somewhat determining force and have a powerful influence. Several questions arise: Where do I belong? Who am I? This, of course, also brings up the problem of ‘cross-border traffic’ with other groups. Can something from the current setting be taken along into another one? As we can easily understand, this is primarily a one-way difficulty as bringing up material from the large group in a small group is never a risk of violating an intimacy or revealing a secret. If an individual is bound more strongly to the family context, will she cling to the small group? Will she only sit with her small group in the restaurant when they go out in the evenings in the Altaussee setting? This is exactly the crucial problem of adolescence. For one question arises anew in this phase of psychosexual develo ment: Where do I belong? The existence of the large group and the other small groups in the training situation, make it possible to learn about events in other small groups and also about their conductors and their style of conducting. As a result, a continuous process of decentration is maintained. The challenge of adolescence also includes the task of learning to speak outside the family idiom. Can one also speak up and act one’s part in peer groups? Cohesive families strictly abide by their rules, thereby trying to impede or forestall this process of decentration. This especially applies to severely disturbed families. Anyone who works with heavily traumatized adolescents—as I do— will observe time and time again how difficult it is for them to seize the opportunity for emancipatory experiences. It is as if their detri- mental environment put them in specific chains not to be broken—not even by seeking new ones and ending up in prison. By entering the larger setting, one learns that there are also other standards. However, crossing into the larger social context can only be achieved by those who are capable of developing a decentred identity. In the Altaussee training situation, this other setting corresponds to the large group and also to the Altaussee setting. It is a question of trying out one’s flexibility. Can one share what is happening at home in another setting or is that a betrayal? Being adamantly self-referential is fateful. For if one cannot be on the move into another setting, the experiences that one undergoes in the own family can only be perceived as a fate imposed forever. In such a case, there is no room for advancement, criticism or modification. What is so brilliant about the group analytic setting in Altaussee is that the mix of different interlaced settings (large group, small group, Altaussee setting) repeatedly questions the border and results in necessary ‘cross-border’ traffic. This oscillation results in a dialectics of liberation and obstruction, of holding on and release and this is continuously worked through. Simultaneously, the afternoon off on Tuesday provides an opportunity to try out this adolescent ‘cross-border traffic’. During the nine days of activities in Altaussee, one is constantly confronted with crossing the border. It is a matter of decentring the own ‘family’ and seizing the opportunity of emancipation while, at the same time, mastering the challenge of not losing oneself in the larger setting. Where, however, these boarders are rigid and one cannot risk the comparison with other families/small groups, one remains bound by the sense of tact, it will not be possible to talk about one’s parents and one cannot escape the borders of the family/small group. By beginning the workshop with the large group in Altaussee, which corresponds to civilization, the ‘family’ is relativized in advance. But there is more to it than that. Civilization develops in conflict with the strange and unknown. The large group’s focus on the unknown opens up a chance for the emergence of something new. As one might say, the Altaussee setting simulates processes of civilization, which in turn also results in a re-staging of the adolescent conflict.
Application to the Observed Material
With these points in mind, I will now try to interpret certain interactions between large and small group that I have observed. The ‘cross-border traffic’ between the various settings is not without risk, the large group is a dangerous place to be and the depth of fall into embarrassment is striking, especially when we consider the fact that the specific amplifying factor of the large group can massively intensify both pleasant and unpleasant affects.
In a large group, one of the female participants felt deeply hurt by a woman who had acquired a rather strong position. In the subsequent small group session, the participant told the group how hurt she was and that she no longer wanted to take part in the large group. The participants distanced themselves from the offending woman in the large group and declared their solidarity. One of the participants said that the offended participant had greatly enriched the large group with her strong communication skills and her powerful metaphorical language, and affirmed that she had contributed significantly to the large group. After this intervention of her small group she decided to stay in the large group.
We can observe a phenomenon of ‘cross-border’ traffic: the risk. Anyone who moves on into civilization can get hurt. The wounds inflicted in the large group or in the Altaussee setting can be healed in the small group.
Another participant of a large group would have liked to join in as a very emotional issue was discussed but he did not manage to do so. He talked about his inability to do so in the subsequent small group session, brought up again the previously discussed issue and, in the context of the small group, he was able to make his contribution to it.
The ‘cross-border traffic’ in the small group was used to make up for something he had missed out on in the large group because he had felt not at ease to speak up. The matters that could not be discussed outside the family setting in the civilization-like large group were then dealt with in the family context of the small group.
In a small group session, one of the participants was severely criticized because he apparently preferred to stay out of debates and merely acted as an observer or co-conductor. In the ensuing large group session, he complained about his small group. The large group took notice of him; the conductor and several other men in the large group gave him credit because they knew of his professional activities.
The conflict was taken up again in the next small group session. The participant, narcissistically strengthened by this experience in the large group, could now face the criticism and explained that his reserve in the small group resulted from the fact that he felt hurt by his father in his family of origin. We can see subsequent interactions between large and small group, in this case the small group had an influence on the large group and vice versa. I have referred to this interaction as ‘ping-pong effect’ at the beginning of this article. For the participant in question, the ‘cross-border traffic’ served to find allies for the difficulties ‘at home’ by voicing a complaint on the out- side. Since the other small group participants had witnessed this process in the large group, we can maintain this: the experience made in civilization could shed new light on the family conflict. The large group brought about a decentration of the small group experience and a subsequent reintegration into the events in the small group.
In a Wednesday large group session, a woman related what she had experienced in the Aussee setting on the afternoon off on Tuesday. She reported that she had very warm and open encounter with a man, who, the morning after, when they met briefly in the intermission, had not noticed her. He had been standing with another woman and ignored her. Disappointments and wounds inflicted in the Altaussee setting, which does not dispose of an analytic framework to work through its experiences, can be discussed in the large group. The man in question did not reveal himself in the large group, some women in the large group took advantage of the incident and used it as an opportunity for man bashing. I witnessed a similar event once in the large group where the partner in question, however, revealed himself and spoke about his anxieties about being too close emotionally, which is why he had kept his distance.
Participants of a small group voiced complaints in the large group. Their group was far too big in comparison with the other small groups. According to them, the conductor of their small group had not taken good care of his group. The large group helped them break out of the family context, the weakness of the ‘parents’ became public; other small group conductors seemed to have taken better care. The ‘parents’ were being exposed. At the same time, the small group made use of this topic for staging itself in the large group; from then on, it had a strong presence in the large group, its protagonists were becoming more visible. The caustic remark of one of the participants of the large group was: ‘It’s great to see that the small group of Mr X is now also playing the lead in the large group.’ What has happened here? The ‘family’ emerged as a subgroup in the large group and was therefore still enjoying the shelter of the small group. Thus, it protected itself from the large group and cautiously explored cross- border interchanges. This crossing of the borders amongst others, has been a result of its criticizing, exposing and relativizing its conductor, bringing with it a touch of betrayal.
In the large group, a participant complained about the conductor of his small group, being too weak and that he had not been protected by him when under attack by the group. This can be described as a retivization of the father in the social context. De-idealization of par- ents is easier when done from a social point of view and has an emancipatory effect. However, in the following small group session, the participant resumed his earlier statement given in the large group: He told the group that he felt guilty and that he felt like having betrayed his conductor in front of the large group. Betrayal is a central problem of this kind of cross border traffic. To what extent is it possible to speak publicly about difficult family issues? Is the decentring experience strong enough to overcome inhibitions, to make it possible to talk about difficult experiences made within the family and to gain a new access to them, providing new chances to work them through? There exists an ambivalent loyalty of members of the small groups to their conductors and the reluctance to transmit their secrets and sacrifice the intimacy of the small group (Shaked, 1994; 1995).
An incident of high significance happened in a large group session. In a conflict where a man was under attack by three women, led by a woman from his own small group, he alluded to the information disclosed in the intimacy of the small group, that this woman had experienced abuse in childhood. The allusion was made in neutral fashion: ‘in consideration with your difficult history with men . . .’ The large group did not take it up, but of course all members of his small group knew, what he meant. In the small group immediately following, this woman, deeply hurt, felt betrayed by this man, felt that he used this information against her, and felt betrayed by the group and by the conductor. He should have warned them that information of the small group could be passed on to the large group. If she had known about this, she would have never shared her difficult experience in the small group. This caused a crisis of intimacy in the group, the woman was supported by all other members, a woman remarked, after this incident, that she would not give out any more personal information in this group. The man apologized. We can see here the one-way conflict at its peak: treason. The disclosure of ‘family secrets’, was especially painful, as it was used as a weapon.
In this case, the sheltering protection of the small group was undermined, its capacity to contain secrets was at large, the man had used his intimate knowledge, gained in the small group, as a weapon of defence in the large group.
These described interactions, which refer to cross boarder traffic between the three settings, demonstrate the central role of decentration in the interaction between the large group and the small groups and illustrate how the Aussee setting simulates the adolescent crisis.
It also becomes more comprehensible why the workshop is characterized by specific adolescent vibrations. The excited, buzzing atmophere, the rapid switching from falling in and out of love, the clumsiness when trying to get in touch accompanied by pubescent oversensitivity, even in the case of minor wounds: ‘She didn’t even let me take her from the restaurant to her hotel!’, the excitement about having Tuesday afternoon off and the walk around the lake as an adolescent theatre stage: Who is seen with whom? Going to the disco together and the ensuing adolescent euphoria followed by the descent into despair, and finally, the troubled landladies (acting as ‘parents’), who fear for the reputation of their bed-and-breakfast.
When graduates of different Swiss, German or Austrian training institutions in group analysis meet, talking about their time in training and share experiences, the non-Ausseers, by my observation, often feel like having missed out on some of the excitement, activities and thrill. If this observation is correct, and this may be left open, the reason probably is that the adolescent euphoric mood in the workshop with its excitements and collapses produces a special effect, thanks to the described interplay of the setting.
Consequences for the Conductor’s Group Analytic Interpretation
What are the consequences of these reflections for a group analytical technique of interpretation?
If it is true that, by means of Erdheim’s conceptualization we can now describe the interactions between the large group and the small groups as a re-staging of adolescence, this would also have significant consequences for the technique of interpretation. The central role of the ‘cross-border traffic’ must hence be of importance for interpretation processes in such an interlaced setting.
Foulkes was of the opinion that in group analysis eo ipso, a decentration of the conductor takes place because interpretational sovereignty does not lie with the conductor alone. He conceptualizes an interpretative culture, which is developed by the entire group, not only by the conductor (Foulkes, 1975; 1990: 293; Haubl, 1998; Nitzgen, 2001: 344). The conductor’s function in Foulkes’ concept is to encourage the group’s self-organization. (Haubl, 1998: 116).
Paying no attention to the phenomena described in this article bears the risk that, by concentrating solely on the process within the group, conductors are tempted to consider ‘their’ group as an Isle of the Blessed so that they, by doing so, become a victim of the family’s ideology and over-estimation—as if they had no part in the process of decentration. If a conductor focuses too much on the processes of his group, and does not notice those of the ‘cross-border traffic’ as well, he will not be able to interpret certain unconscious conflicts that have to do with ‘cross-border traffic’. However, it is just in these cross-border situations that significant processes take place. The interpretation of the relativization of one’s own group during the whole workshop process requires some kind of non-narcissistic depot, which unfortunately not every conductor can equally fall back upon. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is absolutely necessary to include the perspective of the adolescent process in the technique of interpretation, playing the cards of a ‘second chance’. If my theory is consistent, it would be necessary to focus in interpretation more on the processes of disengagement. Hence, it is about raising awareness of the decentration of the small group. That would be a task to be fulfilled by the large group. However, every decentration process implies detachment, and that is what is so difficult about it and may become a problem for a small groups’ conductor: for detachment is no one-sided process.
Erdheim (1988) introduced the concept of ‘imago’ to describe the decisive images of family and civilization, which influence the detachment process in adolescence. According to him, the imago of the family develops out of the mother representation and the imago of the culture out of the father representation. In Erdheim’s view, these imagines are ‘organizers of experience’, comparable to mother and father representations in childhood.
Erdheim adds another dimension to this conflict by stating that the process of detachment from the family is never ending and antagonistic, there is always the other side to it, back from civilization to family. We then must also speak of resistance in the opposite sense when someone is looking for the good things only outside the family and gets lost in civilization trends and tendencies without having any sort of family-like attachment.
The necessity to free oneself from family structures, from the ‘safety of the familiar’ (Erdheim, 1982: XV), and to turn to civilization during the adolescent crisis makes sense. But where in this antagonism lies the necessity to return to the family? Why is it neces- sary, if the departure into and the integration in the culture have been successful? What would we miss if we left our family or a family-like environment of intimacy behind forever?
This second dimension is complementary to the detachment process from family: returning from culture or civilization to the intimacy of one’s own family or family-like structure, to a microcosm of intimacy, which is no longer characterized by rigid borders. It is about finding a new place in familiar surroundings after having gone one’s way in the far realms of civilization. What is it like to return from the outside, from civilization, to a family context? Beautiful and with metallic precision poetry has found words for this experience.
Simplicity For Haydée Lange
The garden gate is opened as easily as a turned page questioned by a regular devotion and once inside, our gazes have no need to fix on objects that already exist completely in memory. I am familiar with the customs and the souls and that dialectic of allusions which any gathering of humans weaves. I need not speak nor claim false privileges; those who surround me here know me well, know well my afflictions and my weakness. That is to attain the highest thing,
what will perhaps be given us by Heaven: not veneration or victories, but simply to be accepted as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones and trees.
(Translation by Stephen Kessler (Jorge Luis Borges, 2000: 27)
Here, we find what the family can offer after a process of disengagement: an offer of comfort and safety which allows swinging back and forth. The family provides something that cannot be found in civilization, an established, special grown intimacy which is a given and where one has access to without having to put in societal perfor- mance. Something very important is taking place: Successes and defeats in civilization are put into perspective; they do not matter in this context.
It is this kind of relativization that is of interest, it is complementary to the decentration of the family in the antagonism between family and civilization. Beyond sociocultural processes exists another place that one has access and can return to. This describes an opposite route or a swinging from socialisation back to familiarization.
In some of his more recent works, Erdheim (1993; 2002) further developed his approach and attempted to describe the psychoanalytic process itself essentially from the viewpoint of the adolescent deferred action, by comparing the changes of significant structures in psychoanalysis to the change processes of adolescence. According to Erdheim, some kind of revival of the adolescent process happens in psychoanalysis. The loosening of early childhood fixations during the psychoanalytic process and the breaking up of frozen structures can be seen in analogy to thawing tendencies during the adolescent crisis. It is an opportunity that opens up thanks to deferred action and makes such a process possible. This, according to Erdheim, sheds a new light on the concept of neurosis: not only as an early stage fixation due to unresolved unconscious conflicts in early childhood but also as the result of a failure of the adolescent processes. During adolescence it was not possible to loosen up childhood fixations. Compulsive repetition corresponds to the frozen structures; it had not been possible to make use of the ‘second chance’ in adolescence to thaw frozen structures.
Summing up: Opportunities for transference in a setting as in Altaussee open up possibilities for experiences that can be understood as a re-staging of adolescence. The interplay between the large group and small groups represent cross-border situations similar to those of family and civilization. By simulating civilization, the participants are thrown back onto the adolescent conflict. Thus, it is about reproducing an adolescent process, about the re-staging of adolescence. As a consequence, processes of deferred action that correspond to the ‘second chance’ are made possible.
This conceptualization helps us to better understand interesting phenomena of interplay between the three settings, the large group and the small groups and the Altaussee setting.
The consequences for the technique of interpretation: The consideration of the central role of ‘cross-border traffic’ in such interplay should have an effect on interpretation techniques that reflects the dimension of the ‘second chance’. Moreover, the decentration of the small group and its conductors should not disappear from view.
A training situation also mirrors our hope for change. Is it not true that we search for the personal growth potential within us? Do we not strive for breaking up rigid, fixed structures in the hope that segments of adolescence may be revived? Following Erwin Panofsky (1960), who opened up a new perspective on the Italian Renaissance in art history by extending the isolated, apparently unique phenomenon of referring to antiquity in the Italian Renaissance to the constant reproduction of such recourses to antiquity at other times and who described this as ‘Renaissance and Renascences’, I would suggest to talk of adolescence and adolescences. An interesting remark by Winnicott points in the same direction:
. . . and if we are talking about adolescence we are talking about adults because no adults are all the time adult. This is because people are not just their own age, they are to some extent every age, or no age. (Winnicott, 1960; 1990: 137)
It is about the possibility of reviving adolescent processes initiated by dramatic experiences in life, which include analytic processes, when we succeed in making unconscious conflicts conscious. This makes it more comprehensible why participating in group analytic training has become a life changing experience for many participants. After all, that is exactly what we, who work in group analysis, wish for as a gratification of our own inner efforts and self-confrontations. We hope—which may not be entirely unfounded—that what Goethe had reserved for real genius—of course, he already knew—might eventually be said about us:
They experience a repeated adolescence, while others are young only once.
(Eckermann, 1999: 656)
For inspiration and encouraging advice I am deeply indebted to Rolf Haubl, Sigmund- Freud-Institut, Frankfurt/M.
I would like to thank Uta Wirtz (Cologne) and particularly Michael Norf (Bergisch Gladbach). They were kind enough to provide me with their Altaussee minutes from 1994 and 1995.
I suggest to translate ‘wiederholte Pubertät’ with ‘repeated adolescence’, and not with ‘renewed puberty’, as the translation below suggests. ‘Such men are natural geniuses whose case is peculiar; they experience a renewed puberty, whilst other people are young but once . . . Thence it comes that in men of superior endowments, even during their old age, we constantly perceive fresh epochs of singular productiveness; they seem constantly to grow young again for a time, and that is what I call a repeated puberty.’ (English translation: Conversations of Goethe (1906), transl. by John Oxenford, London: Bell and Sons).
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