Home Psychology The World within the group
Sheila (early thirties), who had missed her group the week previously, sat quietly attending to others. Meanwhile, Andrea (late thirties) abruptly stopped talking, announcing that she had said too much and was afraid the group was fed up with her. Sheila retorted that she felt a similar fear and that for her it was important not to take up group time. As others commented on Sheila's previous absence she looked surprised. She could not see that she was missed, believing that others would have been relieved by her absence because they would have had a respite from her. Discussion ensued, focusing on the difficulty of bringing needs to the group and how to deal with the fear that these might overwhelm others or be met with a non-receptive or hostile response.
I said to Sheila that the idea that she was noticed, let alone valued by the group, seemed unacceptable and that she could not allow herself to think it. She looked dumbfounded and restated her belief that, "I don't think that people would ever miss me—I've always expected other people not to like me."
Later in the same group session, resonating to similar themes of non-acceptance, Andrea said she felt like an uncomfortable child and that often, on first waking, she had a strange, twilight dream from which she needed time to "come around". In the twilight she felt like an awkward schoolgirl and had to consciously remind herself she was a grown woman, as well as parent, in order to face the day.
Sheila and Andrea: organising world views?
Sheila and Andrea lived within narrow horizons; there was something frozen about their respective developments. I had seen Sheila and Andrea in extended consultations before recommending group analysis, that recommendation being based on a conviction that they needed considerable time and experience with others if new development were to take place. Sheila lacked a sense of temporality, as if she had "just arrived", disconnected from her history. Andrea, on the other hand, had a conscious terror of being unable to develop, of being permanently "stuck"; these are, of course, my metaphors to translate troubled mental states. Sheila and Andrea were struggling, I would suggest, with the consequences of limiting internal horizons, unknown yet organising principles of psychic organisation. One of the consequences of living within narrow, over-near horizons, is that people cannot see where they are and populateit with more diverse experiences. Neither of these two women could envisage herself as being significant (e.g., being missed by the group) or as capable of being enjoyed by others. Each had a poor sense of personal agency. The group responded to these psychic constellations as they became familiar with them; as a whole, the group was only able to know and challenge its membership through the acquired confidence of progressive communication. In this way, the expanding horizon of the group is a precondition for the expanding horizon of individual members, and by the same token the work of individual members changes the scope of the group, in a rich contest of figure-ground relations. Individuals shape group dialogue and are themselves shaped by it.
As we saw in Chapter One, intersubjective theory uses the notion of non-conscious organising principles which, in the examples of Sheila and Andrea, governed and limited their view of themselves, their capabilities, expectations, or horizons. Organising principles are pre-reflective and can be thought about as akin to "emotional conclusions" which have consolidated in response to earlier, intersubjective contexts of being (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992). Such principles come to thematise a person's existence, giving us an immediate experiential sense of "how a person is".
I propose the term "population" as a useful way of describing the infinite, intimate ways in which inner horizons are filled. In the faculty psychology of the eighteenth century, minds were seen as "busy places", with individuals "crowded by thoughts", ideas could "throng", and so on (Pasanek, personal communication). We saw in Chapter One how Foulkes used the metaphor of "traffic" to characterise group life, and "population" seems equally apt to depict the way in which horizons encompass specific contents—be they emotional expectations, habitual reactions, evaluations, narratives, and so one. Narrow horizons are equivalent to a thin, underpopulated group matrix, where there is little room to move, whilst broad, flexible horizons are equivalent to a richly populated group matrix in all its diversity.
While it was not entirely clear at the time of the individual consultations—like all understanding, analytic understanding is a constant dialectic of before-and-after, part-and-whole—Sheila evoked a subtle, nonverbal sense of unimportance and invisibility (a self-effacing manner, an unemotional exterior). Andrea seemed anxiously suspended in time, looking as if she did not feel substantial (a frightened face, a discourse of grave hesitancy, graphically illustrated by the twilight state upon waking).
Let us further elaborate on their respective ways of organising experience and selfhood.
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