Crypt in the church of Cordona hold the history of transgenerational trauma.

Transgenerational trauma: Decoding cryptonyms

Last month we began reading a special section of Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2012) entitled: Locating the Psychosocial – Using Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Lacan, and Relational Theory to Treat Transgenerational Trauma. This special section explicitly strives to “bridge the gap” between the clinical and academic “modes of thinking” while straddling analytic approaches to conceptualizing and treating psychic trauma. More specifically, treating the transmission of transgenerational trauma manifested as psychosis. So, with this new series of readings we extend our discussions of the psychosocial and how to think psychosocially about organizations and organizing.

Our first reading was Psychic Murder and the Asylum of Psychosis, which is Esther Rashkin’s re-reading of Mario’s case (see Faimberg, 2005) with a “psychosocial and intrafamilial” lens. She focuses on “unspoken languages”, highlighting the interplay between aliveness and deadness, and viewing enactments as a mode of communication. Rashkin is concerned with what is said and unsaid, concealed and revealed, visible and invisible.

Rashkin introduces a number of ideas that are ripe for use in the organizational context. For example:
  • Crypt - “permits the radical denial of traumatic loss by allowing its carrier or “cryptophore” to live a double life…” (p. 72)
  • Endocryptic identification – “A crypt or intrapsychic vault may form in the ego .. and house within it-buried but psychically alive-the deceased associated with the unspeakable drama… (p. 72)
  • Cryptophores – “may identify with the living dead in the crypt by way of endocryptic identification and live out…aspects of the trauma…” (p. 72)
  • Cryptonym – “word that hides…[that] resist understanding through their various linguistic transformations... but contain traces of specific traumas that can…be deciphered and read” (p. 73)

Read more…

Would you like to join us as we play with these ideas?

If so, please email: admin@surfacingtheorg.com

For more information about our group visit: surfacingtheorganization.com

The heart of darkness in leaders and organizations

The recent article by Seth Allcorn and Carrie M Duncan published in Psychohistory, “A Journey into the Heart of Darkness: Psychosocial Insights into Predatory Behavior”, explores the heart of darkness in leaders and organizations using Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, which was later remade in the movie Apocalypse Now. It does so by examining how ideologies, cultural norms, and social values can shape the personalities of emerging leaders, sometimes in dark ways, and amplify their effects on societies and organizations. In particular, leaders’ predatory personality features can result in destructive organizational dynamics, and increase costs related to workers’ emotional distress and organizational dysfunction. A psychosocial perspective contributes to understanding how harmful styles of leading emerge. The psychosocial view presented in this article “bears witness to sociopolitical and economic traumas generated by national and organizational cultures that allow, and may even value, the predatory behavior that disrupts work and traumatizes…organization members” (p. 255). The authors identify assessments of leader-follower relational dynamics as important for “understanding the unconscious emotional and psychological dynamics that become barriers to organizational effectiveness and change” (p. 254). In short, “by making the experience of ‘what it’s like to work (live) here’ available for reflection it becomes possible for organizational members to transcend the harm being done and rebuild a sense of community both inside and outside of the organization” (p. 255).

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Toward therapeutic politics

Elizabeth Young-Bruehl (2011) explores the history of theorizing a Marx-Freud (socialism-psychoanalysis) synthesis. Of particular interest is “socialist psychoanalysis”, its practical aim of healing “social-political trauma”, and how it has evolved since World War II. The eventual aim of the paper is to apply psychoanalytic insights to understand and prevent prejudice.

The article invites us to (re)consider the dualities inherent in psychoanalytic thinking: private and public, individual and social, self and other. In doing so, a psychoanalytic perspective is offered for thinking about the psychosocial consequences of trauma at multiple levels: individual, family, organization, and society.

The article, though not explicitly, also invites us to consider the organizational realm in terms of “allowing for adult dependency needs”, the dynamics of caring organizations, and the dynamics of leading and following (see Howell & Itzkowitz (2018) on the social origins of psychopathy). As such, it connects to current conversations about social (organizational) psychoanalysis as a “pragmatic theory” concerned with ameliorating social trauma.

Ultimately, the article is a call to a politically active psychoanalysis. One that recalls the early years of working with the poor, delivering care to the injured, and maintaining a vibrant presence in communities and society.

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Managing the symbiotic lure

The symbiotic lure permeates the practice of organizational management and change facilitation. It can also be observed by researchers when they cross the boundary of an organization and as they 'open up' the organization in the research process. Diamond (1988) uses the symbiotic lure as a metaphor for understanding psychological regression in organizations. It is a reaction to anxiety in which members of a group or organization “[deny] their individual differences and psychologically [merge] with each other”, often against an "other". Leaders, when enacting effective containment, play a key role in managing the symbiotic lure to prevent its potentially devastating consequences in organizations and society.

Subjectivity and desire in research

"Is an interpretation always, to some extent, an imposition of our own discursive or psychical attachments?"

The answer to this question, in part, lies in exploring the subjectivity of researchers/analysts and participants/analysands in the research encounter. In part, it lies in tracing what happens to psychoanalytic concepts in the research process. This is the project taken up by Claudia Lapping in her 2013 paper entitled "Which subject, whose desire? The constitution of subjectivity and the articulation of desire in the practice of research".

The article reminds us that our inner emotional experiences are always both a potential source of insight and a path towards imposing our own needs and desires on organizational members. Interpretation is sometimes the expression of our own, not others', desires. And, sometimes it is an attempt to hide the lack that we cannot bear to acknowledge. The research encounter inevitably evokes something about us. We may attribute these aspects of our experience to the other (through interpretation) when, in fact, they reveal something about our selves.