A Bridge Over Troubled Water: Conflicts and Reconciliation in Groups and Society

By: Gila Ofer
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This book is a compilation of papers by different authors, among them Vamik Volkan, Robi Friedman, John Schlapobersky, Haim Weinberg, and Michael Bucholz, with a foreword by Earl Hopper and an introduction by Gila Ofer, both editor and contributor. While most of the writers are group analysts, working in the tradition of Foulkes, several others come from different though complementary perspectives, enriching the theoretical basis of the research. So, there are perspectives, inter alia, from Bion and Cortesao. The writers represent different countries and cultures, focusing on problems that are endemic to their own localities that yet have a wider and deeper resonance. We are introduced to conflict and division in Bedouin society, the Roma people living in Greece, citizens' reflective communities in Serbia, continuing territorial and ideological differences in Israel and the middle-east, and tensions of difference in the psychoanalytic community itself.The book throws light on some of society's most intractable problems, generating compassion and understanding in place of hatred and division. If we have mostly become wary of hope and optimism in an embattled world, the message that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible, and that there are practical steps to achieving this, rather than idle dreams, makes this an important book with relevance to all those trying to make sense of present times and finding their role as responsible citizens.

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Chapter One - Large-Group Trauma at the Hands of the “other”, Transgenerational Transmissions, and Chosen Traumas

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Vamik D. Volkan

Massive societal catastrophes can occur for any number of reasons, including natural or man-made disasters, political oppression, economic collapse, or death of a leader, but tragedies, brutalities, and deaths that result from the deliberate actions of other ethnic, national, religious, or ideological groups called “enemies,” must be differentiated from other types of massive shared trauma. This is because they involve severe large-group identity issues. When the “other” who possesses a different large-group identity than the victims humiliates and oppresses a large group, the victimized large-group's identity is threatened.

This chapter explores shared transgenerational transmission processes that are put in motion within the victimized large group following a massive trauma at the hands of the “other,” processes that nurture the development of “chosen traumas.” A chosen trauma refers to the shared mental representation of a traumatic historical event that is a significant large-group identity marker. Under certain circumstances political leaders may reactivate a chosen trauma through propaganda and hate speeches that inflame followers’ shared feelings about themselves and their enemy.

 

Chapter Two - Group Analysis on War and Peace

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John R. Schlapobersky

Introduction

This chapter applies the principles of group analysis to terror and the dynamics of hatred and polarization that give rise to it. Terrorism seeks to foster these dynamics, building its resources out of hatred. Group analysis is a clinical and theoretical discipline that locates the disturbance of social relations between the psyche and the social world (Brown & Zinkin, 1995). The discipline is used here to guide a survey that takes account of terror following 9/11 and relates this to threats and conflict in Israel during the period of the Second Intifada, 2000–2005. It examines contemporary culture within and outside the country, and four historical conflicts involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. It draws on group analytic sources to provide psychosocial foundations for the applied analysis of historical events to build a perspective on the generational transmission of trauma. This is investigated between the consulting room and the street, each of which serve this paper as emblems for the psyche and the social world.

 

Chapter Three - Forgiving and Non-Forgiving in Group Analysis

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Gila Ofer

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
House once stood.

(Amichai, 2013, p. 34)

Forgiveness is most important for the continuity of interpersonal relationships, and has an immense impact on the mental, and possibly on the physical, health (Thoresen et al., 2000) of both the victim and the perpetrator, on their creativity, vitality, and other aspects of their life (McCullough & Witvliet, 2002; McCullough et al., 2000). However, the process of forgiving might be difficult to accomplish and, thus, there is an ambivalent attitude towards it. There are two stages in the process of forgiving: the first is reparation and self-reflection; the second is an interpersonal, intersubjective relational process. The structure and culture of group analysis provides a space in which witnessing and vicarious forgiveness contribute to this process.

 

Chapter Four - Conciliation and Comfort: Group Work with Bedouin Grandmothers

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Smadar Ben-Asher and Wisam Maree

Introduction

Facilitated group work, as opposed to a social discourse that naturally takes place in an encounter between people who share a common background or interest, is accepted and widespread in the West. The ability of a group to contribute to its members has been described in numerous studies (Whitaker, 1985; Yalom & Leszcz, 2005) in the context of providing an experience of shared concerns, social support, expressing anger, sorrow, loss, frustration, failure, a shared yearning for solutions, personal growth, acknowledgment of inner strengths, comfort, and conciliation. Constituting, as it does, a branch of Western psychology, group work is virtually unknown in Arab society in general and Bedouin society in particular. Arab society, which is fundamentally collectivist, sees the individual as part of a family (hamoula = clan) without the individual foundations with which the individual comes to the therapy group that is familiar in the West. Consequently, building group work with older women, namely Bedouin grandmothers, most of whom are uneducated, is of particular interest and is the focus of the study described in this chapter.

 

Chapter Five - Dealing with Conflicts, Rage, Anger, and Aggression in Group Analysis

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Isaura Manso Neto and Mario David

Introduction

Rage, anger, and aggression are ubiquitous phenomena in human beings. Rage is one of the three biologically promoted forms of aggression. The others are predatory aggression and social dominance. They are somehow neurobiologically distinctive among them (Damásio, 1994, 1999; Panksepp, 1998; Siegel, 2005; Panksepp & Biven, 2012). Rage is the only one that seems to rely on a distinct emotional system that is dedicated to a primary-process form of aggression, being a primary-process capacity (Panksepp & Biven, 2012, p. 17). Rage systems exist in all mammalian brains. “Aggression is not always accompanied by anger, and anger does not necessarily lead to aggression, especially in mature humans who can control such base impulses. Aggression is a broader phenomenon than anger itself” (Panksepp, 1998, p. 187).

“Anger and aggression are secondary processes; they are some of the faces of rage” (Panksepp & Biven, 2012, p. 148).

 

Chapter Six - Conflicts and Social Transference in Groups

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Klimis Navridis

The psychoanalytical experience of groups, at its very core, is explosive. The group frequently brings psychoanalytical clinical thinking face to face with the complexity of social and cultural influences, which are easily set aside and “tamed” in the classic one-on-one setting of private practice. This happens because, de facto, the clinical space of freestanding private practice in its dualistic psychoanalytical configuration, in my opinion, operates with a relative lack of freedom. Things are placed beyond limits on the pretext of legitimate psychologization (Castel, 1973); many manifestations of social conflicts, cultural differences, and distinctiveness that could potentially, or actually, be conveyed by patients undergoing analysis are censored.

On the other hand, group clinical work is carried out in a variety of very different settings: from the protected milieu of the private practice to the very open community setting, encompassing the hospital or the broader institutional setting, schools, universities, as well as education or training in the context of psychoanalytic group psychotherapy and Societies for group analysis.

 

Chapter Seven - “Untouchable Infant Gangs” in Group and Social Matrices as Obstacles to Reconciliation

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Marina Mojović

I've built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock, I am an island. I touch no one and no one touches me.

(Paul Simon, 1965)

At the Untouchable International Conference (IIGA, 2013, Gonen, Golan Heights) the lecture “Untouchable ‘infant gangs’ in the group-analytic matrix” began with Simon and Garfunkel's song about coldness and withdrawal from love and friendship. Despite its content, it warmed people's hearts and many from the audience joined in the singing. Was the music slowly dissolving the untouchable, or were the memories of the Swinging Sixties’ pop–rock movement and its enthusiastic ganging activating the youthful spirit?

In search of the rhythms of safety for conflict reconciliation

When the phenomenon of “frozen hearts” or selves “turned into rocks and islands” caused by relational traumas is symbolized by artists through their songs or fairy tales, through dream-telling (Friedman, 2011) and dialogues in families, friendships, or in our analytic groups, which are in turn mentalized (Fonagy, 2001) into images, narratives, and melodies, as precursors of further change, indeed a bit of warming up may begin. Sensitive tuning in with the areas of the untouchable through fine pulsations in the relational field, while searching for the optimal distance from one moment to the other, might create a safe enough space for some resonance and sharing within these strange paradigms. The ultra-vulnerabilities are often so extreme that the “sparks of being” might fly away from contact due to the smallest errors in tone, timing, or internal desire to touch the untouchable—perhaps somewhat resembling beautiful migrating birds that meet at the Golan Heights near the conference venue to come together to keep warm in their habitat while they prepare for their far journeys. We can get in touch with their beauty if we approach them with appreciation and honesty, trying to attune to “rhythms of safety” (Tustin, 1986) and the natural fluxes of attraction and distancing, earning a bit of trust to take one step closer to the heart of the matter.

 

Chapter Eight - The Social Unconscious and Issues of Conflict and Reconciliation in Therapy

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Haim Weinberg

Definitions and questions

The social unconscious (Hopper, 2003; Hopper & Weinberg, 2011, 2016, 2017; Weinberg, 2007) refers to the existence of the restraints and constraints of social, cultural, and communication arrangements of which people are “unaware” to varying degrees. It includes anxieties, fantasies, myths, defenses, and object relations, as well as various aspects of socio-cultural–economic–political factors and forces, many of which are also co-constructed unconsciously by the members of particular groupings.

Many people understand this concept to mean that society has an unconscious. However, this interpretation is problematic, since society is not an organism, does not have a brain, and if we attribute some unconscious properties to the social system, it is unclear where it resides. Therefore, there are two ways to understand this concept. The first interpretation is to see the social unconscious as part of the individual unconscious. It can be understood as the internalization of social facts and norms, cultural aspects that we are unaware of, including the representation of social forces and power relations in our psyche (Dalal, 2001). In fact, when we look at the social unconscious this way, it is unclear whether we should separate the social unconscious from the individual unconscious, and, indeed, Knauss (2006, p. 163) claims that “There is no such thing as ‘the group unconscious’, the ‘social unconscious or a collective, cultural unconscious’. Instead, each individual's unconscious is groupal.”

 

Chapter Nine - Us and them: An Object Relations Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of Inter-Groups Conflicts

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Uri Levin

“Our current knowledge of human nature tells us that enemies are here to stay”

(Volkan, 1986, 190)

On June 19, 1954, two groups of eleven-year-old boys stepped down from buses to begin summer camp in the Sans Bois Mountains in Oklahoma. The new arrivals were normative middle-class boys, none of them with a history of behavioral problems at home or at school. They had nothing on their minds other than high expectations for a fun-filled, three-week summer vacation, filled with fishing, swimming, canoeing, and hiking.

Nothing, however, was exactly as it seemed. The camp was actually about to become an arena for a seminal field study of intergroup conflicts designed and led by Muzaref Sherif—a study that came to be known as the Robber's Cave experiment (Sherif et al., 1961).

Unbeknown to the boys, however, and with their parents’ agreement, the camp counselors and directors were replaced by social psychologists and research assistants. At first, none of the group members was aware of the fact that another group was sharing the campsite. During the first few days, as planned by Sherif, each group took part in activities designed to promote group cohesion, and develop leadership and norms. Group names were given—the Eagles and the Rattlers—and flags were designed and painted. Toward the end of the first week, the groups discovered each other's existence, and seeing the “other guys” using “our baseball field and hiking trails”, sparked demands for a competition. The staff was happy to arrange a four-day tournament, including baseball, a treasure hunt, and other events. A fancy trophy, shiny badges, and pocket-knives were promised to the winners. Both groups practiced hard, cheered their teammates, and booed and insulted the competition. Hostilities escalated as the tournament progressed, culminating in a flag burning when the Eagles lost the tug-of-war.

 

Chapter Ten - Enemies’ Love Story: Reconciliation in the Presence of Foes

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Hating and loving enemies in group analytic conflict dialogue

Robi Friedman

Introduction

How is it possible to talk to enemies? How do we move from talking to reconciliation? Is it possible at all? We know it is difficult to openly address the other in the face of the slightest personal differences: how do we achieve dialogue when the differences are vast?

This chapter is based on the unique behavior experienced during three sets of talks between professionals from the Palestinian Authority and Israel as part of ongoing, mixed Jewish–Arabic group-analytic dialogue groups.

Having been a participant or leader of several conflict dialogues, the real difficulty appears when the emotional involvement is intense: it is no surprise that when hate and existential fears emerge in deep relations, the entanglement is at its strongest. The two dialogues with Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority had the formal aim of professional exchange, together with a manifest wish to work towards reconciliation.

 

Chapter Eleven - Lines of Conflict in Psychoanalysis: Reconciliation in the Future?

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Michael B. Buchholz

Introduction

Psychoanalytic discourse is nourished by the optimistic idea that conflicts can, and should, be resolved. But it is not always ensured that this goal can, and should, be achieved in every case. Too many conflicts cannot be resolved; often they cannot even be formulated or avoided. So, we must make a distinction between conflicts that can be resolved and those we have to endure. To bear unbearable conflicts in psychoanalysis often means to grow. Here, the word “conflict” acquires the special meaning of an unavoidable stimulus for change, growth, solving a paradox or a puzzle; somebody who has not experienced this conflict or gone through it could be identified as lacking in development. So, “solving” is not the counter-word for “conflict”; it is growth. Growth potentially plays a very salient role in bearing unbearable conflicts. Thus, the task will be to answer the questions “What does growth mean?” “What kind of development are we thinking of here?” These are the questions I explore in this chapter, using examples from the history of psychoanalysis. The concept of growth has to be applied to psychoanalysis itself. I try to give an answer by distinguishing four levels of meaning within the concept of “growth”: I begin with growth meaning successive use of perspectives, then follow with growth having the meaning of complementary, then simultaneous, use of perspectives, and I conclude with how growth can mean the development of an “excentric position”. To say it clearly here: “excentric” does not mean “eccentricity” as a caricature of British lifestyle prototypically represented in figures such as, say, Lady Sitwell. “Excentric positionality” is a philosophical term, taken from the work of Hellmuth Plessner (1928), which is explained in the course of my contribution.

 

Chapter Twelve - Psychoanalytic Approaches to Conflict Resolution: The Limits of Intersubjective Engagement

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Shlomit Yadlin-Gadot

From its very beginnings, psychoanalysis has dealt with the issue of conflict between subject and other. Freud's sad legacy, as articulated in Civilization and its Discontents (Freud 1930a), was softened in Klein's translation of instinct into emotion and in her articulation of depressive capacities for concern and reparation. Winnicott and self psychology contested the innate status Freud granted to aggression, construing it as a reaction to failure in nurture. Thus, some optimism was instilled into the construal of the relations between subject and other.

Yet, as Benjamin argued, these attempts could not sustain hope for satisfying relations with an “other”, as long as that other is conceived as an object, defined in relation to the subject's needs. Citing infant research and emphasizing the ability to perceive the subjectivity of the other very early in life, Benjamin reoriented the conception of the psychic world: from the subject's relation to its object toward a subject meeting another subject as an autonomous center of experience and agency.

 

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