Dr. Kernberg and others propose that the paranoid fight-flight basic assumptions group will recruit as a leader an individual who is paranoid.  The paranoid leader will see or create threats and marshal the energies of the group to fight those threats, real or imagined.  In the basic assumption of fight-flight, the group behaves as though it has met to preserve itself at all costs, and that this can only be done by running away from someone or fighting someone or something. In fight, the group may be characterized by aggressiveness and hostility; in flight, the group may chit-chat, tell stories, arrive late or any other activities that serve to avoid addressing the task at hand. The leader for this sort of group is one who can mobilize the group for attack, or lead it in flight.

Dr. Kernberg and others propose that the dependency basic assumptions group will recruit as a leader an individual who is an infantile narcissist.  In dependency, the essential aim of the group is to attain security through, and have its members protected by, one individual. The basic assumption in this group culture seems to be that an external object exists whose function it is to provide security for the immature individual. The group members behave passively, and act as though the leader, by contrast, is omnipotent and omniscient. For example, the leader may pose a question only to be greeted with docile silence, as though he or she had not spoken at all. The leader may be idealized into a kind of god who can take care of his or her children, and some especially ambitious leaders may be susceptible to this role. 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.

Be that as it may.

In an autobiographical essay I wrote in October 1988, The Caliban Complex: An Attempt at Self-Analysis, I refer to the fact (in footnote 7) that my father served as union shop steward at the necktie factory where he was employed.  Was my father recruited to that position by fellow employees because of his paranoia and narcissism?  Was that employee group dominated by dependency and fight-flight basic assumptions?  (Interestingly, in that writing I associated to former President Nixon, an individual who was notoriously paranoid, an individual who had created an “enemies list.”) My reference to my father having both passive and aggressive tendencies may perhaps be translated to read that my father had both “dependent” and “paranoid” tendencies.

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7.  The period of early adolescence, which witnesses the re-emergence of the Oedipal struggle, concludes with a final identification with the father.  Full identification with the father allows the child to “let go” of his mother and to take the role of the father.  “In so doing, he also [has] to accept the need to go beyond his father’s abilities and capacities.”  Mazlish, B. In Search of Nixon: A Psychohistorical Inquiry, at 28 (Penguin Books: 1971).

It might be said of the subject that “going beyond his father’s abilities and capacities” has proved a difficult task.  Both mother and father, through word and action, fostered a highly ambivalent attitude toward passivity and aggressiveness.

[The use of the word “fostered” in this context might be an unintentional play on words suggestive of the “family romance” fantasy in which the child creates in fantasy a set of ideal parents and rejects his biological parents as lowly “foster” parents.]

The subject’s ambivalence toward masculinity/passivity issues reflects not simply an identification with the divergent values of each respective parent.  Perhaps of greater interest and significance is the fact that each parent exhibited ambivalent attitudes with respect to passivity and aggressiveness.  For example, the father, though possessing an above average intelligence (his IQ was measured at 125 in the army), worked as a cutter in the garment industry.  At the same time he was active in union affairs and served for a number of years as shop steward.  The father’s personality exhibited both passive and aggressive tendencies.  The subject appears to seek out roles and behaviors that enable him to vent simultaneously both active and passive needs.  Though qualified to practice law, the subject is employed as a paralegal.  At the same time it is vital to his masculinity needs that he excel at what he does–that he be “number one.”

[I had a recurring idea of reference at Akin Gump about coworkers’ references to “Little Debbie’s” snack foods.  The advertizer uses the phrase: “Little Debbie’s: The Number One Snack Food.”  I interpreted coworkers’ use of the phrase “Little Debbie’s” as a symbolic reference to the phrase “number one” in my autobiographical writing.]

In effect, his employment enables him to vent his need for dependence and passivity and independence and masculinity. He is fiercely competitive in whatever he does and is highly threatened by anyone he perceives as attempting to topple him from his position. His behaviors are essentially unconsciously-determined compromises aimed at placating parents with divergent values as between themselves, and also parents who as individuals exhibited ambivalent attitudes.

These observations  regarding the subject’s ambivalence are consistent with a possible instinctual conflict over oral and phallic drive wishes.  See footnote 11, paragraph 2.

[In a paper published in a 2001 issue of the journal Psychiatry, the nationally-prominent Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen proposes a personality profile of high-functioning persons with anorexia nervosa.  He includes the trait of competitiveness:

TABLE 1. SWAP-200a Items That Best Described Eating Disorder
Patients in the High-Functioning/Perfectionistic Personality

Is articulate; can express self well in words. 3.09


Tends to be conscientious and responsible. 3.05

Tends to be self-critical; sets unrealistically high standards
for self and is intolerant of own human defects. 2.61

Expects self to be “perfect” (e.g., in appearance,
achievements, performance, etc.). 2.53

Tends to elicit liking in others. 2.35

Tends to be preoccupied with food, diet, or eating. 2.32

Is empathic; is sensitive and responsive to other peoples’
needs and feelings. 2.29

Is able to use his/her talents, abilities, and energy
effectively and productively. 2.28

Has moral and ethical standards and strives to live up to
them. 2.13

Appreciates and responds to humor. 2.10

Enjoys challenges; takes pleasure in accomplishing things. 1.98

Tends to feel guilty. 1.98

Is psychologically insightful; is able to understand self and
others in subtle and sophisticated ways. 1.96

Has the capacity to recognize alternative viewpoints, even
in matters that stir up strong feelings. 1.87

Is capable of hearing information that is emotionally
threatening (i.e., that challenges cherished beliefs,
perceptions, and self-perceptions) and can use and
benefit from it. 1.86

Is creative; is able to see things or approach problems in
novel ways. 1.76

Tends to be energetic and outgoing. 1.69

Finds meaning in belonging and contributing to a larger
community (e.g., organization, church, neighborhood). 1.56

Tends to express affect appropriate in quality and intensity
to the situation at hand. 1.55

Tends to be competitive with others (whether consciously
or unconsciously). 1.54

Is able to assert him/herself effectively and appropriately
when necessary. 1.52

Tends to be anxious. 1.48

is able to find meaning and fulfillment in guiding,
mentoring, or nurturing others. 1.46

Is capable of sustaining a meaningful love relationship
characterized by genuine intimacy and caring. 1.44]


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