Oscar Berg is a character in my book The Emerald Archive. He is a librarian employed by the New York Public Library. He is overwhelmed by a sense of alienation. Dr. Kernberg might see Oscar Berg’s sense of alienation as a healthy response to a disturbed group dynamic — “an adaptive warning signal to protect ego identity.”
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Kernberg’s book, Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations.
What does it say about me that I have severe problems in some groups? Do my problems reflect my own psychopathology or do these interpersonal problems say something about the severe regression of the groups I have been in?
Dr. Kernberg states: “Those who resist [the pressure to adopt the regressed group’s ideology] must be willing to pay the price of alienation and powerlessness within the mob in order to maintain their sense of identity.”
I am willing to pay that price.
Dr. Kernberg’s observation seems to be another way of saying the following:
“One of Bion’s most interesting concepts described the presence of a dilemma that faces all of us in relation to any group or social system. He hypothesized that each of us has a predisposition to be either more afraid of what he called “engulfment” in a group or”extrusion” from a group. This intrinsic facet of each of us joins with the circumstances in any particular setting to move us to behave in ways that act upon this dilemma. For example, those of us who fear engulfment more intensely may vie for highly differentiated roles in the group such as leader or gatekeeper or scout [or scapegoat]. Those of us who fear extrusion more intensely may opt for less visible roles such as participant, voter,”ordinary citizen”, etc. Bion’s idea was that each of us may react upon one or the other side of this dilemma depending on the context, but that the question is always with us of how to “hold” the self, or, put another way, how to assure our personal survival within the life of the collective.”
As I have said before I fear engulfment. I do not fear extrusion. As Dr. Kernberg would say, I am willing to pay the price of alienation and powerlessness within the group in order to maintain my sense of identity.
You can see how I would appear to be extremely narcissistic to a regressed group member. That appearance of extreme narcissism is actually an artifact of the group member’s submersion of his identity in the group identity or ideology.
Dr. Kernberg points out that group members may show envy of an individualist — envy of his thinking, individuality and rationality. I might point out: perhaps regressed group members envy the individualist because he has held onto what the regressed group member has given up as a price of admission to the group, namely, his thinking, his individuality and his rationality.
May we conclude that the affect underlying the aggression I experience in regressed groups is envy?