In the summer of 1987 I worked at Hogan & Hartson with Craig Dye and others in the Computer Applications Department. I had observed the workings of the group since early in the year. The group appeared to go through a serious regression in February at the time the supervisor, Sheryl Ferguson announced her plans to leave the firm (February 12, 1987). I told Craig about my observation that the group seemed like a heart muscle. The heart muscle does not contract itself in a coordinated fashion, rather, each cell sends out signals to every other cell that coordinates the contraction. I was describing by analogy the process that group theorists call homogenization or dedifferentiation. As people come together in a group they give up a portion of their autonomy and they adopt a group identity — their uncoordinated contractions, as it were, become systematic. I told Craig that the group members were each contracting on their own and that these individual contractions gave rise to the coordinated behavior of the group.
The passage of signals from cell to cell allows cardiac muscle tissue to contract very quickly in a wave-like pattern to effectively pump blood throughout the body. Cardiac muscle tissue is able to set its own contraction rhythm due to the presence of pacemaker cells that stimulate the other cardiac muscle cells. This passage of signals from cell to cell is analogous to the passage of messages from one group member to another through projective identification.
I was able to see that this was all going on at an unconscious level. I did not perceive that people were conspiring to think in a certain way or act in a certain way. Each individual was reacting to the pressures of group life and unconsciously coordinating his or her responses with every other group member, like cells in the heart muscle.
It was not until 1998 that I became familiar with Dr. Kernberg’s book about groups and organizations and his discussion of the theories of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion.
Based on my perceptions in a regressed group (a fight/flight basic assumptions group) I was able to form an intuitive grasp of processes that had been worked out by group theorists years earlier.
Note also my use of a metaphor to help me understand the group process, the way Freud used the amoeba to understand the narcissistic personality.
Why was I the only person in the group, to the best of my knowledge, who was able to see all this? As I said previously I think my understanding is based on a profound detachment from my environment and my ability to see these things like a spectator at a theatrical performance. The spectator sees things that the actors portraying characters do not.