Author: Michelle May

Abstract: The purpose of this chapter is to contribute to existing knowledge about shame, through using the systems psychodynamic perspective. Firstly I explore the definition of shame, by building on ideas that illustrate the unconscious dynamics of shame in the context of culture. Then follows an overview of systems psychodynamics, which has its theoretical underpinnings in psycho-analytic thinking based on the work of Freud, Klein’s object relations theory, Bion’s work on groups, Jaques’s and Menzies Lyth’s work on organizations as social defences and envious attacks, and open systems theory. A case study is presented to illustrate how systems psychodynamics can contribute to our understanding of shame dynamics operating at the intersection of culture and race (In this chapter race is used in accordance with the South African construction of groups based on their skin color using apartheid and post-apartheid values), and how this enhanced understanding can impact the work of practitioners.

zz Shame! A System Psychodynamic

Klein’s understanding of the relationship between the (m)other and the infant has been applied to the relationship between the individual. and groups (see Fig. 2.1), as well as between groups in the organization (Powell Pruitt and Barber 2004). These unconscious pairings between the self and its objects in the inner world affect daily functioning in three ways:

• Unconscious projection of the inner world onto external reality;
• Unconscious choice of relationships that repeat the inner dramas (transference
and countertransference); and
• Through projective identification (Stadter 2011)

Klein’s ideas were later applied to adult behavior in organizations by Jaques, Menzies Lyth, Miller and Rice. Jaques and Menzies Lyth built on the work of Klein, in particular the ideas of primitive anxieties and the defense mechanism mobilized in the paranoid-schizoid and depressive position, to develop social systems as a defense against persecutory and depressive anxiety (Long 2004). The underlying assumption is that anxiety is specific to, and rises from, the nature of the work and from one’s interpersonal relationships linked to one’s position in the organisation (Jaques 1990; Menzies Lyth 1960, 1990). Individuals in organisations defend against the anxiety-provoking content and the difficulties of collaborating to accomplish a common task, by organising and using the structure of the organisation in the service of defence-related and not work-related functioning (Amado 1995; Jaques 1990; Menzies Lyth 1990). Thus, the organization is being used by its stakeholders as an anxiety-holding system, and to prevent people from experiencing the anxieties generated by their work and interpersonal relationships (Long 2004). Thus, social systems as a defence against anxiety explicate the dynamics of a particular organisation by exploring the parallel between individual defences and the social defences used by individuals and groups in a social system. Of critical importance is that the use of projective and introjective processes alleviates persecutory (the other experienced as bad) and depressive (the other experienced as both good and bad) anxiety experienced within care-giving or dependency-oriented organisations (Jaques 1990; Menzies Lyth 1990; Powell Pruitt and Barber 2004; Young 1995). In other words, members of social systems employ social defences, separate from conscious behaviour, to deal with work and interpersonal relationships that may be psychologically demanding (Mnguni 2012; Powell Pruitt and Barber 2004; Young 1995).

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