large groups

Some Psychodynamics of Large Groups (1)_removed

Dr. Kernberg states that individuals who maintain their identity in groups — who fail to homogenize, or assume a group identity — will be a target for group aggression.  He states that the affect underlying the attacks will be envy: envy of the target’s thinking, his individuality and his rationality.

A few years back I discussed this with one of my psychiatrists.  He offered some friendly advice, more or less saying, “Maybe when you’re with people you should try to tone it down.  Try a little  harder to blend in.”

I came across a fascinating article about group psychology by Thomas Main, M.D., a psychoanalyst who was a leading light in group theory and whose work was cited by Dr. Kernberg in his book on groups.   What the author (if you’ll pardon the expression) seems to say is that when  people (again, pardon the expression) assume a group identity they non-volitionally assume an unconscious mental state of homogenization and that the fact that a group member has assumed a group identity is communicated to other members of the group by way of subtle behaviors and subtle verbal cues.  For example, homogenized group members will use verbal cues denoting depersonalization, terms, such as, “some people,” or “the group” — or employ “safe generalizations” about issues and problems.


Dr. Main writes:

“A regular feature of disturbed large-group situations that have not proceeded to terrified silence is the loss of personalization of relations and the growth of anonymity. Nobody is recognized as a whole person or is addressed by name. Even people who may know each other quite well may address each other only as innominate members of a class, and speak in vague impersonal terms:

`Why doesn’t somebody say something?’
`Some people seem to enjoy making things awkward.’
`The group is a waste of time.’
`The administration doesn’t seem to be interested in people.’
`The nursing staff aren’t aware that some people prefer to be by themselves.’
‘I don’t agree with the last speaker.’

Personal identities are thus not recognized, the very identity of the speaker is veiled, and views are general and unspecific. Vivid personal views, feelings and experiences about actual others are denied, no individuals exist, only `people’ and only moral platitudes or intellectual generalizations remain.

In this anonymous climate individuals often hide behind the class they belong to:

`The medical staff are fairly sure that people are. . .
`Many patients have found that the. . .
‘The married people feel that bed-time should be…
`This is very confusing for the nursing staff.’


Somebody who has not homogenized and who will be vulnerable to attacks will have an exceedingly difficult time anticipating all the subtle verbal cues that will trigger a paranoid group.  When I started working at Akin Gump, how would I know that I was supposed to use works and phrases like “some people” or “the staff?”  People who homogenize, which is most people, have no idea how insane paranoid group life is.   When I was fired I was told there was “a lack of fit between me” and “staff.”  It’s hard for a non-regressed,  non-homogenized person to know how to fit.

It reminds me of the problems of espionage or undercover work.  The spy or FBI agent can accidentally use a word or phrase that tips people off that he’s a fake — that he’s really a spy.


In all probability, Dennis Race’s use of depersonalizing language at the termination meeting had legal and not psychological significance, but it’s at least a notable coincidence.

I sense that sensitivity to these issues of subtle cuing may work both ways.  An individualist who doesn’t homogenize is likewise probably alert that the other person has in fact homogenized and the individualist may be unconsciously wary.  Was Dennis Race, through his non-volitional use of depersonalizing cues, unintentionally communicating to me that he had assumed a paranoid mental state — and did I unconsciously pick up on that?

September 25, 1992
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Apartment 136
Washington, DC 20008

Mr. Donald M. Stocks
Government of the District
of Columbia
Department of Human Rights and
Minority Business Development
2000 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

RE: Docket No. 92-087-P(N)
Gary Freedman -v- Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld

Dear Mr. Stocks:

I respectfully offer additional facts in support of the contention that the termination of my employment by the Respondent in the above referenced matter was knowlingly wrongful and intentionally discriminatory.

On October 29, 1991, at the meeting at which Dennis Race advised me that I was being terminated, Mr. Race stated at various times during my employment certain employees (presumably supervisory employees) had placed statements in my personnel file, without my knowledge, detailing various infractions and instances of misconduct. He stated, “These are things you don’t know about.” Present at the meeting at that time were my supervisor, Christine Robertson, and the personnel administrator, Laurel Digweed.

However, not unlike Senator Joseph McCarthy and his elusive list of purported communists in the State Department, Mr. Race did not show me the referenced statements, and did not name the individuals who made the statements, or summarize the content of the statements. I do not know whether my personnel file, in fact, contains any such statements.

Mr. Race’s reference to possibly nonexistent evidence against me — secret charges by nameless accusers– is consistent with a course of conduct at the termination that was calculated to intimidate and enrage in an attempt to provoke an incident and ultimately elicit incriminating statements and/or behaviors. Once again, attempts to elicit incriminating evidence — after the decision to terminate had already been made — strongly indicate that the Respondent’s decision to terminate was groundless, knowlingly wrongful and malicious, and intentionally discriminatory. Mr. Race’s conduct suggests that he was engaged in an Orwellian effort to create a post hoc justification for an initially unjustified termination. And certainly, irrespective of any attempt to provoke, Mr. Race’s action of resorting to references to possibly nonexistent evidence against me is, in itself, highly suggestive that the decision to terminate was groundless, and knowingly so.

Further, one wonders how Mr. Race could have reviewed my personnel file without also stumbling across my job evaluations, including the one dated May 1991 that describes me as being “as close to the perfect employee as is possible to find.”

Thank you very much.


Gary Freedman