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2021, vol. 55, br. 2, str. 378-403
Problemi agresije kod autoritarnog vođstva u velikim grupama - psihoanalitički i grupnoanalitički pogled
Univerzitet u Beogradu, Fakultet političkih nauka, Odeljenje za socijalnu politiku i socijalni rad, Srbija
Ključne reči: velika grupa; vođa; grupna dinamika; grupni procesi; agresija
Čovek je biće grupe koje najveći deo svog življenja provede u grupama različitim po vođstvu, strukturi, vrsti i organizaciji. Ljudska jedinka se kreće u rasponu između suprotnih tendencija: pripasti grupi i biti "nevidljiv" u njoj ili biti vidljiv i postati vođa. U ovom radu, cilj je teoretsko istraživanje problema sociodinamike i psihodinamike agresije u velikim grupama, zavisno od vrste vođstva. Metode istraživanja su: psihoanalitička i grupnoanalitička metoda. Naši nalazi su: da je pojava agresije u velikim grupama neizbežna ali da se vrste i manifestacije agresije u velikim grupama u značajnoj meri razlikuju, zavisno od vrste vođstva velike grupe (demokratska ili autoritarna), grupne kohezije, uspostavljanja ili neuspostavljanja grupnog identiteta i selekcije članova grupe.

“… It is not about completely eliminating the human tendency towards aggression; it is enough to try to divert it to such an extent that it does not have to find its expression in war”.

Sigmund Freud (1933)


Groups and group processes that "flow" in different groups are like rivers that at one moment can be seen in their exuberant courses and then disappear and go deep under the surface. At that moment we ask the following question: Did we have a perceptual deception, because we can no longer see what we saw? We do not know what to trust – our senses or our reason. Rivers used to flow solely owing to their natural courses. With the development of human knowledge, experts have managed to redirect river courses into drainage channels for the purpose of "better" urban development. Analogously, group processes "flowing" in different types of groups are not easy to recognize, let alone direct and manage. The changes occurring in large groups produce consequences at least at two levels: in the world around us and in the world inside us, i.e. our internal world.

Group therapists believe that group processes last as long as the "life of one group", which represents the length from the formation to the end of the group. However, group processes can be passed on from one generation to another, which has been addressed by the authors dealing with psychological and sociological analysis of collective transgenerational traumas (Kellerman, 2000, p. 9). Group analysts have embarked on an "adventure" of researching pressures, suffering and conflicts occurring within every person, within the interactions established among group members. Every group has its "personality", the external manifestations of which change depending on the group type, dynamics of the relationships among group members and communication patterns within the group, as well as the attitude of the group leader towards the group as an assumed whole (Yalom, 2013).

Scholarly interest directed at researching the functioning dynamics of small, median and particularly large groups began "awakening" after two major world catastrophes that marked the 20th century: World War 1 and World War 2. Jacob Levy Moreno created psychodrama, sociodrama and sociometry after World War 1. In 1918, immediately after the end of the war, he was invited to resolve aggression problems in interpersonal relations in the refugee camp Mittendorf near Vienna that accommodated more than 10,000 refugees of different nationalities (Veljković, 2017, p. 96, according to Marienau, 1989, p. 23). He succeeded in his work with such a large group and in this camp he laid the foundations of his sociometry method (Veljković, 2014, p. 26).

Bion1, the leading British psychoanalyst and predecessor of group analysis, was a novice doctor at the end of World War 1. The war army unit fascinated him with its rules and functioning, and encouraged him to research large groups. In World War 2, he provided psychological help to young soldiers who developed war neurosis. Group work applied in the work with these traumatized soldiers, and oriented to the group as a whole, gave more effective results than the individual treatment that was the only one practiced in the past. An important thing observed by Bion was the influence of the manner of leading a group to the relations among group members. While working in therapy groups later on, Bion noticed that, with the authoritative leadership, group members develop very little mutual communication and that they are all oriented towards the leader and not towards one another. In contrast, in groups with a non-authoritative leadership type, intensive social and emotional interaction is developed among its members, while the orientation towards the leader is smaller and smaller with the passage of time (Bion, 1983, p. 18). Bion's theory became a "guide" in the practice of many therapeutic but also non-therapeutic forms of group work, including the work on conflict resolution.

In this theoretical presentation we have established several goals we would like to achieve. We will attempt to define the concept of a large group, as well as to determine the main characteristics and the tasks that should be achieved by the group. In the next segment of the paper we will explore Freud's psychoanalytic considerations of the problem of aggression in large groups. Then we will attempt to answer the question about the possibility of avoiding aggression in large groups or it is an inevitable phenomenon. In the end, we will present a group analytic view regarding the consideration of the problem of aggression in large groups. In the conclusion we will make efforts to integrate previous considerations.

Concept, main characteristics and tasks of a large group

Before proceeding to the consideration of aggression dynamics in large groups, we need to define clearly the concept of a large group.

Number of participants in a large group

The number of participants, i.e. the size of a group, is the main determinant that defines a large group and distinguishes it from small or median groups. The question posed by many theoreticians and practicians refers to the "critical" number indicating that it is a large group. Then there is also the practical question regarding the establishment of distinction between a small, median and large group. According to the majority of beliefs of group theoreticians and practicians, a small group usually consists of 7-12 members, and that number differs depending on the doctrine of the applied group modality. In group analysis, the number of members in a small group must not exceed eight (Foulkes and Anthony, 1984). A large therapy group usually has more than 20-25 members, but non-therapy large groups may include a hundred and more participants or even refer to huge social groups such as: ethnic, cultural and political groups (Volcan, 2001).

The number of members in a group changes not only the physical characteristics of that group, but the dynamics of relations within a group is significantly changed with the increase in its membership. The group with a large number of members cannot proceed face to face, as it commonly occurs in smaller groups, so members of very large groups cannot have eye contact and an overview of one another. In situations when we have no "overview", we do not experience "control over the situation"; such situation becomes threatening to most members of a large group and triggers anxiety (Turque, 1975, p. 88).

Physical and neurophysiological limitations of a large group experience

The reality of maintaining large groups also involves neurophysiological limitations of the human being in perceiving complete objects if there are many of them in the same space. In a large group, the consequence is that people can hardly determine which person a particular sound or laughter exactly comes from. The pieces of the mosaic consisting of the visual and the auditory cannot be connected into a unique whole, which results in the experiences of smaller or larger inconvenience due to the danger from the disintegration of the perceived reality. The following inevitable experience is the perception of a double threat: external (due to the perception disorder) and internal (due to the internal integrity disorder).

Psychological problems in the creation of a large group experience

In a large group, it is not easy for an individual to dare to speak, so that prolonged silence is one of the important characteristics of a large group, particularly at the beginning of its existence. Prolonged silence blocks the mind, creates the feeling of inconvenience and tension, inhibits activities and increases the subjective experience of endangerment. It is not rare in large groups, after silence, that some members make sudden assaults against an individual who is not conspicuous in any manner in this group. Such assaults are a set of individual defences of those member groups seeking a way of relieving their heightened anxiety and externalize it to a certain external target, perceived as an "easy target" by the group.

The unconscious "game" that takes place in a large group is called the "scapegoating phenomenon" in the terminology of group analytic therapy (Scheidlinger, 1985, p. 135). This concept is one of many "malign" phenomena encountered in group situations and described in the literature on group psychotherapy. Group situations in which this phenomenon most frequently occurs are characterized by large tensions among the group members, and often between the group as a whole and the group leader. The existing anxiety is often not perceived by either the leader or by group members. Then the whole group unconsciously chooses, most often according to the appearance and manifestations, the most outstanding member, who is often the most sensitive member of the group as well, thus being a good "receiver" for the projections of different feelings of the group members. That is when the situation of "all against one" arises, when that single member of the group cannot defend himself from the assault of the whole group and becomes the common target of aggression, or a "scapegoat". This phenomenon is explained by huge group regression occurring in situations of heightened anxiety and triggers primitive states of consciousness (Scheidlinger, 1985, p. 136), but this phenomenon unites the group in a malign manner. This is also an anthropological analogy with many primitive tribes practising the ritual sacrifice of animals or people from the community, which contributes to the sense of community and relieves the group from the inevitably existing anxiety. According to the theoreticians of the group, that member of a large group is actually a "projection basket" for undesirable feelings of the group members (Scheidlinger, 1985, p. 139). A "scapegoat" in a large group can be one person or a group of persons. Nevertheless, we should not forget the fact that in a large group like our global world, for example, a "scapegoat" may be a whole country, people or nation.

High ambivalence is another characteristic among members of a large group. It refers to the difficulty in choosing between two opposite needs existing among many group members. Those needs are: to stand out among members of a large group or stay safe in an anonymous shell. Each variant of the choice brings along potential dangers. The behaviour risk can be pronounced in the potential possibility that a group member who was outstanding by that time is assaulted by others. The risk of not standing out, of silence and not expressing one's own attitudes most often has the consequence of a bad perception of oneself, the feeling of false security, as well as the feeling of giving up one's own identity. The presence in a large group without taking active part in it simultaneously constitutes the renouncement of the responsibility of participating in decision-making of a large group. The person that is present in a large group, but does not express his/her opinion, will often pass the responsibility for the consequences of a decision made through a group discussion on to a group, thus "releasing" from guilt, as well as from the responsibility assumed by active participation in the group. "It is the fault of the group and not my fault" is a form of regressive behaviour that does not belong to adulthood, i.e. to a mature person.

Initial goals of working with a large group

Therefore, the initial goal of working with a large group is also the removal of group and individual regression. Whether regression will occur among members of a large group and to what extent depends on the personal profiles of group members, the needs of group members, but also the needs and intentions of the group leader, as well as the basic goal of the existence of such group. That is why we must always return to the question what the primary task of a large group is.

Primary task of a large group

It is of great importance for a group to determine and define its main goal at the very beginning, and that is its primary task. We should not forget that for setting a work goal of any work group is necessary for that group to manage to think and thus manage to function. No group is able to think at the very beginning of its existence. It takes time to develop a thought process in a large group. Small groups manage relatively quickly to establish the flow of thought because it is easier to realize that flow with a small number of members, while it is a much more complex process in large groups. An indispensable condition for any group to start thinking is to create an optimal level of group cohesion. The establishment of group cohesion is also a condition for creating and developing the feeling of group identity. If a group is unable to establish cohesion and common opinion, ambivalence will consequently appear2. An ambivalent group is unable to formulate clearly its work goal. In that situation, the group's work goal will inevitably be determined by the leader. The main task of a large group (i.e. how to think) largely depends on the leadership type in a large group. Depending on the established cohesion, a large group either succeeds or fails to establish the thought process. The group that succeeds in thinking has influence on its leader and then decisions are made by the whole group.

Patrick de Maré, one of the first theoreticians of a large group, thinks that the goal of the existence of large groups is to get social insight. Social insight assumes that in a group it is first necessary to find out something about ourselves and others. De Maré recommends the leadership of a large group based on the nondirective style and placing no emphasis on of the leader's authority because he thinks that it is the only way of establishing true communication among members of a large group and get social insight. De Maré believes that the capacity for change in a large group is enormous (De Maré, 2018). The importance of a large group is great in terms of capacities for change and understanding culture and the society. Creating and developing thinking capacities is the primary task of a large group which is truly possible to establish only on the basis of nondirective leadership, by gradual establishment of mutual relations among group members.

Freud's psychoanalytic considerations of the problem of aggression in large groups

Although in practice Freud did not work with groups but with individuals, his later works, written after World War 1, began emphasizing the importance of the social, societal and political context in which people live in constant interaction with those systems. Incited by the atrocities of World War 1 and tremendous amount of raw and uncontrolled aggression manifested in it, Freud started dealing more intensively with the analysis of group psychology and ego psychology of the people who belonged to major large social groups, i.e. different nations, at that time.

Identification of members of a large group with the leader

Freud describes the reciprocal identification of a large number of Austrians with the leader of the National Socialist movement, Adolf Hitler. Ordinary people who became members of this mass movement were promoted into the subjects of the "great" leader. By getting that special position, they became willing to follow the leader unconditionally. Most members of the movement had indefinite trust in the leader and were "spellbound" by the ideas he promoted. Freud believed that the "projection of ego – ideals" of the members such a large group in the leader had led to the release of their instinctive and instinctual energy, particularly that of aggressive nature. In the situation when such a large group becomes willing to do anything the leader wants, it is a "lethal weapon" in his hands. If the leader wants this large group to attack, destroy or kill, the group will do it feeling no guilt whatsoever. Reciprocal identification of a large group with such leadership enables its participants to have the sense of belonging to a privileged group of enormous power, while the projection of their responsibility in the leader gives his subjects the feeling of exhilaration and exciting freedom from moral prohibitions" (Freud, 1981, p. 43).

Freud's understanding of the reasons for the emergence of aggression in large groups

In the light of psychoanalytic research of psychology of large and small groups, it is important to quote Freud's opinion regarding the reasons for the emergence of aggression in group situations. Aggression, particularly in groups, emerges in those situations when groups are insufficiently structured, non-selected by their membership, insufficiently cohesive and with no clear identity. In that case, there are no clearly defined tasks of group members. Potentially possible consequences of such aggression that is mobilized among the members of these groups are serious, to put it mildly. Defence mechanisms functioning in the absence of a clearly defined structure of a large group are mostly of a narcissist3 and/or paranoid4 type, because in this manner the members of a large group "defend" themselves at the unconscious level from the feeling of their own endangerment. Freud emphasizes the significance of libidinal relationships between members of large groups and points out that the relation between group members is created by shared love and absolute loyalty to the leader, who is idealized by group members. The consequences of such idealization of the leader can be fatal for the group itself. That fatality first refers to the absence of the function of reason, which is a kind of psychological "blindness", not so much in smaller and median groups as in large groups. Being uncritical about the leader's faults, together with the excessive idealization, conceals a substantial doze of purely raw and unprocessed aggression that was originally intended for the leader himself. That is the aggression "lying" beneath the surface of overemphasized feeling of idealization and "worship" of the leader with which common people from the mass have no contact. It refers to the application of a specific mechanism of defence, splitting or separation5. Throughout the history of mankind there are familiar situations in which the same masses of people that glorified their leader as long as he satisfied their narcissist needs, at one moment, unstoppably, violently and uncontrollably "turned against" the same leader, transforming the former love for him into a completely opposite feeling of murderous hatred, i.e. destruction (Freud, 1933). The effect of the splitting mechanism is this very perception of the idealized leader "as God" at one moment and "as the devil" that should be destroyed at the next moment. In that context, Freud points out that truth is an intellectual ability of the masses most frequently deep under the intellectual ability of an individual as a member of those masses, but that ethical behaviour of the masses may also increase the moral level of an individual, and decrease it as well.

Group size and aggression control

Freud explores the difference in the forms of aggression manifestation and control depending on the group size, and he points out that the group size is inversely proportional to aggression control. The group size in a certain manner also determines the type of relations among group members, but also the relations between the group and the leader, which is substantially different in small, median and large groups. In small and median groups, we are able to tolerate our own ambivalence with the prevalence of "good" emotions, but also with insight into the existence of "bad" emotions. In large groups, "primitive" defence mechanisms6 function because group regression is much deeper than individual regression, as it is manifested first in large rather than in small and median groups. Long suffering from anxiety that is triggered by the stay in a large group leads to abrupt and uncontrollable outburst of emotions of some group members, and the same emotion is transferred in the form of an "electrical circuit" to the concentric circles of the group, from the periphery to the centre. With such emotional induction, aggression becomes the mass emotion of the group, which is particularly evident in mass outbursts of violence of large groups.

Appearance of fear in a large group

Fear is one of the basic human emotions stopping us from thinking rationally. Fear that is "bred" in a large group is also an important "tool" in the hands of the authoritarian group leader who, by manipulating fear, rules over group members. Moreover, in large and insufficiently structured groups, there is a serious threat to the personal identity of its members; people need to get approval of their existence from others because eagerness for social gratification is something that forms part of the social nature of the human being. In large groups, "normal" defence mechanisms are substituted by more primitive defence mechanisms that correspond to lower degrees of the psychological and/or psychosexual development of the human being. The feeling of losing oneself in a large group is analogous to the feeling of psychological isolation. Endless loneliness of "me" in isolation or its fusion with "us" is a dilemma that is resolved by an individual (Veljković, Đurić, 2003, p. 92).

Freud's understanding of large group morphology

Dealing with the morphology analysis of artificially created large groups, Freud especially emphasizes two artificial creations as state apparatus creations: church and army. Subsequently he adds the state apparatus itself to the completeness of its hierarchical model of functioning. The emphasis is on the fact that strict rules are applied in order to preserve these creations from disintegration, i.e. to prevent changes in their existing structure. Namely, every significant change brings the existing structure and organization into question (Freud, 1979). By assuming the identity of the group a person belongs to, there is a feeling of certain power, which is often gratified by external reality. When the leader loses or withdraws for any reason, the relations among the members of these groups disappear quite quickly, duo to the fact that no true relations were created among them at all. Then, as a rule, there are mutual hostile impulses manifested in open conflicts that did not appear before because they were protected by their affiliation to the leader, i.e. the fear from the consequences of such conflicts.

Is it possible to avoid aggression in large groups?

In an attempt to answer this question, we will quote Schopenhauer's story about the porcupine, in which he metaphorically described the need for optimal distance among people in order to avoid mutual aggression (Schopenhauer, 1850, according to Freud, 1933). When one porcupine is cold, it looks for other porcupines in order to move close to them to feel warmer. If would be easy if they did not have spines, but porcupines have long and sharp spines that may be dangerous and break the skin of another porcupine. When they move close to one another, porcupines virtually hurt one another. It is not good either, just like in the situation when they feel cold. That is why it is difficult for porcupines to find the proper distance: to be close, but without hurting one another. This is the story about the optimal distance – to be close to or with someone, but estimate the optimal distance in order not to hurt others or to be hurt.

Later on, ego psychology theoreticians, such as Kohut (Kohut, 2004) and Kernberg (Kernberg, 2004), speaking about today's personality disorders, emphasized that the main problem with persons with personality disorders was that in relations with other people they were not able to establish the optimal distance and thus avoid getting into this "agoraphobic-claustrophobic" dilemma7. That is why in large groups it is very important to establish the optimal distance, but also group norms and rules of behaviour; the leader's role of the group dynamics moderator is significant in it. The consequence of different styles of leadership and relations among members of a large group is the creation of qualitatively specific and substantially different dynamics in large groups.

An authoritarian and charismatic leader will not allow the large group to develop its main function, i.e. the function of thinking. That leader of a large group "thinks" for the whole group and when selecting the membership, he often opts for those members whose priority is not "to use their own mind". Confusing and unclear thoughts caused by the lack of the capacity for good cognitive information processing, either because of the affective nature blockade that obstructs cognition, cannot be properly articulated. In the groups with the authoritarian leadership, the member of the group who does think in the same way as the authoritarian leader will soon be labelled as an enemy. According to such relations in a large group, the reality principle established by the authoritarian leader is most often the only possible principle. Then reality in large groups is perceived in opposites – it either looks ideal, or bad and frightening. Large groups constitute the "representatives" of the society in which the rebellion against a certain model of authority is the main conflict. In fact, the basic conflict is always in ourselves.

Shedding light on the problem of hostility among people, Glover explains that hatred does not point only to aggressive tendencies, but is also used as protection from heightened internal anxiety. Frustration causes anxiety that disturbs someone's peace of mind, and when it reaches the breaking point, the person will behave like a timid animal that bites (Glover, 2001, p. 44). Practicians of large groups register that people in large groups behave by the same principle when anxiety reaches a high degree and when people no longer accept the leader who has somewhat betrayed them in reality or in their perception of reality.

Group analytic considerations of the problem of aggression in large groups

Group analysis (GA)8 is a method of group work that in its process of development initially derived from the classic psychoanalytic theory, but has been substantially modified with the passage of time, giving more and more significance to the problems of an individual caused by actual social and societal circumstances. As an integrative and interdisciplinary approach, GA "relies" on a number of psychotherapeutic traditions and psychological approaches such as system theory, developmental and social psychology. GA combines psychoanalytic and sociological insights into understanding of social and human relations. As a humanist, Foulkes, the founder of group analysis, had an authentic wish to use it for creating a kind of a "socio-psychological vaccine" against aggression in large groups, aggression of large groups and aggression in the world. In an attempt to find a solution to intergroup conflicts by applying the group analytic method, Foulkes succeeded on a large scale because nowadays GA is applied as a valid method of work in conflicts of the opposing sides, which is a frequent case in ethnic conflicts (Foulkes, 1984).

Foulkes's understanding of the group's consciousness level

Emphasizing multiple group dimensions, Foulkes indicates the existence of minimum four levels at which groups gradually "move" from the surface towards the core. The first levels refer to the manifested and visible aspects of a group, as well go "deeper", we encounter less and less conscious and more hidden aspects of a group. The last or "primordial" level refers to the deepest unconscious level or Jung's collective unconscious. A large group not only reflects what is happening "here and now", but it also takes us to the level that shows what is essentially taking place in large groups. From a large group we learn how to affect others, but also how helpless and powerless we can be. A large group helps in the differentiation of the roles and integration of both individual and group identities. These identities may include political, professional, religious, ethnic and other aspects. Participants of a large group are like "a gear on the bicycle chain" without which it cannot move. In their desire to become a part of that large group, people had to sacrifice one part of their own identity, i.e. individuality. Therefore, a large group always has regressive dynamics to a certain degree, because the collective unconscious always carries the weight of regressive phenomena (Foulkes, 1984, p. 151).

Moreover, in large groups there is always a tendency towards regressive withdrawal in terms of separation-individuation, i.e. choice between oneself and others. Confrontation with the leader of a large group as the one that establishes social norms and frameworks of public morality in the group constitutes the dominant feature of group experience. In large groups, this process of rebellion against the group leader contains in itself the need to eliminate and destroy the leader, while overcoming this conflict is the basis of forming social norms. In large groups, progress in group process does not occur either fast or easily because ambivalence towards the group leader contains a huge conflict potential, as well as the necessary submission to the "reality principle" that can be rather fragile in large groups, which refers to a quite frequent possibility of unrealistic group comprehension of reality. A large group in particular shows the tendency of following "seductive" leaders who promise many things to their group members, but those promises do not comply with reality.

A "seduced" large group may pose a serious danger as a source of the society's psychopathology. Long periods of insufficient communication among members of a large group may point to unresolved problems and then there is increasing anxiety in a large group that leads towards an "explosion", i.e. conflicts in that group. Foulkes believes that the leadership style in a group can largely contribute to the emergence or absence of aggression in large groups. The group leader who constantly takes the group back to its basic task – how to think what is happening inside and around it – is sometimes too demanding for a large group, because it is not simple to think in a large group. The seductive and charismatic group leader who promises more pleasant, faster and easily achievable alternatives of group existence leads the group by regression and instinctual gratification to archaic sources ruled by the pleasure principle.

Concept of the anti-group

Morris Nitsun, the group analyst dealing with destructive processes in groups, formulated the concept of the "anti-group". The anti-group is a construct which helps in understanding destructive processes that with time become a threat to the group's survival. These processes may originate from several different sources, most important of which are: anxiety, fear and mistrust. A great source of danger in group work is the excessive narcissism of its participants, which is reflected through different behaviours of the group members, such as withdrawal or envy, rivalry and destructive competition. The concept of the "antigroup" is applied not only in the therapy context of group work, but is also well known in a broader social sphere, primarily in the functioning of different social organizations (Nitsun, 2014, p. 16).

The application of group-analytic and psychoanalytic approaches in the wider social context always bears the risk of reductionism. On the other hand, the group perspective is much closer than the individual one because we spend most of our work and social life in various collectives.


At the end of this overview theoretical "journey" through psychoanalytic and group-analytic considerations of the problem of aggression in large groups, we can conclude that there is no large group without a certain type of aggression emerging in it. However, the quality, amount, types and manifestations of aggression differ substantially in large groups, depending on the leadership style in a large group, group cohesion, establishment or non-establishment of the group identity, and positive or negative selection of group members. It has been determined that the leadership style in a group directly affects group dynamics and group processes.

In democratically led groups, in which people address one another freely and without fear, aggressive manifestations are constructive because they have already been processed cognitively. In authoritarian-led groups, manifestations of aggression are abrupt, inconsiderate, and often of an impulsive and destructive character. The primary task of a large group is to learn how to think in order to manage to set its goals clearly and make rational and realistic solutions. A cohesive, structured large group with no authoritarian leader, in which each group member's tasks are clearly established, in which there are clear boundaries among group members, will gradually learn to think and progress together in achieving group goals. With the passage of time, its members begin to feel their affiliation to the group, which is further strengthened by achieving the set goals. A non-cohesive group that is insufficiently structured, with the members who have insufficient mutual communication or mutual hidden conflict relations, is the group with a high potential of emerging anxiety, and thus of aggression. Pressurized by fears that appear in insufficiently differentiated and unclearly structured groups, individuals are unable to express their own thoughts and feelings, and therefore they feel unsafe and insecure. Moreover, in such cases, the group "does not feel" like a group because it has no feeling of completeness and unity of a group as a whole. However, such groups most often have an authoritarian leader, so the weakness of the group is actually the leader's power: in those groups, the authoritarian leader will "think and speak" on behalf of his group, make decisions or propose solutions; in the absence of the use of the thinking apparatus, the members of his/her group will accept that unconditionally. Such group looks for "rescue" from bad feelings it is overwhelmed by, in such a manner that its members renounce their own selves and identify themselves with the leader. Complete identification with the leader brings along the consequence of the experience of losing not only one's own identity and values, but also the group identity, because in those circumstances it an equality sign, and that is never in line with the reality since the leader is not the group and vice versa. The group member who accepts the membership in the group with such leadership consciously consents to the loss of his/her own responsibility in decision-making, because the leader becomes a "collective superego", i.e. the leader's morality becomes the morality of the group. If the leader is immoral, the group is immoral too, but through the identification with the idealized leader, the borders between "good and bad" are blurred, and in some specific situations these two phenomena may even become inverted. That is when the group that is actually "with no choice" become able to do everything that the leader demands or thinks. The psychological defence mechanisms that are activated under this leadership style are malign and primitive by the criteria of the person's maturity, i.e. they refer to early stages of the person's psychological development. According to the time of their developmental psychological occurrence, these mechanisms are characteristic for immature, narcissist and borderline personality organizations.

In non-authoritarily led groups, whose members are selected by the relevant criteria and in which satisfactory group cohesion and group culture are established, aggression has different manifestations. In those groups, every member is able to think and speak, which is the basic prerequisite for the group as a whole to start thinking together. It means that every group member is also able to bear and cope with the part of his/her own responsibility for the achievement of group goals. In those large groups, the functioning defence mechanisms are far more mature, adequate and appropriate to the actual reality. When a large group learns how to think, to control its impulses, as well as to cultivate its actions, it is able to bear responsibility for the consequences of both individual and group acts and actions. In those cases, the group survives because it gradually accomplishes its goals and tasks, and with the passage of time, shows results. Fulfilling this requirement is a rather long-lasting group effort made both by the members and the leader of the group.


1Wilfred Ruprecht Bion (1897–1979) was one of the most outstanding figures in British psychoanalysis and the author of one of the first books on group work.
2Ambivalence is a concept in clinical psychology and psychiatry which was also adopted inpsychotherapy, and refers to the simultaneous existence of opposite feelings in a person or a group of persons. In a serious mental disorder – schizophrenia – high ambivalence is one of five basic symptoms on the basis of which this disorder is identified.
3People who use narcissist-type defences most often meet the criteria for the narcissist personality disorder, an important characteristic of which is rather unstable and changeable self-respect. These defences are bad because one of their main characteristics is disturbed reality judgment. The narcissist personality disorder includes the following symptoms: scarce identity, inability to respect others, self-privileging, lack of authenticity, need to control, intolerance of someone else’s opinion and views of the world, emotional alienation, self-glorification, minimal empathy, need for other people’s approval and positive opinion.
4The paranoid-type defence most often is characteristic of people from the spectre of the so-called paranoid personality disorders or even paranoid psychoses. Caution and distrust permeate every professional or personal relationship they have. Apart from distrust, there is also the need to control the environment and the people in it, and that is why they often take a rigid and critical attitude, they are unable to cooperate, while they have difficulty in accepting criticism themselves. In addition, these people have a strong sense of autonomy, as well as a great need to be independent. They do not recognize their dysfunctionality because they have no insight in it, and the almost never think they need therapeutic support. Their main defence mechanism is projection that functions by the model of separation from bad feelings, thoughts and guilt from themselves and their projection into others. Such projection enables someone to defend from internal dangers as if they were external and thus to accept indirectly his own subconscious desires which are perceived as a normal reaction to the behaviour of others.
5In early development, splitting, split or splitting mechanism is the key mechanism for the child’s emotional “survival”. Splitting helps the child to remove negative and frightening parts because of being too young to cope with them. Splitting defends the child from fears, threatening anxieties and the feeling that the world is terrible. Splitting in adulthood is a primitive defence mechanism. The splitting mechanism is the central defence mechanism in borderline personality organization, and other psychopathological defence mechanisms are placed around this mechanism.
6The term “primitive defence mechanisms” has been adopted in psychoanalytic literature. It refers to the time of occurrence of these mechanisms, i.e. the developmental period of the first years of life. Individuals substitute these mechanisms by much more mature defence mechanisms in the course of maturing and the process of psychosexual development, provided that this development proceeds in normal circumstances and with no traumatic situations.
7This agoraphobic-claustrophobic” dilemma is a metaphor for those relations in which one person is not able to balance the optimal distance with other people, but enters too close relationships (a symbiosis), until the moment when this person will suddenly want to escape that relationship. At the next moment, the person will feel free in the wide open space, but also insecure, lost and frightened, so once again, following the established pattern, that person will return to the symbiotic relationship.
8GA is a formally accepted abbreviation in world literature, so we will use it in the text below.


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de Maré, P., Schollberger, R. (2003) The Larger Group as a Meeting of Minds. u: Schneider S.; Weinberg H. [ur.] The Large Group Re-Visited -The Herd, Primal Horde, Crowds and Masses, London - New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 214-233
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de Maré, P. (2018) Politics of Large Groups. u: Lenn R.; Stefano K. [ur.] Small, Large and Median Groups. The Work of Patrick de Maré, London: Routledge, 61-75
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Kernberg, O. (2004) Object-relations theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis. New York-Toronto-Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc
Kohut, H. (2004) The Analysis of the Self. Zagreb: Naprijed, In Croatian
Nitsun, M. (2014) The Anti-Group: Destructive Forces in the Group and their Creative Potential. London: Routledge
Scheidlinger, S. (1982) On Scapegoating in Group Psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 32 (2): 131-145
Turque, P. (1975) Threats to identity in the large group. u: Kreeger L. [ur.] The Large group: Dynamics and Therapy, London: Constable
Veljković, J. (2014) Psychodrama changes. Beograd: Zadužbina Andrejević, In Serbian
Veljković, J., Despotović, V. (2017) The Sociodrama Narrative: Political Aspects. Srpska politička misao, (1): 93-110
Veljković, J., Đurić, Z. (2003) Psychodrama and Sociodrama. Beograd: Centar za primenjenu psihologiju, In Serbian
Volkan, V. (2001) Transgenerational transmission and chosen traumas: An aspect of large group identity. Group Analysis, 34(1): 79-97
Yalom, I., Leszcz, M. (2013) Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. Novi Sad: Psihopolis Institut, In Serbian

O članku

jezik rada: engleski, srpski
vrsta rada: pregledni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg55-30383
primljen: 17.01.2021.
revidiran: 04.05.2021.
prihvaćen: 10.05.2021.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 16.07.2021.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
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