Maintaining your mental health if you live in the UK at the moment is unlikely to rely on keeping up with news and current events.

If, on the other hand you are looking to gen up on dysfunctional group behaviour, our domestic Political Party Punch and Judy instant story creation is both illuminating and entertaining.

Cast your mind back to the last time you were participating in a group endeavour, perhaps a workshop or group discussion, and began to feel that nothing constructive or of relevance to the task in hand was happening.

The group begins to change its mental state from being engaged with its purpose to dissipating its energy in – anti-purpose.

Wilfred Bion, the wisest of the wise on all things ‘group’ (1897-1979), alerted us to the changes in mental states that groups experience.

He described a framework for understanding the contrasting ways in which a group – sometime temporarily, sometimes changeably – will operate.

A ‘work group mentality’ is operating where a group’s disposition and dynamics enable it to manage shared tensions, anxieties and relationships. The group members all demonstrate an ability to relate to and to engage with each other and the purpose for which the group has formed.

Bion described the outcome for such a group as the ‘capacity for realistic hard work’.

By contrast, a group that can be described as having a ‘basic assumption mentality’ has been taken over by strong emotions (and this can happen so quickly) of anxiety, fear, hate, love, anger, guilt or depression and will lose touch with the group’s purpose.

The group will ‘become caught up in an unconscious group delusion’.

The outcome he described here as ‘stagnation’.

These ‘delusions’ or ‘assumptions’ tend to revolve around 3 unconscious force fields – dependence (a leader / moderator will relieve the group of all anxiety), pairing (the group will rely on the output of a pairing (s) to rescue them), and fight or flight (some common enemy is perceived within or without the group inviting fight or flight).

While all group situations involving fallible human beings are both fluid and complex, one behavioural truth here is universal.

The group’s shift from real purpose to assumed new purpose is unconscious.

If a group becomes dominated by a basic assumption mentality, it is unlikely to be able to recognise the change. It may even feel as if the work is going well. Or even better than before.

An emotional state is avoided. An assumed (unspoken) anti-purpose now acts as (an unconscious) substitute for the real work.

We’re watching all this unfold in front of our eyes, aren’t we?

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