Wilfred Ruprecht Bion DSO (8 September 1897 – 8 November 1979) was an influential British psychoanalyst, who became president of the British Psychoanalytical Society from 1962 to 1965.
Wilfred Bion's observations about the role of group processes in group dynamics are set out in Experiences in Groups
where he refers to recurrent emotional states of groups as basic
assumptions. Bion argues that in every group, two groups are actually
present: the work group, and the basic assumption group.
The work group is that aspect of group functioning which has to do with
the primary task of the group - what the group has formed to accomplish;
will 'keep the group anchored to a sophisticated and rational level of
behaviour'.The basic assumption group describes the tacit underlying assumptions
on which the behaviour of the group is based. Bion specifically
identified three basic assumptions: dependency, fight-flight, and pairing. When a group adopts any one of these basic assumptions, it interferes
with the task the group is attempting to accomplish. Bion believed that
interpretation by the therapist of this aspect of group dynamics would
result in insight regarding effective group work.
In dependency, the essential aim of the group is to attain
security through, and have its members protected by, one individual. The
basic assumption in this group culture seems to be that an external
object exists whose function it is to provide security for the immature
The group members behave passively, and act as though the leader, by
contrast, is omnipotent and omniscient. For example, the leader may pose
a question only to be greeted with docile silence, as though he or she
had not spoken at all. The leader may be idealized into a kind of god
who can take care of his or her children, and some especially ambitious
leaders may be susceptible to this role. Resentment at being dependent
may eventually lead the group members to "take down" the leader, and
then search for a new leader to repeat the process. (Perhaps, resentment at being dependent may also lead to group projections onto an outsider, depicting him as a "basket case," or a baby.)
In a group dominated by the basic assumption of Dependency members behave as if the primary task is solely to provide for the satisfaction of their needs and wishes. In such a group, in the same way as a child, members unconsciously experience dependency from an imaginative parent figure or system. Because their needs are not met, members experience frustration, helplessness, powerless, and disempowerment. This kind of defense against anxiety can also be interpreted as a manipulation of authority out of its role according to the fantasy that then the group will be safe/cared for. The leader becomes a focus for a pathological form of dependency which inhibits development and growth. Furthermore provided the illusion that the leader contains the solution can be sustained, he or she may be absent or even dead.
Be that as it may.
In a letter dated March 30, 1999 that I wrote to my then treating psychotherapist, Lisa Osborn, Psy.D. I offered theoretical speculations about a workplace incident that occurred on April 6, 1989 at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where I was employed from 1988-1991.
The letter is theoretical and abstract and did not cite any authority that was precisely on point. In fact, Bion's concept of the Dependency Basic Assumptions group supports the theory that I had worked out on my own, based on logic and intuition.
The letter assumes that the work group at Akin Gump had taken on the function of a Dependency Basic Assumptions Group and that the group leader and the work group had alternating roles, with the group leader at times functioning as a symbolic mother for the group, and at other times the work group-as-a-whole served as a symbolic mother for the group leader. I was the outsider on whom the role of "dependent child" was projected to preserve the narcissistic integrity of the Dependency Basic Assumptions Group -- the group members' resentment at being dependent was discharged by projecting the fantasy of dependency onto me.
Perhaps the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews-as-babies can be interpreted by reference to Bion's belief that the Church operates as a Dependency Basic Assumptions Group -- Christians' resentment at being dependent may be discharged onto Jews-as-Outsiders by projecting the fantasy of dependency onto Jews.
The letter to Dr. Lisa Osborn is at the link below: