In Search of Truth II: The Dance of Collusion

In Search of Truth II: The Dance of Collusion

 Projective Identification and Collusion

With this overview of the collusion process in place, we wish to dig a bit deeper, using some psychodynamic terminology. Basically, collusion begins to take place through something called projective identification. Collusion occurs in a society when citizens project specific “objects” (images, assumptions, personality characteristics) onto their leader. In our present circumstance, the leader might be a medical expert or public health administrator. Why do we engage this projective process? It is because these are aspects of ourselves (“internal objects”) that we refuse to recognize. These include our own fears, our own anger, our own arrogance—even our own competence and wisdom. We don’t accept it in ourselves, because to do so would make us anxious.

The acceptance might even make us feel personally responsible for some decision to be made or action to be taken:

“What if I am mistaken?”

“What if other people rely on me and I lead them astray?”

If I acknowledge this in myself, it might make me feel bad about myself:

“I don’t want to be an angry person.”

“I don’t want to appear arrogant.”

“I don’t want to feel afraid or appear to be a fool or coward.”

By placing the praise or blame on their leader, members of a society can take it off themselves. Furthermore, the leader usually has some personal reason to accept this projection. The identification is, in other words, “sticky.” The leader is not a Velcro Don on whom nothing adheres for very long. The leader feels a bit afraid himself, and thus readily accepts assumption made by other members of the organization that he is very much afraid. The leader at some level believes that she is very competent and courageous (or would at least like to think of herself as competent and courageous). Thus, she welcomes the admiration and assumptions of competence and courage assigned by other members of her organization. This acceptance of praise and assumed mastery is particularly prevalent (and destructive) among those leaders who are enmeshed during highly anxious times in the hubris of virus expertise.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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