01 July 2008

Antidotes to Groupthink - Part One: "Inner-Directedness"

A number of my previous posts have discussed groupthink; I consider it to be one of the most frequently used tools in an abuser's toolkit. In the posts linked above, I've described groupthink in general terms, and presented and analyzed a situation in which it seemed very obvious to me that a group was being manipulated; one of its members was using other members' vulnerabilities to induce a state of uncritical groupthink/enemy creation. This is adult relational aggression, the conversion of people from a group to a herd, to be used as a tool for bullying one or another of its members.

Meg, at Brisbane Christian Fellowship [see link at right], has blogged extensively and in very useful detail about the ways in which cults establish and enforce groupthink to keep the membership in line - adult relational aggression on a grander scale. CZBZ, at The Narcissistic Continuum [likewise, see link at right] has also written very cogently about groupthink.

The anatomy of groupthink and its etiology have been thoroughly explored in the posts, and by the writers, referenced here. However, the issue of resistance to groupthink - of antidotes to it, and of how these antidotes may be applied - needs a bit more discussion.

Because there are definitely antidotes.

Unfortunately, they are effective primarily at the individual level.

In order for these antidotes to work at the group level, the group as a whole must understand that groupthink exists. The members must have genuine psychological literacy; they must be able to 'see' the group process as it is taking place. And each member must be able to understand and verbalize group processes, with strong emphasis on seeing one's own contributions to them, and their influence on one's own behavior. This in turn requires the ability to accept the 'narcissistic insult' of seeing oneself as flawed, vulnerable, less than perfect, potentially deceivable -i.e., a real human being, vulnerable to groupthink if not sufficiently detached and critical in one's thinking within the group.

Eric Berne was modeling this kind of group- and self-awareness when he described the "Games People Play" some forty years ago. There's no great mystery to it; but this kind of awareness is often called "mindreading" or "labeling" as a means of discrediting it. Interestingly, those doing the discrediting are usually profiting, in some way, from a group's lack of psychological awareness. A person who resists groupthink in such a group will usually end up choosing to leave that group. Caveat emptor.

On to the antidotes, as I have come to understand them.

In my opinion, a necessary requirement for resisting groupthink is being 'inner-directed' rather than 'other-directed'. That is, you must have strongly held personal values, and you must walk the talk. Your personal values must be stronger, as an influence on your actions, than external norms or standards. You must also be able to act from your personal values even - especially - when the group is acting out in ways that fundamentally violate your beliefs.

A caveat arises immediately. Inner-directedness, while necessary, is by no means sufficient. If you think about it for a moment, and if you go back and look at my groupthink case history [links above] and the posts by Meg and CZBZ on the subject, you will quickly realize that abusers themselves - those who manipulate individuals and groups - are VERY strongly inner-directed! However, the strong personal values of an abuser are predatory. They are the personal values of a narcissist or, in the extreme, a sociopath: the Self is the only thing of value in the universe, and the Wants of the Self are the only Good.

Clearly, although such values protect the abuser from being led into groupthink, they do nothing to prevent the abuser from inducing groupthink whenever an opportunity arises. And this, in fact, is one of the things that abusers do. You can place bets on it, and you'll win them every time.

By contrast, I am speaking of an inner-directedness that values not only the Self, but all Selves; that holds to a set of basic ethical guidelines even in the face of tremendous peer pressure. And this is done, not from pride or a desire to 'be superior' to others, but from a simple, fundamental conviction that certain actions are wrong, no matter who wants them to be right, no matter how many voices join in to pretend that they are right - at this time, in this place, because WE are doing them, because we WANT to do them.

Recent history gives us primarily solitary examples of this kind of resistance. It is easily recognized in whistleblowers [those who are standing on ethical principles, such as Bunnatine Greenhouse and Teresa Chambers - and fellow bloggers Katherine Gunn [A Voice in the Desert], Anna Valerious [Narcissists Suck], the late Kathy Krajco [What Makes Narcissists Tick], Meg [Brisbane Christian Fellowship], and CZBZ [The Narcissistic Continuum] among others]. To find examples of groups refusing to succumb, one can look further back, into the mid-20th century, at the Danish Boat Lift, and the French village of Le Chambon.

Here, it seems only fitting to pause; to think about, respect, and give thanks for these individuals and groups, their moral courage, their wilingness to pay the price of dissenting from groupthink, even at its most toxic and virulent. So here is where I will stop, for now. I'll discuss more antidotes to groupthink in my next post.


Blogger Meg said...

Well done Storm,

A well-written piece again. You are right, we need to find antedotes to groupthink. I would also suggest courage as an antedote, and the experience of standing up to groupthink as a foundation to further defense against the 'madding crowd'.

I also thought about the difference btw extroverts and introverts. An innie is more likely to be inner-directed, and would have been most of their lives. I am sure you know what I am talking about. If you have been bullied because you were different as a child, and learned to loathe any kind of peer group expectations, you will be much better at detecting and surviving toxic group interaction.

I think as soon as you include spiritual consequences upon resisting groupthink, you are coming into spanish inquisition territory, and it becomes not only difficult, but extremely traumatic to fight off hoards of people telling you that you are the only one who is wrong, everyone else has 'got with the programme'.

Thanks for this post.

02 July, 2008 21:27  
Blogger CZBZ said...

"The members must have genuine psychological literacy; they must be able to 'see' the group process as it is taking place. And each member must be able to understand and verbalize group processes, with strong emphasis on seeing one's own contributions to them, and their influence on one's own behavior."

THAT's IT. I knew something was shifting in our world and it seems to be connected to psychological literacy. There's a subtle change taking place as good-hearted people start learning about the psyche and how 'normal' people behave in various situations. GroupThink is one of those situations.

I'm all for Folk Wisdom, lordnose that's true. ha! But far too often, folk wisdom is based on inaccuracies. When I get my hands on a research article about social psychology, it's better than a bag of Oreos. Fact is:

Without any understanding of pathological behavior, we're vulnerable to the false assumption that other people think & feel just like ourselves. I've always had a burr under my saddle about criticizing abused people for being 'sick' themselves when they lacked information about destructive relationships, people and organizations.

Sure, we will have problems to deal with once we get ourselves out of abusive relationships/organizations; but to assume there was something wrong with the "preyed upon", creates a false sense of security for those who believe they are not subject to the same manipulation tactics.

It's arrogance by default since most people assume they are safe in a truly not-so-safe world.

The second thing you've written that strikes me as important is verbalizing our experience. If we're heart-ful people, words don't come easy. I think that's because there are no words sufficiently describing our 'emotional experience'. We fall short of our expectations and sometimes we Give Up entirely. But it's imperative for those who articulate reasonably well, to speak the unspeakable. That's not easy to do for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with grammar and punctuation.

Thanks, Stormchild. Another great message to think about.


08 July, 2008 19:20  

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