In his discourse on the object relation and the intersubjective relation, French psychoanalyst Dr. Jacques Lacan stated that the object relation is one which conjoins to a need which satisfies it. However, the duality of the relationship between mother and child infers that when the mother no longer has anything to give, she takes. For example, if she has nothing else to eat, she eats her child psychically. In this way, the infant-mother relationship is a direct binding together of desires, which runs counter to the classical analytical tradition of the development of instincts. It also demonstrates an equilibrium between love, hate, aggression and violence, and has obvious parallels to the manager/employee relationship in the case of the manager barren of ideas.

The child within the adult participates only at the point where the subject verbalizes, in an irruptive fashion. Managers must, therefore, learn to interpret all kinds of human communication – not just ostensibly reverent behavior.

Workplace Violence and Aggression

The outer manifestation of regressional behavior is aggression. Hinshelwood stated that it is generally accepted that aggression is of an importance similar to that of sexuality. He divided aggression into internal, and thus of an instinctual origin, and environmental aggression arising from the frustration of the libido.

In The Theory of Anxiety and Guilt (1948), child psychoanalyst Dr. Melanie Klein sought a greater understanding between anxiety and aggression. She noted that anxiety in young children could be alleviated by analysis of the sadistic phantasies within a context of the contribution of aggression to sadism. The outcome of her work showed that the reparative tendency is an expression of the struggle between the life instinct and the death instinct and that the interaction between aggression and libido causes anxiety and guilt. Thus it is essential that the manager does not stamp out the reparative acts of the group.


In The Origins of Transference (1952), Klein stated that persecutory anxiety and its corollary, idealization, are the fundamental influences in early life object relations. The processes of projection and introjection initiate object relations by deflecting libido and aggression onto the mother’s breast. She added, in The Mutual Influences in the Development of the Ego and Id (1952), that projection and introjection are substantiated by phantasy, which in turn is the mental expression of the workings of the life and death instincts. This means that the group has a primitive aspect, based on unconscious phantasy.

In Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy (1959), Klein noted that persecutory anxiety persists in later life. She proposed the existence of an innate aggressiveness, which may be increased by an unfavorable environment, and mitigated by love and understanding. As destructive impulses are an integral part of mental life, there must be a constant struggle between love and hate

In The Early Development of Conscience in the Child (1933), Klein discussed the actual contents of aggressive phantasies, noting the importance of the sadistic impulses in them. As such, during the oral-sadistic stage of childhood development, the child goes through a cannibalistic phase, in which the cannibalistic phantasies center on eating up the mother’s breast or whole person. This kind of phantasy is not derived from a desire for nourishment, but rather, gratifies the destructive impulses.

Following this phase, the anal-sadistic phase is characterized by strongly destructive impulses, set in the context of the feces and the anus. Thus, the text of the phantasy is that excretion is a forcible ejection of a previously incorporated object, attended by feelings of hostility and cruelty. Klein noted that, between the oral-sadistic and anal-sadistic phases, there is a urethral-sadistic tendency, in which the child’s unconscious phantasy is to destroy the inside of the mother’s body. Managers must thus accept this phantasy operating against them as normal.

In On Criminality (1934), Klein discussed aggressive impulses in terms of self-protection. The child protects him/herself against a fear of violent objects by attacking them within the imagination, to quiet the severe threats of the super-ego. This sets up a dynamic loop which manifests as social and criminal tendencies. The child can better adapt to reality by mastering its anxiety through its relation to its parents, turning the anxiety into both feelings of guilt and a desire to make good. The greater the desire to make restitution, the milder the superego becomes.

In Criminal Tendencies in Normal Children (1927), Klein noted that a child is entirely dominated by his impulses, to which no ethical standards ought to be considered or applied by the analyst. Treated in this way, these impulses may even form the basis for future creative tendencies. One such socially acceptable method for working through aggression and sadism is the playing of sport.

It is of some note that military personnel are encouraged and even mandated to play games of organized sport, as a basis for full-scale military exercises. However, the military hierarchy purports to apply ethical standards to these activities, such as suggesting that soldiers are serving the sovereign good by, for example, having a game of cricket. This may be because there is no future intention of fostering creative tendencies, but rather, enhancing the group destructive tendencies.

Workplace Violence

Post-WWII psychoanalyst Wilfrid Bion noted that organizational groups become psychotic in their world view. Hanna Segal wrote that the psychotic regresses to a phase in infancy which already possessed pathological features. In this respect, she glossed that the paranoid-schizoid position evinces a split between good and bad objects, with the good ones in the ascendancy. Thus, when the infant’s projective and introjective processes are disturbed by the predominance of a bad experience over a good one, a pathological projective identification may arise. This might happen when anxiety and hostile envy are especially intense. At this time, the projected part disintegrates into tiny fragments which are projected onto the object, thus disintegrating the object. Segal characterized this pathological projective identification as violent. The subject hates the object which is responsible for this bad perception, and so, the subject seeks to get rid of both the hated object and the perceptual apparatus which perceived it. In a context of intense envy, even perception of an ideal object may be painful, giving rise to further envy, and thereby setting up a dynamic loop.

This process is connected with attacks on linking. Linking was described by Bion as any function that is perceived as linking objects together. Bion viewed these kinds of attack as directed against verbal thought. He noted that psychotic subjects, and also the psychotic part of the personality, would destroy thoughts, using splitting and projective identification. This would obstruct peaceful projections and introjections of sense impressions used as bases for verbal thought. And so, managers tend to stifle verbal communication, thus increasing the psychosis of the group.

In Bion’s 1974 Brazilian Lectures, he set out his views on the patient’s limited ability for perspective. For example, the patient cannot view things from the point of view of smell. Bion’s answer to this problem was to suggest the relative ease of viewing things from a mathematical perspective. Thus, he used the mathematical term “vertex”, as a point of observation where one or more lines, planes or angles coincide. As planes and angles are each generated by lines, it is clear that lines are the fundamental element of this system. As lines can be viewed as a series of points, thus annihilating the line, Bion concluded that the point is indestructible, and is capable of retaining its attributes of past and future. From this, the vertex can be seen as having all these attributes, as well as providing a workable point of perspective. This foreshadows his stated position on the unconscious nature of violence.

The father of psychoanalysis, Dr. Sigmund Freud had noted that action is one of the five functions the ego uses to reach a consciousness of reality. He proposed that motor discharge alters reality by way of conversion into action. His other four functions were attention, notation, judgment and thought. However, Bion proposed that phantasies of the mind might act as a muscle, and flex itself to effect a discharge. He included the phantasy of projective identification within this newly-expanded category of action. Violence might comprise an irruptive motor discharge where verbalization fails. Thus, managers must facilitate open and honest communication, and where they cannot, they must be removed.

Bion wrote of tolerance or intolerance of frustration such that realization of an absent breast implies one of three possibilities. First, the frustration is tolerated and the absence becomes thoughts. Second, the mind may evade bad experiences by massive projective identification, blocking the capacity to think. The third alternative is an intermediate position, where the personality develops omnipotence, which makes discrimination between true and false arbitrary, and rather, based on moral positions. This omniscience makes people incapable of discriminating between animate and inanimate objects, with respect to murderous and suicidal impulses. It also renders people incapable of verbalizing compromise positions. This happens where the manager becomes unconcerned about reasons, only about outcomes. This is the irrevocable termination of the manager’s group leadership position.

In respect of truth and lies, he suggested in his 1965 work entitled Transformations, that healthy mental growth depends on a natural hunger for truth, and when truth is lacking the personality deteriorates, enhancing group psychosis. Drawing from his empirical observations, he set up the rule that lies induce suffering.

Suffering may be used as a thought excuse for violence. He deduced that the presence of a thinker is essential for lies and “the only true thought is one that has never found an individual to contain it”. This infers the existence of thoughts in an intersubjective context.

Racism and Diversity in the Workplace

A surplus of aggression and a need to protect a sense of self-goodness creates an environment where splitting cannot be surmounted and the depressive position is not reached. In the manic defense, the paranoid-schizoid position is reinforced by foreclosure of psychic space, fantasies of omnipotence, and projective identification. Racism is a by-product of the manic defense which acts to fend off intolerable psychic states. The proposition is that the manic defense operates in parallel on both the group and the personal levels, sustaining certain racist affect and its associated violence.

Vicious affective and wishful passions are essential to racism, as racism is largely a passion as opposed to a doctrine. This is substantiated by racist prejudice seen as comprising faulty generalizations, ignoring relevant evidence, acting on the basis of no evidence, and baseless character assassination. Thus, racism arises from an inability to make appropriate discriminations, and in this respect may arise from Freud’s third passion of ignorance. In this way, the racist need not actively split their object. They only need to assimilate racist lore, which is pre-digested and pre-split for them. This racist core functions as a social code to effect the denial of guilt, defending against disavowed wishes, dealing with envy and setting up illusions of belonging.

Organizational Regression and Lessons for Management

Psychoanalytic propositions from object relations theory may be applied to the regression to workplace aggression and violence to promote a depth of understanding in the workplace. Similar propositions may be applied to the effects of aggression and violence on national and international levels. Analysis of social violence may be attempted through a historical analysis of the society’s racist folklore, within a context of negative narcissism. Senior managers must watch carefully to analyze the positioning of front line managers, where the problems arise.