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Splitting as an Interactive Process Published: Sunday, March 17, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

R. D. Laing, in The Politics of the Family, defined the term splitting as partitioning of a set into two subsets. This can be seen in the actions of an infant as it struggles with the early ambivalence surrounding the desired to be fused with the mother and the wish to be separated from her. This ambivalence creates strong love and hate reactions toward the mother. To maintain a sense of psychological equilibrium, the infant splits the feelings of good and bad and projects them into different objects, for example, good mom and bad daddy. In infantile splitting we also see the psychological dynamics of projection and introjection at play.

Projection occurs when one takes what is inside and map it into the outside. I feel not O.K. I see you not OK. Introjection is the mapping of the outside into the inside. You think that I did something wrong so I must be bad person. Projection and introjection are forms of displacement, where some dynamics that belong to one place are moved to another.

Many of the dynamics operating in groups and organizations may be understood in terms of splitting and projective identification. For example, when a person strongly adopt a position of full obedience toward another individual, he/her split off a part of themselves and put it into the other person, whether is the supervisor, manager or leader. It is as though a part of their egos is relocated in the external leader and they intensively identify with them because he/her is carrying a part of them around with him. When people surrender their obedience to the same leader, that leader ends up occupying a very specials place for all of them. They all have shared a kind of projective identification, which in turn makes it possible to identify with each other.

Sharing a kind of projective identification with someone can be good and bad. On the one hand, it enables cohesion to develop. On the other, it can create strange dynamics such as getting totally confused and paralyzed if something would happen to the leader. It would as if something also happen to them selves, because each had placed part of themselves into the leader via projective identification.

One of the key consequences of splitting for organizational life is that certain individuals or groups can come to carry particular emotions or specific interpretations on behalf of others. A leader may become the repository of splitting of parts of their followers that they elect to put into him or her. He or she carries the leadership on the followers’ behalf, leaving them free to disown or disengage their own leadership side.

Another expression of splitting is when one individual is made into a scapegoat by becoming the repository of the bad feeling of other group members, thereby enabling all but the scapegoat to feel good about themselves.

By using these concept we can come to better understand the situation and conditions of organizational dynamics that evoke contradictory, emotional, conflictive and sometimes even productive behaviors.

 


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