Putting up walls

With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out—Shakespeare

cyclone fence in shallow photography
Photo by Travis Saylor on Pexels.com


I have had the interesting pleasure of being part of an organization that examines group behavior. We have recently been talking about the relationship between the various affiliates and I have noticed that it has been a real challenge for our organization to come together.

Living in this time with all of the rhetoric about building walls, it seems that our collective unconscious minds have been clouded by wishes to be walled off from the outside world. It seems to be a real challenge for me to overcome the temptation to be isolated and walled off. I’ve noticed that even in my own analysis there is a temptation to “hold back” and not be as open as I might ordinarily be.

In group relations we see that unconscious forces play on the group and the individual. I have a good friend who says of the group and himself “when I see the group I see myself and when I see myself I see the group”. What he is telling me is that his own feelings and impulses are both a reflection of the group he is in and the actions he sees in the group are a reflection of his, and the group’s individual impulses. The behavior seen in large groups will often be reflected in the behavior in small groups within the same system. We can think of the United States as a group system, and all of the various groups that exist within that system as subsets of the system itself. So, our small group trying to gather together and find common ground is meeting with some resistance because of the force that is exerted on it from the larger system. In this case, the United States.

In a lot of ways, we find ourselves feeling a tendency to isolate ourselves when we are under stress. Fear is a powerful feeling and often triggers a response of anger and rage. We don’t have to look far today to find examples of anger and of rage. I think what is being defended against is fear. When people feel unconscious fear, the defense is to become angry. Anger protects us from the vulnerability we feel when afraid.

Talking about building a wall can be a way of deflecting that fear. What can’t get near me can’t hurt me. A wall is a powerful symbol of the need to be protected from something. In our modern context I think the thing we are trying to protect ourselves from is our own feelings. No wall will be big enough to do the job.

Love is the antidote to fear. Love and understanding. If we spent as much time and energy getting to know one another as we do on fighting over barriers, I think we would be in a far better position.

Stephen M. Taylor, MD

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