The contrast between individual psychology and social or group psychology, which at first glance may seem to be full of significance, loses a great deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely. It is true that individual psychology is concerned with the individual human and explores the paths by which he seeks to find satisfaction for his instincts, but only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others. In the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponent in their relationship to the individual’s endeavor of seeking satisfaction, and so in a very real sense, individual psychology is at the same time social psychology — in this extended but entirely justifiable sense of the words.
The relations of an individual to his parents and to his brothers and sisters, to the object of his love, and to his physician — in fact, all the relations which are the chief subject of psycho-analytic research — may claim to be considered as social phenomena; and in this respect they may be contrasted with certain other processes, described by us as ‘narcissistic,’ in which the satisfaction of the instincts is partially or totally withdrawn from the influence of other people. The contrast between social and narcissistic mental acts, therefore, falls wholly within the domain of individual psychology and is not well calculated to differentiate it from a social or group psychology. Such a “total withdraw” of the influences of social phenomena on the satisfaction of instincts is rare and is only found in extreme cases of social isolation and introversion.
The individual in the relations which have already been mentioned — to his parents and to his brothers and sisters, to the person he is in love with, to his friend, and to his physician — comes under the influence of only a single person, or of a very small number of persons, each one of whom has become enormously important to him. Now in speaking of social or group psychology it has become usual to leave these relations on one side and to isolate as the subject of inquiry the influencing of an individual by a large number of people simultaneously, people with whom he is connected by something, though otherwise, they may in many respects be strangers to him. Such an approach takes into account the collective influence of a homogenous society expressing pre-determined values, but it fails to take into account the impact of non-stereotypical relations and relations which do not operate within the larger societal value structure. The opposite is also true where an issue may arise if the psychologist fails to integrate over-arching social values and pressures on the individual if social psychology is understood only in terms of individual relations. A balance must be reached.
Group psychology is, therefore, concerned with the individual human as a member of a race, of a nation, of a caste, of a profession, of an institution, or as a part of a crowd of people who have been organized into a group at some particular time for some definite purpose. When once natural continuity has been severed in this way, it is easy to regard the phenomena that appear under these special conditions as being expressions of a special instinct that is not further reducible, the social instinct (‘herd instinct’, ‘group mind’), which does not come to light in any other situations. But we may perhaps venture to object that it seems difficult to attribute to the factor of number a significance so great as to make it capable by itself of arousing in our mental life a new instinct that is otherwise not brought into play. Our expectation is therefore directed towards two other possibilities: that the social instinct may not be a primitive one and insusceptible of dissection, and that it may be possible to discover the beginnings of its development in a narrower circle, such as that of the family.
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