Sympathetic subsumption: A defense against anxiety and aggression in groups


In the following paper, the author offers a name (“sympathetic subsumption”) and a psychoanalytic and socio-analytic explanation for the process by which a victimizing individual or group re-directs sympathy toward itself, even as it victimizes an other or others. In most cases, sympathetic subsumption involves ambivalent identifications with and tenuous idealizations of past and present victims and victimizers. The result of sympathetic subsumption is the displacement of sympathy for manifest victims, allowing acts of victimization to occur with diminished emotional resistance. Thus, individuals and groups make use of sympathetic subsumption to facilitate attacks upon others and to avoid conscious confrontation with real anxieties and terrors that arise in group settings.

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The sole and corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Matthew H. Bowker.

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Bowker, M.H. Sympathetic subsumption: A defense against anxiety and aggression in groups. Psychoanal Cult Soc (2020).

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  • sympathy
  • victim/victimizer
  • group dynamics
  • activity/passivity
  • persecution