Heroic Identification

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Didier Anzieu proposed the notion of heroic identification in connection with his concept of the group illusion (1971). Anzieu extensively studied group dynamics and made significant contributions to that field with his ideas of the skin-ego (1984, 1989) and psychic envelopes.

By "group illusion," he wrote, "I mean a particular mental state that is seen in natural groups as well as in therapeutic or formative groups, and that is spontaneously verbalized by group members in the following form: 'We are doing well together; we're a good group; our leader or our supervisor is a good leader, a good supervisor" (1971). According to Anzieu, three conditions are necessary to establish the group illusion: the designation of one group member as a victim or scapegoat ("One of us is bad"), the formulation of an egalitarian theory ("We are all alike"), and finally, the refusal to take gender differences into account ("We are all born outside of sexual relations"). With regard to this last condition, he further explained, "The group illusion expresses an unconscious statement according to which group members are not born in the same way as individuals, but are instead a product of parthenogenesis, living within the body of a fertile and all-powerful mother" (1971).

With this set of conceptual tools, Anzieu reminded us that the group derives from a founding father, and as Freud showed in "Group psychology and the analysis of the ego" (1921c), the great majority of group members are, or believe themselves to be, equally loved by the founding hero. "For the founder, the group serves as a fantasized resonator that gives body to his ideas, and as a mediator for making these ideas known to a broad public. For the group members, the founder satisfies their heroic desires and proves that they can obtain the love of the superego" (Anzieu, 1984).

Such, then, are group members' identifications with the heroism of the group's founder and leader. As was often his practice, Anzieu drew examples from mythology to support this concept, which enriches and complements the classical Freudian views on identification.

Bernard Golse

See also: Ego ideal/ideal ego; Group analysis; Identification.


Anzieu, Didier. (1971). L'illusion groupale. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 4, 73-93.

. (1984). Les groupes et leurs romans des origines. In Didier Anzieu, Bertrand Cramer, Georges David, et al., Le nouveau roman familial, ou "On te le dira quand tu seras plus grand" (pp. 99-109). Paris: E.S.F.

. (1989). The skin ego (Chris Turner, Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1985)

Freud, Sigmund. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.