Complex Intersections:: Loyalty, Royalty and Justice

by Oct 3, 2022Uncategorised0 comments

Approx. Reading Time: 7 minutes

gold and blue crown

We have had a momentous few weeks. The Russia/Ukraine war continues and threatens to escalate scarily, we have seen the death of the Queen in the UK, and the almost simultaneous ascension to power of a Reaganite/Thatcherite free-market set of economic principles, including a wish for  tax cuts for the better off, and the reintroduction of fracking and other worrying measures. Many of us are feeling helpless in the face of this.

people gathering on street during daytime

I know I am not alone in having complex feelings about the death of the Queen and all she represents in this post-colonial world. As a small example, the jewels worn by royalty, such as the 105 carat Koh-i-noor acquirted dubiously from India, symbolise so much about a country built on imperial power, slavery, exploitation, racism and little regard for other nations and peoples. We live with such a legacy about which we have seen increased and rightful anger, especially since George Floyd’s murder.

The penny has dropped for a new generation about things like unconscious bias, micro-aggressions and overt brutality, and young people are simultaneously facing massive anxiety about the climate and the economic and political crisis which leaves many with little hope about the future, as brand new research shows. It’s hard not to feel guilty as a boomer about the legacy we are leaving.

Yet there is another side to this story. The queen was seen by many, probably the majority of people in the UK as decent, caring, stalwart, someone who had the interests of the country at heart and spent her life ‘serving’ her country. As a non-monarchist and cynic, I can be prone to dismiss both what royalty means to people, and forget the more human side and struggle to hold a complex view. However one story that has stayed with me is about the time when the war doctor David Nott was invited to the palace and was placed next to the queen. He described telling her that he had just returned from Aleppo and how a look of trauma came over his face, and then she summoned courtiers to bring in some corgis. She touched his hand as she opened a box with biscuits and they quietly fed the corgis together for 20 minutes, after which she said ‘better than talking’.

two white-and-tan dogs

It could be the monarch had received trauma-informed training, I doubt it, but one thing we have to reconcile is that she had humanity, as well as humour, yet represented a history that many British people are ashamed of, including an aloof coldness which was represented for me in the picture of her coming back from an overseas trip and greeting her son, now the King, with a handshake. You don’t need to be an attachment specialist to have a response to that!

There are several angles on this for me. One is how important it is to appreciate the importance of loyalty  as a core value, which is difficult for those of us who have a left-leaning/liberal tendencies. Johnathon Haidt a few years back helped us understand this in more depth when he outlined Moral foundations Theory [1] which showed how those with a more conservative bent tend to have different but deep core values that those on the left do not, such as for loyalty and authority.

Such values are also very often seen in children who need to feel safely looked after and parented and to trust in the adult world. Too much freedom can be frightening, especially when accompanied by chaos and trauma. I remember how surprised I felt many decades ago when realising that, when a chaotic or traumatised child brought authority figures into their play, such as policemen or firefighters, this was generally a sign that at last they were feeling safe and could trust the adult world. This grated with my rebellious inclinations but is so important. Indeed this is the basis for Fairbairn’s theory of the ‘moral defence’ [2], which describes how children twist reality to keep a belief that their parents are good and trustworthy. The world feels safer when we can trust in our parents, our leaders.

This is perhaps ironic at the moment given the way society is being run, and how trust is deserting so many at the moment.

I just saw some research that suggested that people are more likely to believe in conspiracy feelings if they have a corrupt government and we might well think about recent UK governments. In the UK  of course in the last 40 years the social fabric has dramatically changed,  and the Bevanite settlement and welfare state has been decimated. Since the end of the cold war we have seen the seemingly relentless march of neoliberalism and untamed capitalism, the spread of  globalisation, and of  rising inequality. The world many of us grew up in and expected to continue is on the retreat.. The dominant ideology increasingly has shown a disdain for much that we value in psychotherapy, particularly vulnerability and softness, the qualities that often have (somewhat sexistly) come under the umbrella of being ‘maternal’.  Much contemporary thinking is in thrall to a particular version of phallic machismo, a state of mind  which the psychoanalyst  Rosenfeld’s described in terms of harsh internal mafia gangs [3].

Such a culture increases the drive for seeking extrinsic motivations, as defined by Kasser [4] leading to valuing social status, and how people are seen. Extrinsic motivations tend to be associated with poorer mental health and much more likelihood of a psychiatric diagnosis while those more intrinsically motivated tend to value relationships, good experiences,  or having a sense of vocation or community, for example.

Psychotherapists and others in the caring professions need to find  a voice to resist the individualising and blaming agendas that are rife. We know that inequality, poverty and poor early experiences all massively increase the likelihood of later mental and indeed physical health issues [5]. We need to help individuals of course, but also not lose sight of how social change is needed.

Much therapeutic work is aiming to develop capacities that  we sometimes describe as ‘containment’[6], emotional holding [7], ‘mentalizing’ [8], mindsight [9], mindfulness [10], mind–mindedness [11]. These all describe versions of how we can be in touch with our own and other’s thoughts and feelings, without which emotional wealth/capital (as opposed to poverty), altruism and genuine mutual care and cooperation are not possible. Many children and adults never develop such abilities, even less so if in a near constant state of heightened arousal, anxiety and fear. It is safeness that builds such capacities and this in large part comes from creating a fairer more equitable world.

I  finish with a quote from Carol Gilligan ‘more than ever, we need psychoanalysis with its method of free association to undo the dissociations that currently threaten not only our happiness but also our survival. But we need a psychoanalysis freed from its truncated Oedipus story, a psychoanalysis that recognizes trauma, not nature, as the force that turns love incestuous and anger murderous; a psychoanalysis that is at once psychological and political—that …. encourages us to take the risk of opting for love and freedom’ [12]


[1]        J. Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. London: Allen Lane, 2012.

[2]        W. R. D. Fairbairn, An object-relations theory of the personality. New York: Basic Books, 1962.

[3]        H. A. Rosenfeld, Impasse and interpretation: therapeutic and anti-therapeutic factors in the psycho-analytic treatment of psychotic, borderline, and neurotic patients. Oxford: Routledge, 1987.

[4]        T. Kasser, The high price of materialism. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003.

[5]        V. J. Felitti, ‘The relation between adverse childhood experiences and adult health: Turning gold into lead’, The Permanente Journal, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 44–47, 2002.

[6]        W. R. Bion, Learning from experience. London: Heinemann, 1962.

[7]        D. W. Winnicott, The maturational processes and the facilitating environment: Studies in the theory of emotional development. London: Hogarth Press, 1965.

[8]        P. Fonagy, Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. New York: Other Press, 2002.

[9]        D. Siegel, Mindsight: Transform Your Brain with the New Science of Kindness. Oneworld Publications, 2010.

[10]      P. M. Williams and D. D. Penman, Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Little Brown, 2011.

[11]      E. Meins, C. Fernyhough, M. de Rosnay, B. Arnott, S. R. Leekam, and M. Turner, ‘Mind-Mindedness as a Multidimensional Construct: Appropriate and Nonattuned Mind-Related Comments Independently Predict Infant–Mother Attachment in a Socially Diverse Sample’, Infancy, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 393–415, Jul. 2012, doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7078.2011.00087.x.

[12]      C. Gilligan, Joining the resistance. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.




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