Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Maps of Identity

Originally posted on July 25, 2013

These figures illustrate some elements of “social depth psychology.” People aren’t at all individuals in the sense of being absolutely non-divided; there is indeed a potential for more or less coordination, but on the whole, people play many roles and entertain largely different sets of attitudes and aspects of their personalities in each role.transdimensmap2 So this diagram on the right might be a fairly superficial map of the social-individual nature of a person, juggling a number of relevant roles: Each role “box” is a frames of reference.

When two people meet, there is this dual figure on the left: transdimensmap7It’s more permeable. Notice that the right figure here on the left is unfinished, and in that sense, less clear. This symbolizes the way people are unsure, incomplete, continuously re-structuring their own world. The two figures are at an angle, one is more subservient or at a lower status. This is co-created fairly quickly by nonverbal communications. There are scores of variables that go into this determination, from temperamental and neurosis to societal valuations that are also to some degree internalized—or not: Honors, rank, race, coloring, education, success experiences, amounts of validation by others, secret shames and guilts, entitlements, privilege, collective assumptions of superiority of religion or nation, technological advancement, etc.

These maps are constantly shifting, alive, open to new possibilities, generating new frames, roles. transdimensmap1This picture on the right hints at this dynamism.

Part of this, on the left, is the ways new roles keep getting added, shuffled around, revised. transdimensmap5This is the dynamism of psychology, involving getting tired, resting, moving into a mundane role, and from there into an interesting avocation, etc.

It may seem similar, but here on the right below is a map that really represents the way four or five people are collaborating on the same task, the same general goal,transdimensmap6 only each has his or her own approach, as symbolized by the boxes in the different corners.

Let this seem overly complex, let me say it clearly: It is indeed, intrinsically quite complex, and there is no way of suggesting that it is not. Certain tasks and perspectives may be simplified for various reasons, and this may be useful for certain purposes. That can be said honestly. But that doesn’t mean that the situation is indeed simple. This distinction is lost on many people.

transdimensmap4There has been a good deal of discussion of the nature of family dynamics at a theoretical level. This picture adds to that analysis. More than two people can be involved in establishing their various roles and needs. What’s shown here again are the intrinsic “frames of reference” for the various players involved.

Finally, on the right is a picture of a larger organization and its many interacting frames of reference or role involvements.transdimensmap3 Note that they are not distinct—one leads to or bleeds over into another. Social depth psychology works that way. It recognizes more distinctly that many phenomena are described as systems rather than individuals; the system has reinforcing and dampening dynamisms that go beyond the health or sickness or desire or awareness of any individual.

In summary, these diagrams are not meant to plot out clean issues, but rather to suggest the dynamic flow of role constructions, dissolutions, re-framings, and negotiations the operate at multiple levels simultaneously in many social contexts. We may simplify the diagrams for certain purposes, but to say again, that doesn’t mean that the relations themselves are simple.

Social depth psychology recognizes more clearly that interpersonal relationships are so multi-faceted and real, drawing not only on the projections and transferences and realistic perceptions of the parties involved, but also mixing these with a host of subtle nonverbal communications and reinforcing or suppressing dynamics that amplify these dynamics. Often there are distortions, mistaken interpretations, superimposed stereotypes, imposed power dynamics, and so forth. Alas, this just makes it harder to pin down human interactional analysis, but that’s the way it goes.

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