Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Social Embedded-ness

Originally posted on March 10, 2014

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon, how people are caught up in an invisible matrix of influences. I recently read an article in the April, 2014 Discovery Magazine about how depth psychology and neurophysiology are being brought together, and I am in favor of integrations. (Actually, they were talking about psychoanalysis, but I find that most of that Freudian and post-Freudian approach has a number of limitations, though part of it is more humanistic and complex than those who approach the mind from a purely physical viewpoint. But there are many other theories and therapies that respect the depth of mind!)

This essay is about another realm that also needs integration: the social. Humans are exquisitely sensitive to how they are esteemed by others, and this makes a big difference in our psychic ecology. Are we liked or disliked, recognized or ignored, and in more subtle gradations, how do we perceive we stand in relation to others?

One of my teachers, Jacob L. Moreno (1889-1974), developed a method called sociometry that helped make this invisible realm of social interactions more visible. While not addressing all of this incredibly rich dynamic, sociometry does help illuminate some of the dimensions of social embeddedness. I think this attention to what I elsewhere call social-depth-psychology is important.

Sociometry has been preserved by the field of psychodrama, but Moreno gave the method and his journal to the American Sociological Journal. They ran with it for a while and then dropped it. Sociometry has been largely forgotten by social scientists, but a sub-type has emerged, Social Network Analysis. The trouble with that approach is that the people involved are not much involved in becoming more socially and psychologically liberated, and that is what Moreno was aiming for.

As Moreno envisioned it, sociometry (or what it refers to, the dynamic I call social depth psychology) is a process that far transcends psychodrama and belongs to all people. This is also true of germs and electromagnetic radiation and other previously invisible phenomena are good to know about for many reasons.

I’m not sure that social embeddedness is the best term to use. Maybe you can propose a better one. It refers to so many dynamics, some of which I’ll mention below. Most folks are not much aware of these dynamics. But certainly we can learn to become more explicitly conscious of these phenomena, the better to talk about them. That’s my point.

Here are some of the themes that need to become part of general awareness:
   1. Who likes us, who admires us, who doesn’t care for us? Let’s help people realize that everyone is not a fan, and to find others who share natural affinities.
   2. Who finds us cute, amusing, are willing to play the role of audience, even for a short time?     3. Whom do we find interesting and are willing to spend some time being their audience? This is a gradient, as are so many other factors. Some people, a lot; some, some; some, not much if any. It’s good to be able to notice when we’re bored and to create situations where we are free to turn our attention to what is more interesting. Our culture generally does not allow this. What’s problematic is that after a while, people stop even being aware that they want it to be different! (That’s a variation of a mild slave mentality.)
   4. With which people or under what circumstances do you get noticed or not?
   5. How can you pick up on the gradients of status around you? Often there’s a tendency to seek being liked by those with greater status, and you might notice that being noticed or approved of or needed or liked by people who have high status in others’ eyes has its own tempting effect.
   6. Notice that sometimes you are liked by others who don’t have a lot of status in the eyes of other peers. You might like them anyway, or you might let that relationship go.
   7. Notice that you feel hurt if someone ignores or neglects you. Also, that you feel guilty if you think others need you more than you need them.
   8. You’ll notice gradients of direct helping—those who nurture you or those whom you nurture. You may accept or reject a helping role, or the role of being helped—or you may be a bit resistant, to varying degrees.
   9. When is a relationship enmeshed, co-dependent, too much and when is it just right?
  10. Do you or someone you know slip into the role of the hyper-independent loner instead of finding a way to mix mutual need and independence in a mature blend?
  11. All these adjustments are exhibited in subtle ways, often through non-verbal messages. Tone of voice, speed of talk, accents, and the like are sort of non-verbal—they are technically called “non-lexical” communications. All these carry subtle and usually unconscious signals of status, rank, liking, admiration, feedback, courtesy, flattery, etc.
  12. Gender roles are communicated also, so that one may be a man who feels more comfortable communicating with men—except when courting or flirting; or a woman similarly who feels more comfortable with other women. There are men who do better with women and women with men. No judgment is implied, other than there are various mixtures.
   13. We assess the degree of commitment to the group, the church, the club, the association; we can’t help it.
    14. We sense when people are more altruistic in their job or oriented toward competitiveness and their own comforts or benefits. This and other variables are not either-or, but often are mixed and somewhere on a gradient. We sense when others having an ethos of service or obedience to the exigencies of duty, and when they don’t care that much.
   15. Finally, people can be excessive in all directions, excessively hypersensitive to any hint of lack of respect; overly self-conscious, and so forth.
   16. It’s awkward when there’s a gross imbalance of giving presents, working harder than the others, and other interpersonal behaviors.
      These and other variables all are part of the general theme of degree of social embeddedness.
My goal is just to get folks thinking and talking about what tends not to get talked about. It’s gossiped about a lot, but often the behavior that is blamed or mocked is not put into the context of how the object of the gossip is supposed to know? Often there are cultural or economic reasons that are ignored. Others are just “supposed” to know, and then we get to wonder why they don’t “care.” Of course, everyone seems to know the rules, or should; everyone has access to the resources to live up to our standards, or should. That people should question their own values and expectations? They don’t even differentiate personal or group values from reality. It’s just the way things are. The point here is that social-depth-psychology is crucial to counter this sort of poor interpersonal psychological hygiene.

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