Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Sorting Yourself Out

Originally posted on July 20, 2017

This website posting is about the applications of sociometry, which is J. L. Moreno’s system for assessing the ways people sort themselves out, tend to form groupings of like-minded people. It’s way more complex than that—that’s the problem. We shift our loyalties depending on the criteria, the meaning of the grouping. There are some we might want to date and others with whom we would prefer to go fishing—and they may or may not be the same people!

Doctor Jacob L. Moreno, an innovative psychiatrist, also thought about social psychology. He was more extroverted by far than Freud, and as a result saw humanity as inextricably embedded in family, community, and many widening social networks. To analyze people without consid-ering the wider network is like considering a cell’s function apart from the support systems and intimate communications with other types of cells near and far.

Sociometry was Moreno’s attempt to bring some “science” to the phenomenon: Alas, his efforts were doomed to fail in the sense of knowing absolutely what’s going on, because as he noticed himself, our existence is being co-created all the time, what we mean to others as well as what they mean to us. It’s a more complex interaction, that of minds relating to other minds—more complex by a whole order of magnitude of complexity.

Please note that sociometric interactions are highly interactional and partially unconscious, so that as we become aware (or even unconsciously pick up) our acceptability or non-acceptability to others, we begin to behave in ways that draws us closer or farther away from those others, closer to yet others who like us. (But “science” in the mid-1930s was the most complex language at the time.) This pattern of multiple interpretations is most obvious with those with whom we have strong reactions, but operates also in subtle and usually unconscious ways with those with whom we have milder feelings.

Sociometry is attention given to attempting to measure these interactions. At first it may seem pretty simple: Ask people whom the would prefer to be with for some specific activity. But it immediately becomes complex beyond its own capacities, because we may prefer some people over others to play ball with, while others are preferred in the classroom. Indeed, the reasons and type of criteria are many and varied, and furthermore, some are unconscious!

Plot these preferences, and plot also some of their interactions! Note first and second preferences. Then it gets complicated, because A might like B but B clearly does not like A—indeed, B hates A!  Or maybe A feels indifferent to B, or not indifferent, but only neutral—there is a subtle  difference between true indifference and neutrality.

Discussing These Issues Openly

Moreno was quite optimistic, almost naively so. People really don’t want to express their own preferences openly, partly because as the proverb says, folks want to have their cake and eat it, too. Their own motivations are foggy, full of internal contradictions. Folks don’t want to be too explicit—also known as not wanting to admit stuff to themselves. Magical thinking is ever-present—we must acknowledge this! (Freud was oh so right on this point!)

Still, it’s better to be conscious than unconscious, and indeed the history of the evolution of humanity may be also viewed as the gradual emergence—with back-slidings—of this trend. We may be ready to acknowledge our social nature and also learn more about it. It’s actually more complicated than anyone can grasp!

The lack of full guarantees that everything is known should not dissuade is from starting with what we can know, however crude these hypotheses may be. One must start slow, as a beginner.

Moreno wanted sociometry to be intimately tied to psychodrama, but then again, his own versions of what psychodrama could and should be were what most folks would consider somewhat grandiose. Maybe in five hundred years, not so much, but for now, certainly. Meanwhile, my plan is to present some beginning sociometric ideas—call it “sorting yourself out”—what the “Magical Sorting Hat” did at the Hogwarts Academy for Young Magicians in the Harry Potter fantasy stories that were so popular in the first decade of the 21st century. Alas, no one will do magic for you. You need to sort yourself out.

Making It More Complicated: Sub-Personalities

The problem in part lies in the very real fact that you have different moods, parts of you that come to the fore. It may be feasible to think and talk not of yourself, but rater your selves, plural. You play many roles! So it might be possible to more accurately speak of your parts, as in “Part of me…” That is, people are complex, they play many roles, and it might be more accurate to speak in terms of parts of self, or having sub-selves.

I’m thinking of writing a book that amplifies the method of socio-analysis called sociometry so that it’s useful not just for those psychotherapists who use psychodrama. (They are the ones who have known about this so far, but I suspect that would in the long range be perhaps the least of the readership. It’s really aimed at normal, average teens and adults, a beginning primer.  It would include some of what’s in my book, Foundations of Psychodrama, in the chapters on role dynamics, and also in a monograph I did titled Role Dynamics.)

I want to help you to sort yourselves out, for want of a better term. It represents a new form of popularized depth psychology called social depth psychology. It’s not about you alone, but your picking up cues that others are interested in you, too—rather than indifferent. It matters only slightly that you to some degree talk past each other. You care about the other enough to try to communicate with them, even though it’s mainly through your own “filter.”

So this is about a form of applied social psychology. Although it’s based on another creation of Doctor Jacob L. Moreno, I think it may be moderately divorced from psychodrama—which he also invented. (The two methods are related a bit, but not as tightly as he claimed, I don’t think. Of course there are overlaps, but these two fields should be considered to be more like the relations between basic physics or chemistry. Social depth psychology involving sociometry is again related to role dynamics, and again this relationship might be imagined to be like the relationship between magnetism and electricity. The two dynamics are different in many ways, but also related in some ways.

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