Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Notes on Transference and Sociometry

Originally posted on August 18, 2017

Freud was right that often we react to some people the way we reacted to other people who had some rough similarity. It’s simple generalization. Freud called it transference. But over time it all becomes more complex: What if the other person smiles at us instead of frowns? We may be more likely to be favorably disposed, or at least less threatened. It’s not just a one-time dynamic: Interactional dynamics should be noted, too.

“Sociometry,” the assessment of social relationships, was introduced by Moreno in the 1930s. I don’t know whether Moreno fully realized how very complex relationships can be. People ampli-fy their actions in ongoing behavior, or counter them, and this changes first impressions and reactions. (The implications of time as a dimension had in the 1930s only recently been articulated by Einstein and were hardly absorbed by the general populace.)

What sociometry really shows us is that relationships are profoundly complex! Relationships go back and forth over time, and gentle reassurance or perception of common elements make interpersonal preference a process that cannot be reduced to mere generalization. In other words, for example, a parent who makes a mistake that is unintentional, but perceived by a child as cruel, will evoke wariness in her child. Transference or generalization? But it the parent then realizes it and behaves in an apologetic and nice and reassuring way, the reaction will be alleviated.

That is to say that relationships are not only conditioned by the here-and-now, but also by what is done next, and again. Rejections or hurts can be corrected or compounded. They may be overlooked a few times or registered as hostile immediately. One person puts up with a lot of rejection in order to feel bonded. Another person is unconsciously looking for an excuse: A minor slight is magnified and used as a justification to “break it off.”

Sociometry is not meant to just take a snapshot in time, but to be used repeatedly to give feedback and promote interpersonal harmony. Perhaps also enough disharmony for people who don’t fit to leave. Some clarity is sought for thses in the face of a great deal of motivation to act without taking responsibility for the action—what the existentialists call “acting in bad faith.”.

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