Exploring Your Own Connectedness through Sociometry
Adam Blatner, M.D.
Sociometry throws light on the challenge of making friends, finding one's own optimal level of socialization, connectedness. I was going to say "being popular," because that was what I was taught was the goal. One was either popular or unpopular, according to the general consensus around 1950. Since I found the challenges of popularity daunting, I felt confused, because in certain situations, I enjoyed socializing. What was missing was someone who would challenge the common sense idea and tell me that a major part of this skill was finding the people who shared my natural tastes and interests, and it was entirely possible that these people might not be those generally deemed "popular."
Later in life I began to learn greater discrimination, and learning about sociometry further increased this capacity to connect with the people with whom I had more natural rapport. But respecting one's natural rapport doesn't come naturally, because there are many social traditions and sets of expectations that obscure its flow.
For the purposes of this conference as a laboratory, the point of this workshop is to serve as a laboratory in practicing the skills of choosing and making it easier for others to choose you–or not. The key is to warm up to the activity of disclosing those facts about yourself that you want to be chosen for.
In the 1960s movie, Picnic, the female lead, played by the actress Kim Novack, had a boyfriend who continually focused on how beautiful she was. But she fell for another guy, played by William Holden, because he "needed" her. She was sick of being chosen for her physical features–she knew she was attractive, but that wasn't the focus of her identity. She had other elements that were more important. Similarly, some of us find ourselves chosen for criteria that aren't relevant to our interests, sometimes just at the moment, sometimes in general.
So the exercise of writing a personals ad becomes illuminating. There are ads for romantic connections, frankly sexual ones, and sometimes, just companionship. What about ads here, not in printed form, but in how you introduce yourself, or even perhaps to wear on your shirt or coat, about your areas of special interest? (Constructing a web-site is another way to put it out there!)
You're here at a psychodrama conference: But within this broad
there are numerous sub-fields, areas of application, types of methods
want to know about, and also associated fields that may overlap.
- Applications in addictions, trauma, work with developmentally disabled, grief work, business consultation, education, religious retreats, children, adolescents, seniors, marriage and family work, etc.
- People who also are interested in the integration of psychodrama with their own religious background, shamanism, other psycho-spiritual fields, psychoanalysis, family systems theory, body work, etc.
These themes involve the connectedness of common interest–in sociometric lingo, "socio-tele." As you find these folks who share such themes, there is also the challenge of finding those within those subgroups with whom you experience natural rapport on a more personal level–"psyche-tele." At present, this level of connectedness can't be made to happen, but you can sharpen your sensitivity through practice in choosing and being chosen.
There's a bit of courage here, of moving past the habitual barrier of fear of being "rejected," or at least, not chosen by someone whom you might have chosen. So just remember to have faith, that you will find enough people to fill your social needs. (After all, if you think about it, most people can't handle more than a few close friends and a score of medium-close friends, if you think of the time it takes to maintain and cultivate these relationships. The next level out, the Christmas-card list, are perhaps one step up from acquaintances... but you get the idea.)
The exercises at this workshop focus on the activity of choosing and
being chosen, and gradually practicing disclosing what is relevant to
Just coming up with the criteria that you want to choose and be chosen
for requires a bit of warming-up. Exercises that touch on themes that
relevant will stimulate you in one way, and those that seem irrelevant,
or the issues a bit distant, will stimulate you by contrast: If it's
about this, what is it about?
One of the values of sociometry is that it counters some trends in modern culture towards impersonal efficiency. Modern business and organizational culture seems to assume that people are "adult" and have sufficient personal psychological reserves that they don't require much reassurance. To challenge this almost risks being judged as too soft, as wanting pampering and to pamper others. On the other hand, much of the more progressive writings on management theory seems to be moving more towards a recognition of the need for "emotional intelligence" in the workplace (Goleman, 1998).
Saying this another way, I think we need to become more sharply aware that our cultural norms value a mechanistic ideal of efficiency, and the lubrication of relational maintenance as a consequence has become neglected. To cope, an attitude of slight "tough-ness" is widely modeled, by contemporary fashion models as well as on situation comedies on television. The ideal persona is "being cool," having an edge of "attitude," as if to say, "Don't mess with me." There's a subtle cynicism, an implicit expectation of not being fully respected, a slight edge of hostility, or uncaringness. This is an example of the defense mechanism of identification with the aggressor, as if to say, "If you treat me as if I were tough and can take low grade emotional neglect and abuse, I'll be tough, and I'll give it right back to you." This reinforces the general belief that "real" adults don't need to be pampered. Indeed, an edge of teasing and friction has almost become expected as a mode of interchange, and for some, it's the only comfortable level of interpersonal interaction. That way, everyone gets to keep up his or her defenses. In the Human Potential years (late 60s-early 70s), this was called "game playing.". The point is that this attitude supports a fundamental illusion: Grown-ups don't need kindness.
The problem is that people are also rude to themselves. And a growing not just lack of respect, but outright rudeness is becoming a common norm in adolescence, towards teachers, parents, and others. Many adults have continued this attitude, which really hides a more primitive self-indulgence and impatience.
To assume that adults are self-possessed enough so that they don't need the lubrication of careful tactfulness is an act of hostile idealization. Although this attitude is a lot softer and less dramatic than those of more flagrant abusers, it still partakes of the rationalizing dynamic of the rapist who wants to believe that "she really wanted it." This attitude actively denies the "vulnerable inner child" complex, as if to say, "There's nothing vulnerable in here." (Or, to quote the Paul Simon song, "I am a rock, I am an island.")
It is important, instead, to cease denying to ourselves or others the desire to be liked, recognized, respected, appreciated, and to feel hurt if these are not forthcoming. As Eric Berne put it, people need strokes, and especially "warm fuzzies."
It's possible to cover over this desire, to repress it, and to pretend that you're too tough or cool to need to be "treated with kid gloves." And when we see coaches yelling at their players, we think it's more grown-up. This is part of the ethos of toughness in a warrior culture. But the illusion of strength as a warrior only applies to a small and growing smaller sector of military applications-and some police-like roles, roles that deal with the uncivilized sector of our world where people manifest physical violence.
These, though, are primal roles, touching nerves of ourselves in contact with other kids when we were two to five years old, and perhaps older, if we lived in neighborhoods in which fighting occurred. These primal roles remain vibrant, and incline us to not only sympathize with activities in which personal injury is a key factor, but to identify with such roles, even if they have little to do with the business of our everyday lives. The point here is those roles have little to do with the niceties of human relationships. They exist in another realm, the realm of survival. The problem is that we carry over these primal identifications into another developmental phase, in which being civilized becomes the key. What's funny, though, is the way these transitions can become blurred and disguised.
I would suggest that this feeling, were we to dare to become sensitive to it, would be found to be the source of a significant degree of inhibition, slight regression, and low-grade suffering. To notice such experiences, though, one must at least dare to imagine what it might be like not to be isolated. If that's "just the way it is, so grow up and deal with it," then a measure of hardening is the adaptive response. Act as if you don't care, and indeed, at any conscious level, stop caring. But if it doesn't have to be that way, then the hunger for more interpersonal flow emerges, and with it a sense of increased vulnerability.
Consider, then, the ideal, the availability of sociometric-like processes that support interpersonal connectedness and group cohesion. The goal in part is to bring out the best in people, their inherent resources. Another goal is to help people to feel known, comfortable, valued and active as change agents.
Traditionally, alcohol or other mood-altering substances have been used to facilitate this mood, but these also have significant disadvantages. These may be lubricants in small doses, reducing self-consciousness, but in larger doses, intoxication often acts as a dividing and blinding filter through which the individual experiences relationship only with the substance and the altered self.
I want to suggest that people need to become more specifically aware of the components of the host/hostess role, so that everyone takes responsibility to act as a CO-host. (I'm reminded of the way that Moreno said that everyone must be the therapist to one another. Applying this to the principles of psychodrama, which he also articulated, everyone then must participate in warming-up the other, and doing what it takes to warm up the group.) The task, here, is less the management of the information, the presentations by the speakers, the timing of the workshops, the tasks of teaching and learning, and more the challenge of helping people to feel included, recognized, known. The underlying sensibility needs to move from formal organization to sociometry.
I call out this role; name it, because people tend to think of themselves as being nice enough, as if mere general intentionality could deliver the impact of behavior. But feeling benign, smiling, well, that's not really enough. The hostess recognizes the many little factors, the real work, involved. There's a need to extend oneself and to do it with artistry. As I said, it looks easy, effortless, and so folks think they can do it, and that they are doing it, when in fact they aren't. So the first step in considering this role is the opening to the idea that one could do it much better. (Or as the Zen masters suggest, there is great benefit in cultivating "beginner's mind.")
I will extend this idea slightly: Those affiliated with fields such as psychology, management, and other "people" roles often tend to think of themselves as knowledgeable in this skill. Their learning and expertise certifies them. But in fact, no professional school explicitly teaches, "being nice"! (Alas, I wish they would!) And few if any courses address the kinds of interactive components being described in this paper. The sub-skills here tend to be assumed, taken for granted, when in fact, they are largely missing.
(Maybe "uncertain tele" needs to become a recognized category. For many people in a larger group, there just hasn't been enough behavior exhibited or exchanged for any "take" to register in consciousness. It's not the same as neutral or indifferent. It's more of a potential role category.)
This feeling-out period can be awkward, and that is what the hostess function addresses-ways of "breaking the ice," of facilitating the warm-up.
One of the problems in this process is the awareness that one will inevitably encounter others with whom has negative tele, even if these represent only a small fraction (Blatner, 1994). Then there are others with whom one discovers a more mildly negative or just moving into neutral or indifferent tele. One can be cordial, but no rapport develops for anything beyond that. In such cases, even the hostess cannot push towards greater intimacy; but that role will act to promote access of the other person to others with whom a greater natural rapport might unfold. In other words, when in doubt, introduce the other person to yet another person, or a group.
There may be occasions for genuine encounter, to seek to resolve conflicts or frictions. On the other hand, the circumstances may not support such an effort. At least, though, such feelings should be noted as a personal challenge. Sometimes, what feels negative in the other may represent what Jung called a "shadow" complex, certain disowned qualities in oneself. Doing some personal therapy or contemplation about such events often results in further psycho-spiritual development.
Another strategy is to consider negative tele to be role-dependent, and search a bit for some roles in which some common interest, shared viewpoint, or new potential might be found. The rare person who "never met someone they didn't like" is especially or naturally talented in this skill. In other words, try to draw the other person out a bit, seeking certain elements that could emerge. Not infrequently, this small effort is successful.
There are those whose reserve has become a bit habitual, and without knowing it, they just don't disclose enough for others to find a connecting link. Thus, part of the hostess role also involves having a cultivated awareness and interest in many possible topics, even if the interest is most superficial. The key here is interest, not expertise, and it is possible to cultivate the art of becoming interested, curious. This is what gets talk show hosts on television contracts for millions of dollars
About negative tele, though: Depending on its strength, if the "vibes" are distinctly uncomfortable-and it is important to learn to pay attention to your intuition in this respect-don't try to be too friendly! Such efforts, when the rapport is off, tend to be taken wrong, they backfire; they increase the sense of friction.
Jack notes, "What emerges is the there-and-then of trauma of childhood when one's needs for loving and nurturing connection was ignored. The relationship then falls in to a there-and-then scenario and the erroneous meanings of childhood emerge in the here and now." In other words, transference is a pervasive dynamic that affects tele. (Moreno was mistaken in trying to distinguish the two dynamics. They overlap to some significant degree, although there are elements of tele that cannot be reduced to mere previous experience.)
The other pitfall when one experiences negative tele, is to be tempted to go in the other direction-to "build a case" against that person, to start coming up with reasons, to call the other person names in your mind. This isn't necessary or fair. That person might click quite well with someone else and there is nothing wrong with you for not having made a good connection. It's not their fault; it's not your fault. No blame. Just know that tele is distributed in the population, sort of statistically, and there'll be some folks with whom you click rather naturally, and others where the opposite occurs.
Most people, you'll find, are more in-between, and that's where the warming-up process comes in. It's a matter of going against the temptation to give in to a low-grade feeling of disappointment at all the people with whom good connections aren't happening. This is the hostess role, again: A bit of courage and stamina is needed to promote inclusiveness--if not with you personally, then to help others to become acquainted, and to raise the over-all sense of group cohesion. The aforementioned temptation to just let it happen should be recognized, because it leads to a very subtle slide into often-subconscious passive-aggressiveness, of withdrawal, which then undercuts the hostess role.
Of course, you need not feel that you're the only one and feel compelled to maniacally be the social butterfly. It's in-between. If everyone will take 20% more responsibility to embody this role, it would transform large group functions.
One possible solution is to offer some workshops primarily as opportunities for free networking, and even to introduce a bit of structure by the workshop leader that might facilitate this. (In other words, the group leader would use sociometry according to various criteria to foster natural groupings based on different types of socio- and psyche- tele.)
The point to note is that although conference participants attend in order to partake of the formal agenda of the conference, more than is sufficiently recognized, people really want to make contacts. There is a subtle dynamic of ego-nutrition and expansion that comes from making acquaintances and turning some acquaintances into near friends. One then leaves the conferences with an expanded sense of social network and presence in an otherwise-alienated world.
So let's have specific sub-programs within a conference designed to facilitate these informal connections. Part of those programs might involve activities dedicated to warming-up people, helping participants to discover what they want to share about themselves. Jack, who is interested in the dynamics of shamanism, says, "I look at this dynamic as the forming of small clans and people who are attracted to deeper commonalties. In the culture of the native population, the sub groups are often categorized in clans relating to the primary totem animal, raven, bear, wolf, buffalo, etc. These had their origin in the needs of survival taught by each animal in a hunter-gatherer society. A thought I have is to develop a set of subgroups based on the seeker-gatherer of connection with those who are telically attracted. Then have each subgroup of 4 people each demonstrate how they would collaborate in working together towards a synergistic relationship of mutual care and care beyond the small group. In the process what I am looking for in the proposal is to follow the theme of the interdisciplinary communication and mutual support."
What I'm getting at, then, is a process of gradual, stepwise, mutual self-disclosure, in layers, from the more superficial toward the deeper, in response to others' self-disclosures and a growth of a sense of non-judgment and even positive sympathy. There's also a process of moving from the periphery to the core, starting with emotionally relatively neutral or self-distanced themes and beginning to talk more about issues that are more meaningful and personal.
And yet, the earlier topics must still have enough relevance so as not to seem really superficial and trivial, which is then almost a turnoff. I've found that one area that helps to bridge this gap is that of imagination, of talking about what kinds of fantasy figures you might have enjoyed as a kid, which super-heroes, books, games. Games in which there is a measure of improvisation also helps.
Another element in building group cohesion is to have a task, which demands a measure of risk-taking, challenge, and interdependency. Having been on a team in a "ropes course" or "survival program" will tend to generate a sense of closeness, at least for a while.
We should recognize that longer-term relationships have developed either a fair number of complementary roles-not just one or two-or at least several about themes that tend to continue to be lively and intensely relevant in both people's lives. (We need to recognize and cultivate a capacity to release those whose interests and priorities shift with time, as they are often likely to do.)
(The language of "growing away" can be problematic, because it may imply a value judgment of the person "grown away from," as if that other person didn't "grow enough." It may not be fair or accurate. That person may indeed have grown, but in another direction. A has developed her family life, while B developed her career. Neither may deserve to be objectively valued as being "better.")
Structured games with rules and skills are a fine way to build group cohesion if you want to take years to do it. ( I like the use of circle sociometry using criteria such as "who has" or "who knows" or "who does", or "who has experienced" as warm ups in new groups where there is unknown cohesion and then going more toward the specific deeper connections.)
In a group of from
fifteen to thirty participants, the director
"Who here has lost a father?" A few people stand up. "Come to the
and make a circle and look at each other." After a few moments, "Okay,
go back to your places." Then, "Who has lost a mother?"
little ritual is repeated about a wide range of experiences, and it
as a way of self-disclosure, of finding those who have shared a key
a good warm-up for further work, and a reminder of the sheer complexity
of life. Themes such as divorce, loss of a child, loss of an important
parenting figure who was not actually a parent, loss of a pet, having
fired, having been in jail, having been sexually abused, etc., all
out further facets in life. After doing a number of these, the group is
asked to suggest other criteria the director may not have thought of or
Becoming more sensitive to the varying levels of rapport in our social environment offers the promise of finding like-minded people with whom we can more comfortably relate, and from this, people can generate more productive cooperative efforts.
The nice thing about a website paper is that you can comment on it, email me, and suggest additions and revisions. That fosters the sociometric process, too!