Auto-Tele: Clarifying Your Inner World

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Auto-Tele: Clarifying Your Inner World
Adam Blatner, M.D.
Posted March 18, 2011

Auto-tele, defined by Dr. J. L. Moreno on page 4 of his article, “Psychodramatic Shock Therapy,” first published in 1939 in Sociometry, Volume 2, pp. 1-30—and this was then reprinted in the 1974 journal, Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, (? Vol. 28 (1-4):
“A more through consideration of the position of the individual within his social atom suggests considering him also in relationship with himself. As an infant grows he does not only experience other people but also experiences himself. As a result of this tele-relationship, he begins not only to feel himself, but also to see himself as one towards whom persons have acted in a certain way and as one who has acted towards them in a certain way. Gradually he develops a picture of himself. This picture of himself may differ considerably from the picture others have of him, but it becomes considerably significant for him as life goes on. The gap between him as he is and acts and between the picture he has of himself is growing. Finally, it appears as if he had, besides his real ego, and outside ego which he gradually extrojects. Between the ego and his extrojection, a peculiar feeling relationship develops which may be called “auto”-tele.”

Also, on page 16 of the reprinted 1974 edition:
As we have indicated, in the normal social atom an individual has, besides the tele relationships to other persons, a tele relationship towards himself. Since, in the psychotic sociogram, the individual is replaced by numerous roles, the relationship of the individual to himself is replaced by a relationship of every role to itself. The original “ auto-tele” is thus broken up into several units. Consequently, the relationship between the individual and his social atom is replaced by a relationship between his roles and the personae.

(Thanks to Rosa Cukier of Brazil for helping to find these quotes)

Tele is the term coined by Dr. Jacob L. Moreno (1889-1974), the inventor of psychodrama and sociometry, and a pioneer of role theory and social psychology. I think the closest familiar term that approximates the meaning of tele is “rapport.” Tele refers to the quality of preferences, usually reciprocated, that operate in the interpersonal field—including group dynamics. (I write about tele elsewhere on this website.)

Moreno used this concept as part of his theory of sociometry—assessing the nature of inter-personal connectedness in a group. In this sense, tele is what is measured by sociometry. But the point in this paper is that preference operates also at other levels. We prefer not just other people, but also like-minded people who share our enjoyment of or disdain toward certain social roles—in which case it’s called “socio-tele.” The theme can be expanded, but for purposes of this paper, let’s focus on the way people experience a pull towards or push away from their own inner roles.

We feel tele with people we like, and often feel reciprocated negative tele with those we dislike. Sometimes, though, the feelings are mixed, or one likes another but the other doesn’t return the feeling. I think it’s a very important concept, but, like the concepts of the atom or the cell or the star, there is often much more to it than the first people who developed the concept have imagined.

The tele felt by people towards the complexes in their own psyche is what Moreno meant by “auto-tele.” Some people really like their “inner child,” while others hate this complex. Moreno imagined the psyche to be best understood as an aggregate of a goodly number of roles, and I agree that this is a particularly useful tool for analyzing systems.

One way to think about your inner life is that there are a number of parts of yourself, different selves—the greedy one, the artistic one, the vulnerable little child—and there are also inner imagos or images of other key people in your life—also known as “internalized objects.” (They aren’t thing-like objects, but rather the objects of your love or hate. It’s a term used in psychoanalysis that, in my opinion, is semantically misleading.) Now the key to the dynamic of auto-tele is that all of these parts and imagined others and your present self as yet another part interact with varying degrees of tele!

In other words, you really like this role and really hate that role—wish you could be rid of it but it won’t go away. You’re mixed about this other role. Some roles seem to stick around and it’s as if they like or are attached to you more than you (ordinary ego consciousness) like that role! This is how the concept of tele applies to the inner world—there are relationships, and there are varying degrees of positivity, negativity, and reciprocity.

Dissociation involves two roles that pretend not to acknowledge the existence of each other; or one role knows about the other, but not vice versa. There are all sorts of permutations and combinations, just as there are among external actual social networks.

If we consider that the external but no longer manifest world of other people who aren’t around, maybe dead, or are yet unborn, heroes and villains on the cultural stage, all of these are also represented as imagos—internal figures in the realm of surplus reality—then we might also recognize that again we have tele—more or less, positive, neutral, indifferent, mixed, negative—with all these figures, too.

Now my point is that most of these inner sociodynamics are as unconscious or subconscious as all the rest of one’s psychology, and exploring auto-tele is just one way to bring some of these issues out into the light of explicit consciousness. Then these relationships can be more, well, consciously negotiated, adjusted. As long as they remained buried they operate with a certain degree of primitive autonomy.

By primitive autonomy I refer to the way magical thinking pervades the subconscious mind. You can imagine that you undo an unpleasant event, make it not happen, or happen differently. You can be the aggressor and they are the vulnerable one. You may feel small so you can imagine that you’re big and powerful. Many of the so-called defense mechanisms operate using these symbolic and magical modes of thinking. It’s not the way grown-up real life works, but large numbers of people spend a fair amount of their psychic life getting re-balanced or re-establishing their sense of value and efficacy through these imagined pathways. More, these activities happen without any conscious decision to do so—that’s why I call it autonomy.

There are some of these imaginings that happen with more or less intentionality—then it’s called fantasizing, or pretending—but for every episode where you consciously kind of know you’re pretending, there may be ten or a hundred episodes that slip through and distract or comfort your mind and you didn’t consciously intend that activity.

If you get my meaning, yes, I’m implying that humans are for the most part operating at an implicit, illusion-suffused, semi-conscious and sub-conscious and unconscious level, with just enough consciousness to adapt adequately to the world around them. They then give themselves the compliment of assuming that they’re as awake as can be, but they’re just comparing themselves to beings that are even less conscious than them, kids and animals and people in the distant past. Ironically, they screen out the possibility that those three categories might have exhibited or preserved types of consciousness, intelligence, sensitivity, and other capacities that remain largely unknown to most adults today.

Anyway, the challenge is to wake up a bit more, and make choices based on being more awake. Knowing about auto-tele can help in this. The technique is simple: Name the parts, and then evaluate the relationship between the choosing self-now—the “you” with whom you identify most clearly in the most awake state at present—and all the other parts. (This You-Here-and-Now is not the optimal consciousness, but it’s the best that people can do and so we begin with where you are, here and now. Expect yourself to grow into ever more consciousness!)

Techniques for Assessing Auto-Tele
It may be quite helpful to use two types of tool to do this. One is the availability of writing instruments and surfaces—pencils and paper—which were not readily available thousands of years ago. Use these tools to make lists, write words, and make diagrams. This allows you to change your mind, erase (ah, erasers are one of the most under-rated inventions!!) and move things around: That which was closer on the diagram, upon consideration, may be moved out a level or two; and other items may be moved closer, or sub-divided into components, some of which you value and like and others which you don’t care for so much. Basically, do a social atom exercise on your own inner role repertoire.

The second tool is enactment with one or several people as audience, witness. A facilitator, therapist, or guide may be helpful, but for some is not all that necessary. The point is that when you externalize a thought, feeling, awareness, you make it more real; and when you know that a real other person has heard you, you make it even more real; and if two or more people, it’s again more real. So you’re affirming that you respect yourself and your process of moving into consciousness, and you are feeling affirmed by them that you’re doing this.

(In a way, I’m trying also here to de-mystify psychotherapy and go a step further—it doesn’t need to be “therapy” in that you don’t need to be in the sick role or imply that anything’s wrong. The process works even better if you’re healthy and want to move towards more health, consciousness, and vitality! In that case, the process is… what to call it? Not therapy… but coaching? Vitalizing?)

Now let’s add to the social atom technique the variable of tele: You can begin by focusing your mind enough to add to the little circles or symbols you make for the various parts of you (including the others as they exist in your imagination world) various arrows to indicate positive, negative, or ambivalent tele. Use other arrows or represent other feelings however you wish.

Extend this exercise. Talk about your inner social atom with a partner.

Now role reverse with some of these “other” inner roles, in order to identify more clearly, to notice, not only how you feel about these roles, but what their pull is on you. Dare to imagine if they’re wanting to be closer or wanting to go further away. Do they care or not? Do you care or not? Look at your relationship with these different inner roles. Here are some possibilities:

What if one of the roles you’ve allowed to remain at a distance is figuratively calling to you? “Please embody and express me! Don’t let us die without my having had a chance to bubble to the surface! Find a way to do this!”

Of course, you may decide to let sleeping dogs lie. You may, upon considerations, tell it directly, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” or some such distancing phrase. You are free to turn away.

Or perhaps you may say, “You really think I can? I’ve always liked you but never thought I was good enough to…” There’s an interesting encounter that might be fruitful in your life.

There’s not pre-determined script here: You are the creator, and this can be a most fertile and challenging process. But bringing the issues into the light of consciousness can help.
Working With Auto-Tele
Auto-tele is a term for the relationships between his sense of self and the various internalized roles and role relationships. (That is to say, a protagonist may harbor not only his “inner child,” but also the remembered—or mis-remembered—impressions of how various adults, siblings, or peers reacted to this role. Did they mock this part or offer sympathetic rescue?) In other words, what comes into focus with this term is not only the repertoire of inner roles, but also their emotional valence. By creating a living sculpture or just assigning places for auxiliaries to play each role on the stage, these roles may be, first, identified, and, second, explicated. New insights and decisions about these relationships can then be worked out.

The first part of the workshop will present the general technique, and the second part focuses this process to that sub-set of roles that have to do with the inner spiritual journey. These journeys often remain implicit, not a process that is intentional. The issues around it are too murky and often rife with ambivalence. The process of this adaptation of the multiple ego technique allows the inner role repertoire to be played out explicitly on the stage.

Clarifying auto-tele is one way to promote enhanced self-awareness, and other group members can begin to not only participate in this process during a session, but the metaphor of revising and re-inventing one’s own roles carries over into continuing heightened introspection.
Vocational Guidance
There is the process in vocational guidance of discovering your natural aptitudes, or clarifying what you may have the temperament to enjoy. This can be applied also to avocational guidance— especially for elders entering retirement. The line between vocation and avocation is really artificial and blurred—the former being more associated with what you can expect to earn a living doing. There’s also the factor, though, of what you prefer, which may not always jibe with what you do well. So auto-tele has relevance in re-assessing your plans at intervals during your life.

I even imagine that several months if not the whole year during middle school be spent in activities related to this challenge of clarifying identity and preferences.

Preference versus “Supposed To”

The superego or internalized conscience can apply not merely to major sins or disruptive behaviors, but also to all sorts of subtle choices in life-style. There are certain ways you were pressured to believe, think, customs that you were expected to accept unthinkingly, and many of these were not even spelled out. Perhaps your parental, teaching, preaching, or peer groups never thought there was any other proper way to be in the world. The point here is that points at which internalized values and beliefs collide with natural temperament and ability are points that generate conflict and often mild to severe neurotic symptoms. Assessing auto-tele helps to clarify these inner conflict between how part of you thinks you should be and how another part prefers to be.
These are a few notes that may help you to take stock of your psycho-social functioning in the world. Are you doing what you really want? Are you clear what you actually do prefer—in contrast to what parts of you think you “should” prefer? Such questions can be applied to an assessment of multiple domains of life—romance, sexuality, work, home chores, spirituality, recreation, and so forth. I welcome further comments. A webpage is not that difficult to revise, so feedback may be integrated in further updates of this material.

Adam Blatner, M.D.