Personality Psychology PSY 405
SULLIVAN'S INTERPERSONAL THEORY
The organization of personality consists of interpersonal events and interpersonal behavior.
Sullivan's Theory focuses on:
1-Personality as hypothetical entity
2- This personality is a part of an interpersonal situation and interpersonal behavior.
Personality of a University teacher or a student
Now the personality development of a university teacher or a student is the result of interpersonal situations
The word interpersonal refers to relationship between two or more people or events that take place between
Child's relation with family
Friends or Neighbors.
2- Energy Transformation
a- Self System
Experience Occurs in Three Modes These are:
4-The Dynamics of Personality
5-The Development of Personality
b- Research on Schizophrenia
Harry Stack Sullivan: Biographical sketch
Harry Stack Sullivan was born in 1892 in Norwich, near New York and died in1949 in Paris.
He received his medical degree in 1917 and served with the armed forces in World War I.
In 1922 he met William Alanson White, a leader in American Neuropsychiatry.
Then he conducted investigations in Schizophrenia that established his reputation as a clinician.
Harry Stack Sullivan was the creator of a new viewpoint that is known as the interpersonal theory of
Psychiatry. Its major tenet as it relates to personality is "the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent
interpersonal situations which characterize a human life".. Personality is a hypothetical entity that cannot
be isolated from interpersonal situations, and interpersonal behavior is all that can be observed as
Personality Psychology PSY 405
Sullivan sees the individual as the object of study because the individual does not and cannot exist apart
from his or her relations with other people. From the first day of life, the baby is a part of an interpersonal
situation, and throughout the rest of its life it remains a member of a social field. Even a wild cat who has
resigned from society carries with him into the wilderness memories of former personal relationships that
continue to influence his thinking and acting.
Sullivan does not deny the importance of heredity and maturation in shaping the organism; he feels that
human is the product of social interactions. More over, the interpersonal experiences of a person may alter
his or her purely physiological functioning, so that even the organism loses its status as a biological entity
and becomes a social organism with its own socialized ways of breathing, digesting, eliminating,
circulating, and so forth.
For Sullivan, the science of psychiatry is allied with social psychology, and his theory of personality bears
the imprint of his strong preference for social psychological concepts and variables.
Sullivan insists repeatedly that personality is a purely hypothetical entity, "an illusion," which cannot be
observed apart from interpersonal situations. The unit of study is the interpersonal situation and not the
person. The organization of personality consists of interpersonal events rather than intra-psychic ones.
Personality only manifests itself when the person is behaving in relation to one or more other individuals.
These people do not need to be present; in fact they can even be illusory or nonexistent figures.
Dynamism is the smallest unit that can be employed in the study of the individual. It is defined as "the
relatively enduring pattern of energy transformations, which recurrently characterize the organism in its
duration as a living organism" An energy transformation is any form of behavior. It may be overt and
public like talking, or covert and private like thinking and fantasying.
Because dynamism is a pattern of behavior that endures and recurs, it is about the same thing as a habit.
This means that a new feature may be added to a pattern without changing the pattern just as long as it is
not significantly different from the other contents of the envelope. It is significantly different it changes the
pattern into a new pattern. For example, two apples may be quite different in appearance and yet be
identified as apples because their differences are not important. However, an apple and a banana are
different in significant respects and consequently form two different patterns.
Anxiety is a product of interpersonal relations, being transmitted originally from the mother to the infant
and later in life by threats to one's security. To avoid or minimize actual or potential anxiety, people adopt
various types of protective measures and supervisory controls over their behavior. One learns, for example,
that one can avoid punishment by conforming to parents' wishes. These security measures form the self-
system that sanctions certain forms of behavior (the good-me self) and forbids other forms (the bad-me
The self-system as the guardian of one's security tends to become isolated from the rest of the personality;
it excludes information that is incongruous with its present organization and fails thereby to profit from
experience. Since the self guards the person from anxiety, it is held in high esteem and is protected from
criticism. As the self-system grows in complexity and independence, it prevents the person from making
objective judgments of his or her own behavior and it glosses over obvious contradictions between what the
person really is and what the self-system says he or she is. In general, the more experiences people have
with anxiety, the more inflated their self-system becomes and the more it becomes dissociated from the rest
of the personality. Although the self-system serves the useful purpose of reducing anxiety, it interferes
with one's ability to live constructively with others.
A personification is an image that an individual has of him or herself or of another person. It is a complex
of feelings, attitudes, and conceptions that grows out of experiences with need-satisfaction and anxiety.
For example, the baby develops a personification of a good mother by being nursed and cared for by her.
Any interpersonal relationship that involves satisfaction tends to build up a favorable picture of the satis-
Personality Psychology PSY 405
fying agent. On the other hand, the baby's personification of a bad mother results from experiences with
her that evokes anxiety. The anxious mother becomes personified as the bad mother. Ultimately, these two
personifications of the mother along with any others that may be formed, such as the overprotective
mother, fuse together to form a complex personification.
Sullivan's unique contribution regarding the place of cognition in the affairs of personality is his threefold
classification of experience.
Experience, he says, occurs in three modes; these are
1-Prototaxic experience "may be regarded as the discrete series of momentary states of the sensitive
organism". This type of experience is similar to the "stream of consciousness," the raw sensations, images,
and feelings that flow through the mind of a sensate being. They have no necessary connection" among
themselves and possess no meaning for the experiencing person.
The prototaxic mode of experience is found in its purest form during the early months of life and is the
necessary precondition for the appearance of the other two modes.
2-The Parataxic mode of thinking consists of seeing causal relationship between events that occur at about
the same time but which are not logically related. When ever a black cat comes my way I face disaster, we
see causal connections between experiences that have nothing to do with one another.
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