Sullivan – Interpersonal Theory

Sullivan – Interpersonal Theory
Harry Stack Sullivan was the first American theorist to construct a comprehensive
personality theory in which he believed that development of the personality
occurred within the context of the social group.
Knowledge of the individual can only occur within the context of interpersonal
Healthy individuals experience both intimacy (+) and lust (-) toward the same
Biography was that of a relatively unsuccessful student early in his career!
Significant learning experiences in medical school, in his jobs, and during WWI.
Energy Transformations - transform tension into either covert or overt behaviors
aimed at satisfying needs and reducing anxiety.
This all happens within the context of the interpersonal relationship.
Tensions are the potential for action, including needs and anxiety. Whereas needs
are helpful or conjunctive when satisfied, anxiety is disjunctive, interfering with the
satisfaction of needs and disrupting interpersonal relations. Energy transformations
literally involve the transformation of potential energy into actual energy (behavior)
for the purpose of satisfying needs or reducing anxiety. Some of these behaviors
form consistent patterns of behavior called dynamisms. Individuals also develop
specific patterns of cognition including prototaxic, parataxic, and syntaxic thought.
Sullivan also identified different personifications or images that individuals
develop. These may be accurate or distorted by needs and anxiety. They include
the Bad Mother/Good Mother, the Me Personification, and the Eidetic
Personification (including imaginary friends)
By the way, some of these tensions include:
 Tenderness
 Anxiety
Also, dynamisms can be:
 Disjunctive (that are destructive to relations, like malevolence)
 Isolating (that are unrelated to interpersonal relation, like lust)
o Lust hinders intimacy
 Conjunctive (that are beneficial to relations, like intimacy)
o Intimacy require partners of equal status
o Self system is the most comprehensive dynamism that both protects
from anxiety but also blocks personal growth
 Security operations defend against interpersonal tensions
 Dissociation (refuse to allow impulses into awareness)
 Selective inattention (refusal to see what is there)
 Focuses on improving personal relations from one human being to another
 It is a consensually validating relationship
 It is concerned with patients understanding interpersonal problems, having
foresight to act, and the ability to actively participate in these relationships
 Ability to generate research – 2
 Free will > Determinism
 Falsifiability – 1
 Organize knowledge – 3
 Practical guide – 3
 Internally consistent – 2
 Parsimonious – 1
 Causal < Teleological
 Biology < Social
 Similarities > Uniqueness
 Optimism = Pessimism
 Conscious = Unconscious