Harry Stack Sullivan

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HarryStack Sullivan

HarryStack Sullivan


Thebook by Evans III, F. Barton puts its focus on interpersonalrelationships and how the social and cultural environment of a personaffects inner life as opposed to intrinsic motivations. Modernpsychiatry bases its practice on his theory, which observes personaltraits through interpersonal relations. Sullivan defines personalityas things that can be seen, heard or felt in an individual’srelationship with others (Evans, 2006). The theory follows processesthat he claimed influenced how interpersonal relationships occurincluding dynamisms, personification, cognitive process, andself-system.

Dynamismis classified as the lowest of the methods, which merely describe theenergies that are transferred by behavior, actions, or thoughts. Theaspects grow to become habits through the physical setting where theyare evident through the use of hands, mouth, or legs, and comprise ofdynamisms such as lust, malice, or intimacy. Personification, on thecontrary, describes the views one has of themselves or others and endup as descriptions of feelings such as good parents, drunken men, oreven liars when describing others (Evans, 2006). Personification,according to this theory, is responsible for stereotyping because agroup is classified depending on mental images of others.

Cognitionor experience is another aspect that Sullivan describes as the statesthat sensitive organisms feel. They include protaxic for infants,parataxic, which relates to unconnected events, and syntaxic, whichrefers to rational and systematic thoughts based on experience andknowledge. Finally, there is the self-system, which individuals useto protect themselves by forming behaviors that necessitate thepresentation of some actions while limiting the exposure of others(Evans, 2006). It is from these observations that this theory claimsthat interpersonal relationships have a major influence on anindividual’s personality.

Reasonfor Theory

Thetheory aims to explain interpersonal relationships amongst humanbeings, which are an area of interest, especially with regards to howthey mold personal traits of an individual. Moreover, many studieshave found out that interactive affairs are a foundation tounderstanding human development. In this case, Sullivan’s theoryprovides a good explanation as to how relationships influence thebehavior of a person and how they turn out in future. It simply holdsto the belief that if a person grows in negative environments, theyare likely to elicit the same negative personal traits that affectpositive interaction and vice versa. The argument is true, whichmeans that the exploration of this specific theory is effective.


Sullivan’sargument about how personality characteristics develop in anindividual is of interest to me, especially since he uses aninterdisciplinary approach to the subject by referring to othersignificant theories, such as the social theory. He is also known tohave been averse to clinical approach to psychotherapy where mentallyill patients are isolated by claiming that interpersonalrelationships between the patients and clinicians helped understandand treat them (Evans, 2006). In light of these, it is interesting tosee how he treated his patients based on this view by emphasizing howothers, especially the society, see the psychologically impairedpatients, had an influence in their emotional state. As a result, itled him to make the point that mental illness is not due tobiological influences but a result of social interactions, whichbrings a whole new view on the disorders and how to treat thepatients.


Sincethe theory discusses interpersonal relationships, they are groupedaccording to their level of development. The stages make some of themost important aspects of the assumption. The first phase is infancy,which begins from birth till the elaboration of the syntaxic languagewhere influence by the mother majorly affects the growth of anxietyin kids (Evans, 2006). The second stage is the childhood, which takesover from syntaxic language to when the child seeks playmates oftheir age. Therefore, the interpersonal impact is with both themother and other people. Next is the juvenile stage where interactiongrows and children seek intimacy while at the same time learning tobe competitive, cooperative, and compromising (Evans, 2006). Theother phase after the three described as preadolescence, early andlate adolescence, and finally, adulthood, where a stable point ofview is established.

Thesecond significant point is that the theory also notes thatpsychological disorders can only be successfully treated once thesocial background of a patient is established. It is crucial whenapplied alongside the approaches used in psychology to treat mentalhealth patients (Evans, 2006). Finally, it is through this theorythat therapists can form relationships with patients and influencetheir interpersonal relationships while understanding their socialbackground, an approach I believe has led to much success today.


Theargument that social experiences affect how a person behaves or theirpersonality is agreeable contrary to the belief that personal traitsare unchangeable. As the theory explains, for example, how othersview a person is likely to affect how they behave and in turn,continuous interaction with these people is probably to make thisbehavior a habit and therefore part of them (Evans, 2006). A goodexample is the stereotype view of blacks in America as violent andhow it has largely shaped how most teens take up this opinion as partof them and end up becoming it. It shows that Sullivan was right inhis argument as opposed to the view that personal traits are inbornsince it is clear they can be influenced to change for the better orworse.

Applicationof Theory

Theinterpersonal theory can be applied in real life to help shapepersonal traits. It can lead people to be more positive byassociating with those who think straight. Moreover, one is at apoint of learning how to filter out negative views that may impact ona character.


EvansIII, F. B. (2006).&nbspHarryStack Sullivan: Interpersonal theory and psychotherapy&nbsp(Vol.3). Boston, MA: Routledge. Retrieved fromhttps://books.google.com/books?hl=en&amplr=&ampid=QqKHAgAAQBAJ&ampoi=fnd&amppg=PR1&ampdq=Interpersonal+Theory+and+Psychotherapy&ampots=QdS_k01qJK&ampsig=ECEw2HxfWPfNQwnFrptcd4ipnuI