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Chapter 4
Theories of Personality





The theories of Alfred Adler and Harry Stack Sullivan mark a shift from a stress on Intrapsychic (within the psyche) phenomena such as Freud and Jung dealt with to an appreciation of Interpsychic (interpersonal) relations. The human person emerges as a social and cultural creature rather than a sexual biological one.


A leading concept of Adlers individual psychology is his emphasis on the importance of human culture and society.

Adler admits that Human beings, like all living creatures, are driven by certain innate instincts, drives, or needs, such as the impulses to maintain life, and to reproduce. Although much of the behavior of lower animals appear to be regulated by instincts, this is not true of human behavior.Human beings have tamed their instincts and subordinated them to their attitudes toward the environment. At times, human beings deny or disobey their natural instincts because of their social relations.



A terrorist, for example, may undergo a suicide mission on behalf of a cause.

A young child may refuse food if he believes that such a tactic gives him an advantage in a power struggle with his parents.

Adler believed that human beings have an innate urge, social interest, to adapt to the conditions of the environment. These urges need to be cultivated. The principle of finalism means that individuals are oriented toward goals that guide their behavior. These fictional finalisms cannot be proven and are judged by their usefulness.


The primary objective of ones psyche is the goal of superiority, the desire to be competent and effective in what one does. As young children, we normally feel inferior, and these inferiority feelings lead us to seek ways

in which we can compensate for our weaknesses. Each individual develop a unique way of striving for superiority.

This striving for superiority may take the form of exaggerated lust for power. Or, an individual may seek to exercise control over objects and people and to play God. This goal for superiority may introduce a hostile tendency in ones life in which we play the game of "dog eat dog".

In his early writings, Adler termed the compensation for ones inferiorities the masculine protest. At this time, he associated inferiority with femininity, but later Adler became a proponent of womens liberation, recognizing that the alleged inferiority of women was a cultural assignment rather than a biological one.



The style of life is influenced by factors such as family constellation, or birth order, family atmosphere, and the quality of emotional relationships.


The creative self interprets the experience of the organism and establishes a persons style of life. Adler maintained that the creative self is essentially conscious; he restored consciousness to the center of personality (in direct opposition to Freuds views).Adlerian Therapy aims at restoring the patients sense of reality, examining and disclosing the errors in goals and style of life, and cultivating social interest. He believed that the study of birth order, early memories, and dreams were the best tools for assessing personality.




Sullivan defined personality as the characteristic ways in which an individual deals with other people. He believed that it was meaningless to think of an individual as an object of psychological study, since an individual develops and exists only in the context of relationships with other people. Interpersonal relations constitute the basis of personality.



Anxiety is a central concept in Sullivans theory, as it was with Freud. Sullivan thought of anxiety as any painful feeling or emotion that may arise from organic needs or social insecurity.

Sullivan felt that anxiety was interpersonal in origin and observable. He felt that anxiety might lead a person to be unconscious or unaware of his or her motives.


According to Sullivan, in order to reduce anxiety individuals develop what he called security operations. Security operations are interpersonal devices that minimize anxiety. Security operations are observable and arise in the course of interpersonal relationships. Sullivans notion of security operations parallels Freuds concept of defense mechanism.


Sullivan maintained that we can observe certain processes in an individuals interpersonal relationships and that these processes can be used to describe the development of his or her personality. One such process is dynamism, Dynamisms are patterns of energy transformations that characterize an individuals interpersonal relations. Example

Interpersonal contact between mother and child when nursing

Personifications are groups of feelings, attitudes, and thoughts that have arisen out of ones interpersonal experiences: Example is the good-mother.

Personifications are seldom accurate, nevertheless, they influence our attitudes and actions toward others. They are basis of stereotypes, or pre-judgements, that hinder our ability to relate to people of diverse cultures and backgrounds.


Sullivan outlined six stages in personality development:

Infancy (Interpersonal relationships that crystallize round the feeling situation)

Childhood (The development of healthy relationships with ones parents)

Juvenile Era (The need to relate to playmates and same-sexed peers)

Preadolescence (Beginning of intimate reciprocal human relationships)

Early Adolescence (Development of a lust dynamism and stable heterosexual pattern of sexual satisfaction)

Late Adolescence (integration and stabilization of culturally appropriate adult social, behavior)

Throughout each of the above stage, Sullivan suggests that human personality is shaped by interpersonal relations rather than biological factors.



Sullivan describes three cognitive processes by which we experience the world and relate to others in the course of personality development.Prototaxic Experiences

Parataxic Experiences

Syntaxic Experiences

Prototaxic Experiences occur at the lowest level as infants. It includes sensations, thoughts, feelings but no inferences or conclusions are drawn from these experiences.

Parataxic Experiences occur as a young Child. When one begin to perceive causal relations between events that happen together. It Include making generalization about experiences on the bases of proximity. Example;

Infants who cry brings his or her mother to nurse assumes the crying has produced the milk


Superstitions are examples of parataxic thinking; If you break a mirror; sweeping dirt out the backdoor after dark.

Sullivan suggests that much of our thinking does not advance beyond parataxic level.Syntaxic Experiences is the highest level of cognitive thinking. We Use symbols and relies on consensual validation, or agreement among persons. Example

LANGUAGE: when a word has been consensually validated, it loses its personal meaning and power. The validation enables individuals to communicate with one another providing common ground for understanding experiences.

LOVE (universally understood) but RECOGNIZE, BULL YEA


Sullivan viewed psychotherapy as an interpersonal process in which one person assists another in resolving problems of living.

He used the concept of Participant observation to define the nature of psychiatric inquiry and treatment of problems.


Participant observation refers to the fact that the therapist is also a participant in any event being observed.

While observing what is going on, the psychiatrist invariably affects the relationship and alters the other persons behavior. Sullivan suggests that it is absurd to imagine that a psychiatrist could obtain from his or her patient data and/or behaviors that are uninfluenced by the therapists own behavior in the relationship. Sullivan paid considerable attention to the interview, his term for the interpersonal process that occurs between the patient and therapist. He suggest that the interview had four parts:

Inception: (patient introduces the problem)

Reconnaisance: (therapist raise questions in order to develop case history)

Detailed inquiry (therapists tests his hypothesis by observing patient behavior and response to probing)

Termination: (structured ending during which the therapist summarizes what has been learned.


Adler and Sullivans work influenced contemporary family therapy, which treats psychological problems in the context of the family. Mapping, a technique developed by Sal Minuchin suggests that family and therapist map out a family tree indicating patterns of connection, distance, anger, and so forth among members of the family to clarify relationships.








Spacing = Emotional closeness/distance of your relationship to family member.

Lines with arrows = one way or mutual connections, and use of plus or minus signs indicates positive or negative feelings.

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