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Cortina, M. (2001). Sullivan's Contributions to Understanding Personality Development in Light of Attachment Theory and Contemporary Models of the Mind. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(2):193-238.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(2):193-238

Sullivan's Contributions to Understanding Personality Development in Light of Attachment Theory and Contemporary Models of the Mind

Mauricio Cortina, M.D.

A Central Theme in Harry S. Sullivan's interpersonal theory and John Bowlby's attachment theory is that human development can only be understood in a relational context. Sullivan and Bowlby assign a pivotal role to felt security, severe anxiety, and fear in the formation of interpersonal patterns. In both theories, early relational patterns become organizing principles that influence the development of personality. Sullivan and Bowlby reject Freud's tension-reduction metapsychology and his structural theory of the mind—id, ego, superego—on the grounds that these constructs are mechanistic and reify the organization of psychic experience. Sullivan and Bowlby adopt an intentional psychology that uses the language of agency and self to describe the development of interpersonal interactions. While Sullivan concentrated almost exclusively on describing the vicissitudes of defensively organized experience (the self-system), Bowlby and his close collaborator, Mary Ainsworth, use evolutionary concepts to cast a wider net, capturing normal and pathological development. To conceptualize how interpersonal experience with caregivers became represented mentally, Sullivan used the concept of personifications and Bowlby the concept of internal working models (IWMs). Departing from traditional psychoanalytic canon, Sullivan and Bowlby believed these mental representations were tolerably accurate portrayals of interactions with primary caregivers.

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