February 21, 2024

Self-System Concept

4 min read

Sullivan defined “personification of the self” as the contents of one’s own self-image. He claimed that during the first year of life, the concept of self, or self system, began to develop as a result of interpersonal experiences of social approval and rejection between the infant and mother.

These instances of social evaluation cause anxiety in the child, who quickly learns to use anxiety as a tool to recognize and distinguish between stimuli that have previously caused anxiety (e.g., threatening interpersonal situations, unintentionally expressing unapproved personal qualities or behaviors, etc.).

Anxiety is used by the self system for two related purposes:

  • Foremost, choose parts of experience that will best boost feelings of interpersonal security for specific attention;
  • Second, everything that could jeopardize security should be kept out of sight.

This concept of interpersonal security is especially important in interpersonal theory and has a specific technical meaning. Just as a person may be said to seek satisfaction in reaction to having a specific need, a person may be said to seek security in response to experiencing worry.

Sullivan’s self system can be defined as a “two-edged sword” because it was constructed both adversely and positively to avoid anxiety. In this way, the newborn interacts with its environment, notably with its mother, building a network of interconnected systems for reaching such fulfillment. This combination of schemes begins to form the infant’s self system or personality. Unlike the soul, the self system grows in complexity as the individual grows.

The self system gains three major components as a result of early interaction:

Good-me is the first personification that organizes experiences in which satisfactions have been boosted by gratifying increments of tenderness that come to the child because the mothering one or nurturer is happy with how things are going.

Bad-me is the first personification that organizes experience in which growing levels of worry are related with mothering one behavior. Here, the infant was deprived of nurturing and love.

Non-me is the personification of experiences in which the child has excessive anxiety as a result of the caring mother’s disapproving sentiments. People experiencing a severe schizophrenia episode are more likely to encounter the personification of non-me.

Sullivan used the term “mother” to describe newborn relationships, but the mothering individual may not be the biological parent or even female. It is the child’s primary caregiver. A kind and nurturing mother instills in her child a sense of acceptance, allowing him to perceive himself as “excellent.” A tense, rejecting mother makes the youngster feel like a “bad me.”

As a result, when the mother makes little emotional gestures, the child perceives the self as more negative than positive; excellent self-appraisals are gone, and negative self-appraisals dominate. When a mother makes forbidding or disapproving gestures toward a child’s actions, such as thumb sucking or genital exploration, the impact is to remove or disassociate the genital and oral regions from the child’s sense of what is good and appropriate. A child will sometimes isolate or segregate these forbidden regions and actions, disavow them, and incorporate them into the “non-me” element of the self system.

Sullivan described a harmful process known as malevolent transmutation, in which a youngster who feels “evil” sees badness in others. Because the youngster is so conscious of his own shortcomings, the only way for him to feel human like everyone else is to seek out the worst in others. As a result, the child is rarely disappointed, and as a result, he believes the world is full of foes. This line of thought explains suspiciousness and paranoid thinking as side effects of low self-esteem. Another aspect of this theory is that self-love and self-respect are required to love and respect others.

Empathy, which allows one individual to comprehend and connect with the sentiments of another, is used to communicate between mother and kid. When the mother experiences anxiety, empathy transmits it to the child. Thus, worry, according to Sullivan, stems from a person’s reliance on others for security. Anxiety, which begins in the interaction between mother and child, becomes a part of every future interpersonal transaction and is the root cause of bad relationships and challenges in life.

Sullivan’s understanding of experience encompassed the inner meaning of everything humans go through or go through. He distinguished three types of experience:

The prototaxic form of experience is that which the very young infant is familiar with. It is a continuous flow with no distinction; there are no links, no causes or effects, and no sense of oneself in relation to others. There is no other universe; the infant is the entire world.

The parataxic style of experience is fragmented, yet the pieces are unconnected and unrelated. The uniqueness of the parataxic experience belongs alone to the person who is involved in it, and it cannot be shared with others. Parataxic experience is shared by older newborns, many children, and some creative people. A client’s subjective experience may become a parataxic distortion during periods of acute mental instability.

Language and symbols can be used to confirm syntactic experience consensually. Meanings and principles in syntaxic experience can be shared with others and recognized as true or false by others based on common understanding. A group often accepts syntaxic experience as valid.

To conclude, according to Sullivan, the self-system is the part of the personality that mediates between the individual and their environment, and is responsible for regulating and organizing the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. He believed that the self-system is formed through interactions with others, and that it is constantly changing and adapting to new experiences. Sullivan’s concept of the self-system is considered an important contribution to the understanding of interpersonal relationships and the development of personality.

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