Home Personal Psychology Personality Harry Stack Sullivan: Energy and Interpersonal Relationships

Harry Stack Sullivan: Energy and Interpersonal Relationships

16 min read

Piyali Chakrabarti

“Reading Sullivan is an acquired taste that requires an extremely active and critical engagement with the flow of his ideas”*.


Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) was an American psychiatrist. He was born in upstate New York, into an Irish Catholic home. Sullivan was known primarily for his theory of interpersonal relations. The key figures in this movement were Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Clara Thompson & Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Sullivan was strongly influenced by the work of Adolf Meyer. He theorised Personality as to manifest in interpersonal situations through interactions and experiences. Sullivan defined Personality as to be a temporal phenomenon which is shaped by the relationships that are shared with other people.


Personality was conceptualised as an energy system with energy existing as a tension between two broad categories of needs (i.e. needs for satisfaction and needs for security) or as energy transformations (i.e. a person’s behaviour that addresses our needs). Balance between needs for satisfaction and needs for security is postulated to be a critical determinant of one’s emotional well-being. Two broad needs are as follows:

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