After “Basic Concepts” lays the groundwork, the Developmental Eras section delineates how growth takes place in stages involving interactive experiences with people. The next section, “Personality and How it Works,” includes: cognitive development, learning,  consciousness and dissociation, despair versus the pressure of need, and the role of envy. Although practical applications are discussed throughout, along with short case illustrations, the next section specifically addresses psychotherapy, including dream analysis. The last section, “Issues”, brings the theory into the larger sociopolitical sphere, including how interpersonal theory relates to the development of society.

After “Basic Concepts”, chapters can be read in any order. Nonetheless, the presented order is likely to offer the best understanding of interpersonal theory and practice. Because each subsequent chapter can stand on its own, there is some repetition. Since some issues can arouse discomfort, even for seasoned practitioners, repetition using different words and phrases can allow readers to “hear” better.



A person’s first intimate connection is with those responsible for their very survival. They are completely dependent on their interpersonal environment. As children develop, to the extent their primary parenting one(s) can validate experiences with people and phenomena outside their immediate orbit, they are also influenced by the wider world. This confluence defines our humanness and unique personalities, which, in their complexities, navigate with varying degrees of success, a satisfying or not so satisfying life.

Subhead: Logic of organization

Chapter One: Basic Concepts

“Interpersonal” is what goes on between people.

Human beings develop sequentially by living and learning in interaction with other human beings. Unless there are extraneous catastrophes, difficulties in human development are tied to interactions with significant people, particularly in the formative years (approximately the first ten). In addition to central significant relationships, broader social phenomena like racism, classism, religious oppression and anti-LGBTQIA+ oppression, political and economic crises, are also interpersonal, and profoundly impact the growing person. However, people always have the capacity to change in an interpersonal environment.

Subheads: The interpersonal framework; The self-system; The central paranoia and despair; The dissociated; The integral personality; Anxiety; Security operations; Validation; Envy; Point of fixation; Residuals;  Growth/deterioration/regression; Empathy; Primary relationships, productive and restrictive; Summary. 

Section One: Developmental Eras

From the moment of conception, the human organism builds upon itself, each cluster of cells growing out of earlier ones. Starting with the fetus, each integration of a capacity relies on earlier integrations of capacities, the way a blastula doubles and then doubles again in the womb. “It spreads out over the course of a lifetime in a fanlike direction, to include more specific and more elaborate functions”. (Pearce & Newton,1963, p.29). As discussed in chapter 2, interpersonal validation from the person or people most intimately responsible for the neonate’s very survival is essential for the integration of functions, including digestion and skin integrity. The integration of new functions, from developmental era to developmental era, is also based on validation from those who matter. What happens next depends upon the quality of essential intimate communication. Interpersonal theory posits that all functioning, starting in utero, depends upon the quality of the two-way communication between the primary caretaker and the growing individual. 

Chapter Two: Early Infancy, The Development of Initial Blueprints for Later Experience

Early infancy describes the initial stage of a person’s development from pre-birth (Goodrich, 2010) to approximately eight months, when the infant is more able to relate to the object world and to issues of mobility (Stern, D. N., 2018).

Repetitive interaction with the infant’s primary caretaker(s) organizes the infant’s physiological, perceptual-cognitive and motor functioning (Sullivan, 1953) via the process of validation from this initial audience (Pearce & Newton, 1963). This relationship between infant and mothering figure(s) is the primary force for development of the self-system.

This chapter integrates recent findings, that infants demonstrate a high level of responsiveness to their interpersonal environment from even before birth, and how empathy and mood operate in interactions between infant and primary caretaker(s). It briefly covers the development of physiological functioning during early infancy, how deficits during this developmental period might show up in later malfunctioning (residuals), and how to address them. It also discusses the potentially debilitating experience of anxiety that occurs when the person responsible for care is unresponsive in some way to the infant’s needs. Even before birth, the caretaker’s validating and forbidding moods empathically initiate the formation of the person’s self-system. Finally, this chapter studies the impact of these interactions on later functioning. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Physiological development in the interpersonal milieu; Perceptual development in early infancy; Empathy; Beginning the development of foresight; Anxiety; Residuals and treatment; Summary.

Chapter Three: Late Infancy: Exploring Beyond the Self

Late infancy begins as the infant moves from total dependency on primary caretaker(s) to involvement with the wider world, including alternate validators. Major areas of functioning that begin to develop include relatedness to the object world, increased mobility and increased communication, each developing sequentially. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to development in Late Infancy.

Subheads: Exploration of the object world; Mobility; Training and “socializing” the toddler; Communication; The development of object constancy; Modes of learning; The organization of the self-system; The development of the personifications of the self; Continued development of self-system; Late Infancy functions and residuals in later life; Summary.

Chapter Four: Childhood: The Widening World

The childhood era (from approximately two and a half to four years) begins with the need for articulate speech and extends to the conscious need for playmates. The primary caretaker(s) remains the most significant relationship(s) in the child’s life as they learn according to what is expected by the caretaker(s). Other major areas of development during childhood include relationships to objects, pets and authority. Mobility and physical coordination continue to develop rapidly. The child’s experience is focused on learning to adapt within the family environment while simultaneously being introduced to aspects of the culture into which they were born. In this era, new people in the world outside the family, both adults and other children, become important as alternate validators. The child becomes involved with playmates. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to development in the childhood era.

Subheads: Development of communicative speech; Learning and anxiety; Self-image; Relating to authority; Relatedness to objects; Need for playmates and parallel play; Summary.

Chapter Five: The Juvenile Era: Group Experience and the Political Arts of Relating

The juvenile is the era in which the political arts of cooperation, competition and compromise without loss of self-esteem are learned, under the rubric of understanding cause and effect and enlightened self-interest. It is a vast expansion into the wider world beyond the parental home, into learning how to relate in that world. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to learning from the experiences of the Juvenile Era.

Subheads: Storing “unacceptable” experiences for later; Cooperation, competition and compromise; Identification with the juvenile group; Moving into The Juvenile Era as a natural interpersonal need; Consensual validation; Role-playing; Ostracism; Mastery of information; Obstacles to successful integration of the Juvenile Era; The burgeoning shift of primary audience; What happens next; Summary.

Chapter Six: Preadolescence: Falling in Love with a Peer

The major preadolescent interpersonal project is to develop a loving relationship with a peer they admire and identify with. The use of the word “love” has to do cherishing, validation and tender relatedness to the other’s needs, not with the traditional meaning of romantic love. This friendship prepares the preadolescent to eventually embrace, even more than before, a world of people wider than the world of the primary caretaker(s). The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to development in preadolescence.

Subheads: Moving from the juvenile era into preadolescence; Same-gender chum; Heightening self-esteem and expanding awareness of others; Major changes in the self-system; Timing of preadolescent chumship; Intimacy panic; Summary.

Chapter Seven: Adolescence: A Precursor to Independence, Emergence of Sexuality, Need for Partnership, Intimacy—a Work in Progress

With the possible exception of early infancy, adolescence in many cultures is the stormiest developmental era. Early infancy encompasses the transition from the womb to the outside world and the beginning of life. Adolescence marks the transition from the family to the world at large. If there is to be continuous expansion of personality, the adolescent’s additional primary validators necessarily become people who can provide experience and support for what has not been learned from their caretaker(s). Parenting one(s) are often crucial, helping to organize practical aspects of the adolescent’s life, but they are unable to remain primary validator(s). The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Preliminary comments; Partnerships, sexuality and intimacy; The emergence of sexual urgings; Anxiety about sex; Barriers to consolidation of learning about sex; Some restrictions based on interpersonal deficits in development; Intimacy and partnerships; Partnerships and other intimate relationships; Independence; Leaving home; Leaving home, but not really; Supporting the parent; Postscript on Sullivan, with sub-subheads: The one-genus postulate; Intimacy panic; Summary.

Chapter Eight: Adulthood: A New Interpersonal Challenge

The crucial difference between adolescence and adulthood it that the adult is now entirely responsible for organizing their own growth. Until puberty, validation comes from primary parenting one(s) and alternate validators acceptable to them. After puberty, despite inexperience and financial and legal dependence, an adolescent needs interpersonal validation of functions beyond parental limits. These functions might include comfortable basic physiological functions, motor skills, the world of objects and social skills. The parenting one(s) has imparted their full repertoire of relatedness and limitations. Now in adulthood the person has even more freedom to obtain validation for expanded functioning.  The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Validation in Adulthood; Relationship between the parent(s) and the young adult; The process of growth in adulthood; Projects of young adulthood with sub-subheads: Leaving home; Financial independence; Productive work, Intimate partnerships; Having children. Summary.

Section Two: Personality & How it Works

Chapter Nine: The Self-system

The self-system, essential to every person’s existence, enables and organizes a person’s productive functioning but also formulates and maintains negative formulations that prevent participation beyond limits originally set by the primary parenting figure(s). The self-system, starting to organize at birth, and somewhat more systematized in late infancy, has increased opportunity to change as a person moves through childhood, the juvenile era, preadolescence, adolescence, and into young adulthood, when a person ventures more away from home emotionally and/or geographically, providing for additional opportunities for alternate experiences that challenge the self-system to expand. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Recall and foresight; Self-image; Marginal and focal awareness; Roots of resistance to change; Underpinnings of the restrictive aspects of the self-system; Opportunities for expansion of the self-system; Logical fallacies; The integral personality; The self-system and the struggle to grow beyond it. Summary.

Chapter Ten: Despair and the Central Paranoia

The newborn is eager to relate to whoever is available. The primary caretaker(s) provides nurturing for survival, growth and development. The interaction is reciprocal, the caretaker(s) gaining empathic relatedness and satisfaction as infant’s needs are satisfied. Despair originates in lapses of relatedness in that relationship. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: The Central Paranoia with sub-subheads: The fear of disorganization; The fear of death; Dissociation of the need for tenderness with sub-sub-subheads: Preoccupation with rejection; Fear of being alone vs loneliness; Summary.

Chapter Eleven: Cognitive Development, an Interpersonal Phenomenon

Cognitive functioning (thought, perception, communication, consciousness and memory) develops interpersonally within the self-system, which contains all conscious experience, productive and restrictive. Along with the self-system, it begins in utero (Goodrich, 2010) via proprioceptive sensations, continuing in early infancy through the connection between the infant’s internal biology and their primary caretaker(s), and later in interactions between them and their primary caretaker(s) and between them and the wider world. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to cognitive development.

Subheads: Audience; The interpersonal relationship in early development; Symbolism and foresight; Selective inattention and substitutive operations; Alternate validation and expanded audiences; Stages of development of consciousness; Initial infantile experience; Mood-memory; Hierarchy of perception; Parataxic experience; Dramatization; Syntaxic mode of communication; Latent awareness; Memory as an aspect of consciousness; Earliest memories; The relationship between communication and perception; Summary.

Chapter Twelve: The (Essential) Interpersonal Context of Learning

Interpersonal validation is essential for learning. The embryo, neonate and infant require validation in order to thrive. The individual’s self-system incorporates learning under the influence of their primary caretaker(s)’ self-system(s). Expansion of the roster of important validators is essential if the individual is to recognize and use opportunities to integrate functions beyond the purview of the original primary caretaker(s)’ own self-systems. Since quality of validation is on a continuum, the learning process is extremely complex. In addition to environmental (including natural and human-made) catastrophes and physiological and genetic issues faced by people with disabilities, the interpersonal milieu contributes to the quality of learning: the immediate and extended family, the school, the playground, the neighborhood, the community, books, movies, TV, the internet, social media, famous people, socio-economic conditions, racism, classism, wars, displacement, holocausts/diasporas, pandemics, man-made disasters—the list is infinite. The learning and ever-changing brain is not “hard-wired.” Given validating opportunities, “late bloomers” do bloom. People revisit and hone poorly consolidated skills if opportunities for alternate positive validators arise later in life—but only to the extent that they are open to those alternate validators. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples and ramifications of obstacles to learning functions and skills.

Subheads: Expanding the roster of validators; Learning by imitation; Learning because of competition and the desire to be admired or get ahead; Rote learning; Breaking down the learning process; Learning while anxious; Academic learning; Sexism, classism, and racism: the larger interpersonal sphere; Summary.

Chapter Thirteen: The Interpersonal Theory of Envy

Envy has its roots in the unsatisfied and often unconscious (unrecognized) needs of the envious person. For example, the envious person may unconsciously assume that liveliness, friends, competence, and/or intelligence is unobtainable. The envious person typically behaves unwittingly with some form of rejection of the other’s behavior, such as disapproval, disparagement, discouragement, disgust or dismissal. Or by not noticing, as Sullivan explained, by selectively “inattending” (1954, p. 270) to the other person (or some particular aspect thereof). The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Jealousy vs. envy; Summary.

Section Three: Practical Applications

Chapter Fourteen: Interpersonal Theory and Psychotherapy

The therapist’s driving paradigm is to forge an alliance with their analysands’ integral personalities, understand their problems in living in relation to their interpersonal histories, challenge their own and the others’ security operations, ward off their own and the others’ despair, and be unafraid of their own and the others’ anxiety. Therapeutic practice involves a lifelong commitment to growing the self-systems of both themselves and their analysands. This means struggling to be open to self-evaluation and change, learning genuine humility and patience and finding satisfaction in their chosen career, even if some of their analysands are decidedly uncooperative in the therapeutic collaboration. The therapist needs to respect their analysands and their struggles, no matter how they present themselves, even if they seem impossibly stuck. This implies developing the same amount of respect for themselves in their own struggles. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: The goals of therapy; The therapeutic alliance; Initial sessions; Symptoms and diagnoses; Organizing and using a historical interpersonal developmental timeline; Ongoing therapy; Memories and mood-memories; Resistance; The therapeutic relationship as a primary integration; The therapeutic interpersonal field; interpersonal psychotherapy and anxiety; Hope and despair; The well defended self-system: stops and starts, sputters; The importance of repetition; The usefulness of dissociation in therapy; Taking notes; What about “transference” and “countertransference”?; Summary.

Chapter Fifteen: Dreams: Their Origin, Development and Use Therapeutically

Dreams are a source of data for the therapist and the person in the long-term study of a person’s life. It is a symbolic communication to some audience, real or imagined, about the most pressing issues in a person’s life. A dream has a context because it expresses the developmental level of the dreamer; it utilizes historical experience as well as the current experience of the day. It can be utilized in therapy to: delineate aspects of therapeutic analysis that warrant further exploration; help dreamers recognize their dissociated needs and how they create obstacles to meeting those needs; or formulate a summary of where the person has evolved in their interpersonal development. The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Common views about dreams; The interpersonal view of dreams; Nightmares; The developmental process of dreams; Dreams in childhood; How dreams are used in therapy; Listening to dreams; Symbols in dreams; Associations; Nightmares and psychotic experience; Summary.

Section Four: Issues


Chapter Sixteen: LGBTQIA+ Issues and Interpersonal Theory

Interpersonal theory maintains that the development of the capacity for adult peer intimacyis crucial, not a person’s gender identity and/or sexuality. Intimacy is defined as interpersonal closeness, not necessarily sexual. If, willy-nilly, young people learn, despite whatever has gone wrong in their lives, to incorporate the experience of love, they can do so with any other human being depending on how much the capacity to love has been developed as they were growing up. As discussed in chapter 6, the use of the word “love” has to do with cherishing, validation and tender relatedness to the other’s needs, not with the traditional meaning of romantic love.

What’s the problem with being a LGBTQIA+ person? No Problem—except people live in an extremely problematic society.

Subheads: Making up for unfinished business; Summary.

Chapter Seventeen: The Current Context of “Mental Disorders,” “Diagnosis,” and Their Treatment

The goals of the therapy explicated here differ vastly from symptom suppression, dissociation, adjustment and stabilization. At their center is helping the person organize the forces for growth, a dynamism oriented toward the progressive expansion of satisfaction and experience (Pearce & Newton, 1963, p. 443). Therapy attempts to alter patterns of organization that stifle growth and to promote more satisfactory life experiences (Pearce & Newton, 1963, p. 441). Altering stifling patterns of organization is not a task that can be addressed by one or more medications or a brief series of appointments oriented primarily toward changes of behavior.

Chapter Eighteen: The Political Economy of Psychotherapy

The ascendant power of capital makes it a formidable opponent to human needs. The victims of commodification and proletarianization of everything and everyone in its path continue increasing. A renewal of truly helpful mental and physical care is tied to the success of these victims in eliminating capitalist exploitation.

Subheads: The current condition of psychotherapy; Some historical background; The results: drug company dominance of the mental health field; The economic context of these developments; Technological innovation and scientific research; The commodification of care; Turning the tide; Summary.

Chapter Nineteen: A Comparison of Revolutionary and Interpersonal Theories

Revolutionary socialist and interpersonal theories describe interactions between people, the development of individuals and society based on cause and effect. Both theories include the concept of constant change for expansion or constriction in human functioning, based on the conflict of human needs versus repression of those needs. Both theories address the crucial role of changing consciousness in the individual and the society as part of the process of change and the role of validation in the process of changing consciousness. Revolutionary socialist and interpersonal theories stress the importance of the universality of human needs and the need for unity among all people(s).  The chapter includes illustrative “case” examples.

Subheads: Sullivan’s one-genus postulate: “Everyone is much more simply human than otherwise”; Development in an orderly sequence; The integral personality—guerrilla fighter for personal growth; Summary.



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  1. Jean Bowdish

    The breadth and depth of what the authors are explaining in Evolving Self demonstrate a commitment to moving the reader toward a broader understanding of human potential through a deeper understanding of interpersonal growth and influences.

  2. Jeri Hilderley

    A deep thank you to the authors of the forthcoming book, Evolving Self, and for this website that explains and shares in rich detail what this book will cover. I eagerly look forward to its publication.


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