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The Self: The part of our minds that learns to act in a socially appropriate manner

What is "The Self"

Since Sullivan believes that as humans one of our primary needs (and this can easily be seen in young children) is for those who are close to us to be happy with us, Sullivan uses the term ‘The Self’ to refer to all the things we learn to do, in order to keep those around us happy.  Children quickly learn what makes their parents happy or what uspests them, and begin to perceive things as ‘right’ or wrong.  But importantly, children learn to instinctively avoid certain behaviour and to engage in other behaviours (say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for example) long before they have the mental prowess to analyse why they are avoiding and engaging in these behaviours: they simply become automatic, in a similar way to the way in which children learn to speak long before they can understand the nature of sentence structure: its just automatic.  These behaviours, those that are learnt and often automated in order to maintain the approval of significant others, are collectively referred to by Sullivan, as "The Self". 

Very young children feel use, obscure and unclear ways of thinking when they process information and the world around them (which are more ‘schizophrenic’ styles of thinking).  Young children communicate quite openly using these styles of thinking, but parents realise that if they continue to communicate or think in this way, people will not accept them.  So parents start to train children to think in more acceptable and more logical ways.  Over time, the child learns that she will not be accepted if she uses these childlike ways of thinking and communicating, and so learns to supress childish communication and thinking, and learns to use very clear and logical ways of thinking and communicating.  In Sullivan’s terms, they learn that they must sound like ‘people who make sense’.  So they learn to ignore the more primitive ways of thinking, and eventually there is no point in paying attention to these types of thought processes because they just sound puzzling to adults.  However, Sullivan believes that these thought processes continue to exist, and that we see them operating more clearly when we sleep in our dreams.