HORNEY, KAREN (1885-1952)


as a Freudian analyst. She came to this country in the early 1930s, and soon after founded an association and training institute which she headed until her death. Since then, the institute has grown in size and importance, and exponents of the Homey approach are currently found throughout this country as well as abroad.Horney accepted the general psychodynamic approach of Freud, but drew away from classical psychoanalysis because she felt it overemphasized man’s biological endowment and relegated social and cultural factors to a minor role. She rejected Freud’s instinct theory, his structural approach to the mind (id, ego, and superego), and his view that an unresolved Oedipal conflict is at the root of all neuroses. Instead of putting the primary emphasis on sex and aggression, she held that the need for emotional security is the underlying determinant of human behavior. In her books, the most important of which are The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, (1937), New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939), and especially Neurosis and Human Growth (1950), she presented a “correction” of many of Freud’s concepts which actually amounted to a reformulation of the entire development, structure, and dynamics of neurosis.Horney held that neuroses arise out of the “strategies” which the individual adopts in attempting to handle what she terms basic anxiety, which is a feeling of uneasiness, dread, and impending disaster. The major source of anxiety lies in disturbed relations between the child and his parents, such as indifference to the needs of the child, a cold family atmosphere, excessively high standards, and constant, caustic criticism. These relationships make the child feel that he is isolated, helpless, and insecure in a hostile world. They also generate feelings of counterhostility in the child, which become especially powerful when he is prevented from expressing his anger because of guilt, fear, and helplessness. But the more he represses his hostility, the more intense becomes his basic anxiety.But how does the neurosis itself develop? According to Horney, it is a maladaptive reaction to the basic anxiety. This feeling is so pervasive, devastating, and frightening that when it is not alleviated by positive experiences outside the home, the child will undertake various strategies to counteract it. He may try to placate his parents in order to win their love, or attempt to avenge himself by spiteful behavior. He may seek to compensate for feelings of helplessness by exerting power over others. He might turn his hostility inward and belittle himself, or withdraw into his shell to avoid being hurt by others. All these strategies have one thing in common: they are attempts to cope with a world which he feels is threatening to overpower and crush him.The unfortunate feature of these strategies is that they start out merely as devices to allay anxiety, but end up as persistent needs which become an integral part of the individual’s personality. These needs are termed neurotic for two reasons. First, they are irrational, unrealistic attempts to resolve disturbed relationships. And second, they generate insatiable drives by creating a vicious circle—that is, they produce more problems, and therefore more anxiety, than they alleviate—and to allay this additional anxiety, the individual resorts to these strategies all the more.Horney enumerates ten of these neurotic needs: the insatiable need for affection and approval, for a partner who will take over ones’ life, for restriction of one’s life, for power, for exploitation of others, for prestige, for personal admiration, for personal achievement, for self-sufficiency and independence, and for perfection and un- assailability. All such needs tend to group themselves into three general categories. First, moving toward people: an excessive need for love and a tendency to lean on others. This need arises out of feelings of helplessness. Second, moving away from people: an inordinate need for independence and for setting up one’s own limited world. This drive arises out of the feeling that one is misunderstood by others or has nothing in common with them. Third, moving against people: an inordinate need for power, prestige, or possessions obtained at the expense of others. This need arises out of the conviction that the environment is basically hostile.These needs are not “unnatural”—in fact, every individual has an urge for affection and dependence, for self-sufficiency and independence, for power and recognition. Moreover, everyone is faced with conflicts in his life. The normal person, however, can integrate the three orientations and is flexible enough to use now one, now another as circumstances require. In so doing, he can satisfactorily resolve his personal conflicts. The neurotic, on the other hand, is dominated by one of the three needs and employs it rigidly, inappropriately, and in the extreme. He tries to solve every problem by clinging to others, or by restricting his life, or by exploiting people. To justify and rationalize his one-tracked approach, he unconsciously develops an idealized picture of himself as a self-sacrificing martyr, a self-sufficient recluse, a man of power and glory. He then devotes his energies to living up to this idealized but false image, and in the process destroys his relationships with other people.Unlike the normal individual, the neurotic can neither resolve his personal conflicts nor the conflicts that stem from the culture itself—such as the emphasis on competition and success versus a religious heritage which stresses humility and brotherly love, or the emphasis on freedom of the individual versus the limitations on freedom imposed by social reality. “These contradictions embedded in our culture are precisely the conflicts which the neurotic struggles to reconcile: his tendencies toward aggressiveness and his tendencies toward yielding; his excessive demands and his fears of never getting anything; his striving toward self-aggrandizement and his feeling of personal helplessness” (Homey, 1939). Since our culture puts its greatest stress on competitiveness and prestige-striving, Homey finds that the “neurotic personality of our time” is more likely to be characterized by an insatiably competitive drive than by the tendency to be submissive or withdrawn.In the Horney approach, the object of therapy is to help the individual overthrow his idealized self-image and replace it with a “real self” that will release his capacities for personal growth. This requires that the patient go through a “disillusioning process” in which he is made aware of his faulty strategies. Homey believes he must come to realize that these strategies are futile and harmful before he can deal with the reasons for which they were set up. But when he attains some recognition of the defense system he is using, the next step is to help him gain insight into the conflicts that underlie it. In this process, the therapist utilizes many of the Freudian techniques, but in general plays a more direct andactive role than the classical analyst.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "HORNEY, KAREN (1885-1952)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/horney-karen-1885-1952/ (accessed September 26, 2022).


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