Karen Horney 1885-1952
(Born Karen Clementine Theodore Danielsen) German-born American psychiatrist and nonfiction writer.
Horney is best known as a trenchant critic of orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis and as a founding theorist of humanistic psychology. Countering the biological determinism she found integral to Sigmund Freud's theories, she emphasized the importance of social, cultural, and interpersonal factors in the formation of personality. Horney argued that the underlying causes of neurosis and anxiety are the same for men and women, and thus corrected what she saw as Freud's overemphasis on instinctual drives and his "male bias" in regard to feminine psychology.
Biographical InformationHorney was born near Hamburg, Germany. Her father, a naturalized German citizen from Norway, was a sea captain and, by her own accounts, an intimidating and emotionally repressive figure. Her mother, who had ancestors in the German and Dutch nobility, was roughly twenty years younger than Horney's father and a much more nurturing presence in her life. While she excelled in school and was encouraged in intellectual pursuits by her mother, Horney attended college only after promising her father—who did not believe in education for women—that she would never again ask him for anything else. She graduated in 1906 and entered the University of Freiburg Medical School; she was one of fifty-eight women enrolled with well over two thousand men. In 1909 she married Oskar Horney, a lawyer. Two years later, after having studied at Freiburg, Göttingen, and Berlin, she was graduated from medical school. She was awarded her medical degree in 1915 after completing her dissertation entitled "A Casuistic [Clinical] Contribution to the Question of Traumatic Psychoses." While working at various hospitals and institutions in Germany, Horney met and received psychoanalytic therapy from Karl Abraham, a well-known psychiatrist and colleague of Freud. In 1917 she presented her first professional paper, "The Technique of Psychoanalytic Therapy," in which she argued for the individual's potential for lifelong emotional growth. This view was at odds with Freud's, who soon after pointedly ridiculed and refuted her work. Horney entered into private practice in 1919, which she continued—along with teaching at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute—until 1932, when the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party impelled her to emigrate to the United States. First at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis, then in New York at the New School for Social Research and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, Horney practiced psychiatry, taught, and wrote many influential papers, essays, and books.
Critics note that Horney's first important works were fourteen papers she delivered at conferences between 1922 and 1937. In these works, collected posthumously in Feminine Psychology (1967), she laid out her primary objections to Freudian psychoanalysis and outlined the ways in which she felt women should be treated in psychiatric theory and practice. In "On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women" and "The Flight from Womanhood," for example, Horney took issue with, among other things, Freud's concept of "penis envy." Freud argued that early in their development girls regard their genital difference from boys as a "lack," as castration. Consequently, their "envy" of boys is manifested in feelings of inferiority and subservience. For Horney, this represented Freud's chauvinistic tendency to view the male as the measure of the female. She proposed that there are social, cultural, and ideological factors responsible for women's anxieties regarding their adequacy and potency, and that, as Agnes N. O'Connell summarized, "what women envy is not the penis but the superior position of men in society." Freud also held that, because of the "castration complex," women are inherently masochistic, or given to seeking situations—not necessarily sexual in nature—in which they assume roles of dependence and victimization. In "The Problem of Feminine Masochism" Horney again argued that there are compelling social, cultural, and economic factors to which one should attribute women's reliance upon men for love, security, etc. Arguing against Freud's "instinct-based metapsychology," Horney's works from this period and after increasingly view the causes of neurosis and anxiety—for both men and women—as stemming from social forces and damaged personal relationships. In her fullest examination of these causes, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937), she concluded that basic anxiety is not the result of unavoidable and gender-specific psycho-sexual traumas, but rather is the manifestation of repressed hostility generated in a disturbed relationship with one or both parents. Furthermore, as R. N. Iyer noted, for Horney "neuroses have a power of continuous growth that cannot be explained exclusively in terms of past experiences.…" Elaborating on these ideas in Our Inner Conflicts (1945) and Neuroses and Human Growth (1950), she posited that there are three predominant "neurotic trends," or ways in which individuals cope with potentially overwhelming anxiety. She described the first as "moving toward others"; through this process, the neurotic individual ingratiates him- or herself with others seeking affection and acceptance. In the second, "moving against others," the individual tries to dominate and manipulate people in order to express aggression and experience a sense of control. "Moving away from others," the third major "neurotic trend," involves both a protective attempt to isolate oneself and an obsessive concern with one's own perfection. Horney believed that an individual could manifest elements of all three tendencies, the mutual incompatibility of which could itself produce further neurosis. In the neurotic or "alienated" personality, Horney argued, there is a discrepancy between what she called the "Real Self and the idealized self the individual constructs in order to deal with inner conflicts. As she conceived it, the goal of psychiatric therapy is to reconcile this discrepancy, to bring about integration and "self-realization." Iyer noted that in Horney's approach, "[g]enerating spontaneity of feeling is requisite for authentic expression.… The most comprehensive therapeutic goal is wholeheartedness, living without pretence, wholly sincere and fully engaged." In his eulogy for her, the existential theologian Paul Tillich said of Horney: "She knew the darkness of the human soul, and the darkness of the world, but believed that what giveth light to any one suffering human being will finally give light to the world. The light she gave was not a cold light of passionless intellect, it was the light of passion and love. She wrote books but loved human beings. She helped them by insights into themselves which had healing power."
The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (nonfiction) 1937
New Ways in Psychoanalysis (nonfiction) 1939
Self-Analysis (nonfiction) 1942
Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis (nonfiction) 1945
Are You Considering Psychoanalysis? (nonfiction) 1946
Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization (nonfiction) 1950
*Feminine Psychology (nonfiction) 1967; also published as Feminine Papers, 1967
The Adolescent Diaries of Karen Horney (diaries) 1980
† Final Lectures (lectures) 1987
*This work was edited by Harold Kelman.
†This work was edited by Douglas H. Ingram.
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SOURCE: "Psycho-analysis," in The Condemned Play-ground: Essays, 1927-1944, New York: Macmillan, 1946, pp. 227-30.
[Connolly was a very influential English critic, nonfiction writer, and literary jounal editor. In the following review, originally published in 1940, he praises the accessibility of Horney's prose in New Ways in Psychoanalysis and the humanity of her approach to psychotherapy.]
Psycho-analysis leads to the most profound discoveries man has made about himself. Yet most people would agree that its results have been disappointing. The cures are few, and seem confined to certain extreme cases, while the neurotic infirmities of human beings increase out of all proportion. Of the two or three hundred Londoners I know, almost all between the ages of twenty-five and forty would be improved by analysis in so far as they are neurotic cases. But many border-liners are in a state of flux. When they are absorbed in work or living in the country or with one type of friend they get better; when they are lonely, poor, or tired they get worse. In fact, they react to environment, and are therefore capable of improving themselves. The tragedies of infancy do not seem to remain ever present, ever re-enacted by the inconsolable ego, or the ineluctable id. Dr. Horney records fifteen years of relative therapeutic failure as a pure Freudian, and has written a book [New Ways in Psycho-analysis]...
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SOURCE: "The Progressive Psyche," in The Nation (New York), Vol. 155, No. 11, September 12, 1942, pp. 215-17.
[Trilling was one of the most respected literary critics in the United States. Among his most significant works are The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (1950) and Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (1956). In the following largely negative review of Self-Analysis, he argues that Horney's criticisms of Sigmund Freud's theories represent a politically and ideologically liberal desire to view the psyche in hopeful and flattering terms. Trilling states that while Freud's view is darker than Horney's, it more adequately addresses "the savage difficulties of life."]
Readers of this review, like its writer, will be diffident of judging the technical grounds on which Dr. Karen Horney has forced a schism in the ranks of American psychoanalysis. But Dr. Horney is not only a clinical physician; one of the few psychoanalytical writers of recent years to capture the imagination of the general public, she has established a philosophy of human nature and society on the basis of her divergence from Freud and has become, not one of the seminal, but surely one of the symptomatic minds of our time. Her work, therefore, may be judged not merely in a professional but also in a cultural context.
In her latest book [Self-Analysis] Dr. Horney...
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SOURCE: "Recent Trends in Psychoanalysis," in Science and Society, Vol. IX, No. 3, Summer, 1945, pp. 214-31.
[In the following essay, Bartlett discusses Horney's revisions and criticisms of Freudian psychoanalysis, discussing in particular her focus on the importance of social influences on the psyche.]
In recent years, the writings of Dr. Karen Homey have become very popular. Socially minded psychoanalysts and social workers who previously relied on Freudian theories which they could never quite believe, are exceedingly enthusiastic about Horney's work. They find in it a useful theory of neuroses which includes Freud's valid observations but eliminates the fantastic distortions and reactionary implications. Horney is one of the first psychoanalysts to contend that the "neurotic personality of our time" is at bottom the product of capitalism. Erich Fromm, Reich and other analysts have also opposed Freud's biologism with a social emphasis, but do not have as wide a following as she in progressive circles. Because of this especial significance and influence the present article will, therefore, be devoted to the views of Karen Horney.
I. THE DEPRESSION AND THE "NEED FOR SAFETY"
Dr. Horney worked out her revision of Freud mainly during the decade of the economic depression, and it bears the stamp of that period. Already the naive assumptions of Freud—instincts,...
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SOURCE: "Freud, Horney, Fromm and Others," in Science and Society, Vol. X, No. 2, 1946, pp. 176-85.
[In the following essay, written in response to Francis Bartlett's essay "Recent Trends in Psychoanalysis" (Science and Society, Vol. IX, No. 3, Summer, 1945), Wortis examines Horney's theories in relation to both the Freudian tradition she rejects and to more contemporary trends, of which she claimed to be part. Wortis argues that Horney's conception of psychiatry is not as "progressive" as she claimed it was.]
Bartlett's critique of Horney in this magazine [Science and Society] (Summer, 1945) seems to me to be basically correct and very welcome. It is precisely because Horney cast off some of the more flagrant errors of Freudianism that she has led so many people into another blind alley, perhaps more attractive than Freud's, but also more deceptive. Bartlett, like Horney, relates neurotic conflicts to the real world of social relationships, but unlike Horney, sees that the emotional forces behind these conflicts are bound to ideas which can be isolated and described. Bartlett also parts company with Horney when he recognizes that the patient's present system of relationships supports and maintains his conflict of ideas. From this Bartlett draws the conclusion that the task of the analyst is to expose these ideas, relate them to real situations and experiences—present as well as...
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SOURCE: "Karen Horney: A Pioneer in the Science of Human Relations," American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1954, pp. 19-29.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at a psychiatric conference on 22 April 1953, Cameron addresses the main aspects of Horney's thought and lauds her ability to incorporate into her work the social and historical issues of her time.]
Karen Horney was one of the children of her times. She walked among us distinguished by her originality of mind and by her leadership. Her life fell within a period of unusual turbulence and ferment in the world of thought. The long upward climb of humanism, which had started as far back as the time of the Renaissance and which was gathering strength to become one of the most important forces of our times, was met and vastly stimulated by another current having its origins very early in the modern period and already, as Karen Horney's life began, starting to impinge upon human affairs with gathering power. This was the scientific method—first applied only to material things and, at that, things remote from human life, such as astronomy and mathematics. Its increasing successes led us, somewhat timorously, to apply it to the affairs of everyday living and ultimately to man himself, beginning cautiously with biochemistry and physiology. But eventually, toward the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, it began to...
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SOURCE: "Karen Horney: Her Early Papers," in American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1954, pp. 55-64.
[In the following essay, Weiss examines some of the central ideas in Horney's thought, focusing on their expression in some of her early writings and comparing these with her later works.]
"Science has often found it fruitful to look at long-familiar facts from a fresh point of view. Otherwise there is a danger that we shall involuntarily continue to classify all new observations amongst the same clearly defined group of ideas" ["The Flight From Womanhood: The Masculinity Complex in Women, as Viewed by Men and by Women," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. VII, 1926]. This statement by Karen Horney expresses the spirit of sincere acceptance and creative reevaluation of previous observations which have characterized her work from the beginning. The study of her early papers provides a fascinating experience. It means participating in that process of constructive questioning which is the status nascendi of any pioneering step in the development of science.
Looking back on her very first paper, "The Technique of Psychoanalytic Therapy," written in 1917, we can already discern beginnings of the new ways which in the subsequent thirty-five years led her, step by step, to a creative reformulation of the meaning and structure of psychoanalysis....
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SOURCE: "XXI: Neurosis and Human Growth," in Karen Horney: Gentle Rebel of Psychoanalysis, New York: The Dial Press, 1978, pp. 304-17.
[In the following excerpt from his biography of Horney, Rubins discusses Neurosis and Human Growth, examining the ways in which this articulation of her psychiatric approach differs from earlier ones. Rubins also briefly addresses the extent of Horney's influence on world psychiatry.]
Neurosis and Human Growth constituted the fourth and final version of Karen's psychoanalytic theory. It showed many changes from her earlier writings: in the style of writing, in emphasis and details of the theoretical structure and in the overall spirit of her thinking.
One modification was the different significance accorded to the idealized image of the self. Previously the creation of this irrational self-image had been seen as only one of four major defensive solutions to conflict. Now it became the nuclear process of neurotic development, a comprehensive solution that occurred in all neuroses regardless of their form. Spurred by the child's rich imagination, the process begins in early childhood as a reactive defense against basic anxiety. It has two stages. First is the creation of the fantastic idealized self image, starting in the child as a conscious process, later continuing in the adult as an unconscious one. It is derived from the...
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SOURCE: "Fiery Giants and Icy Queens," in The New Republic, Vol. 183, No. 19, November 8, 1980, pp. 30-3.
[In the following review of The Adolescent Diaries of Karen Horney, Spacks discusses Horney's early life and the ways in which her diaries shed light on her professional writings.]
As an adolescent, Karen Horney argued with her parents, and condescended to them, worried whether anyone would ever love her, expressed her contempt for the older generation, had crushes on her teachers, overvalued the opinions of her peers, felt a horrified fascination with the idea of sexual activity: just like everyone else. Nevertheless, her diaries are remarkable.
Here she is at 15:
Tomorrow we go to Frl. Banning. Of course, we are both awfully glad, but we try to persuade ourselves that it is all the same to us or even a bother. On that account I've just been up on the Heideberg alone, for Mother is awfully down again, and picked some flowers for her. Oh, it was so lovely up there, the beautiful landscape spread in a sweep at my feet. I love such a wide view because it brings peace to my heart, which, though only in its Backfisch state, still is often quite sad and discouraged. For things are bad at home, and Mother, my all, is so ill and unhappy. Oh, how I would love to help her and cheer her up. If only she had, as I do, some sort of school or...
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SOURCE: "Bargains with Fate: The Case of Macbeth" in The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 7-20.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at a conference held in February of 1981, Paris offers an interpretation of William Shakespeare's drama Macbeth (1606) utilizing some key concepts from Horney's psychoanalytic theory.]
According to Horney, each of the interpersonal strategies of defense involves a "bargain with fate" in which if a person lives up to his shoulds, his claims are supposed to be honored. The bargain of the self-effacing individual is that if he is a good, loving, noble person who shuns pride and does not seek private gain or glory, he will be well-treated by fate and by other people. The narcissistic person feels that if he holds onto his dreams and to his exaggerated claims for himself, life is bound to give him what he wants. The perfectionistic person believes that his own rectitude will insure fair treatment from others; through the height of his standards, he compels fate. The bargain of the arrogant-vindictive person is essentially with himself. He does not count on the world to give him anything, but he is convinced that he can reach his ambitious goals if he remains true to his vision of life as a battle and does not allow himself to be seduced by his softer feelings or the traditional morality. The detached person...
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SOURCE: "Karen Horney on 'The Value of Vindictiveness,'" in The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 21-6.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at a conference held in February of 1981, Keyishian discusses the ways in which Horney's essay "The Value of Vindictiveness" can be used to illuminate the natures of various literary characters.]
I first came to appreciate the special value of Karen Horney's work while doing research for a study of revenge as a literary theme. Through an exploration of writings on power and punishment I progressed a certain distance with a general theory of revenge. I came to see that the main feelings underlying revengeful acts were shame, violation, and the sense of injustice. I concluded that revenge had three main aims, often intermixed, but each with its own strategies, satisfactions, and dangers.
First, revenge aims to restore personal integrity and self-esteem. The person who must accept injury or insult over a prolonged period without being able to retaliate may come to feel severe self-contempt, a loss of bearings, and crippling fearfulness; his intellectual and moral perceptions may become warped if he rationalizes the injustice perpetrated against him or overvalues his injurer. Such was often the case in German concentration camps, Bruno Bettelheim [in Surviving, and Other Essays, 1979] has...
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SOURCE: "The Contributions of Horneyan Psychology to the Study of Literature," in The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 39-50.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at a conference held in February of 1981, Butery demonstrates some of the ways in which applying Horney's theories to the study of literary characters reveals a fuller sense of their often self-contradictory natures.]
When accepting the Nobel Prize for literature, William Faulkner said that the "only" things "worth writing about" are the "problems of the human heart in conflict with itself." He laments that too many young writers "labo[r] under a curse" because they have ignored these problems. Many literary critics also labor under this curse, for the new emphasis on structuralism, semiotics, linguistic typology, and sociopolitical theory has resulted in a disregard of the mimetic quality, which to a great extent gives literature its power and humanistic value.
Certainly, if literature is to be fully appreciated, neither its formal nor its mimetic dimensions can be slighted. However, I have discovered as a teacher and student of literature that often the predominant reason why I, my students, and more of my colleagues than will admit it have read and re-read the great masterpieces is mat we identify with the intensity of the struggling human beings portrayed. Indeed, it...
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SOURCE: "A Social Psychology of Women," in The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney, Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 66-87.
[In the following excerpt, Westkott offers a detailed examination of Horney's theory of neurosis, concluding that her "universalizing" of childhood experience—that is, Horney's view that the sources of neurosis are not gender-specific—is in fact a description of female psychology.]
In her later work Horney built on her critique of Freud to create an alternative explanation of character development and conflict. This was her theory of neurosis, which substituted experience for instinct in explaining psychology. But with this alternative foundation Horney did more than give primacy to cultural context and social relations; she feminized psychoanalysis. More specifically, she universalized female experience as the basis for understanding human development and conflict.
The Theory of Neurosis
For Horney neurosis is the consequence of cultural contradictions and constricting expectations that block the development of a whole self. All members of a culture, healthy and neurotic, experience these detours. In American culture, for example, a strong element of competitiveness, which promotes interpersonal hostilities and undermines self-esteem, creates fertile ground for the development of neurosis [The Neurotic Personality of...
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SOURCE: "'Keep Your Muck': A Horneyan Analysis of Joe Christmas and Light in August," in Third Force Psychology and the Study of Literature, edited by Bernard J. Paris, Associated University Presses, 1986, pp. 206-24.
[In the following essay, Haselswerdt presents a detailed discussion of the character Joe Christmas from William Faulkner's novel Light in August (1932), analyzing his "arrogant-vindictive" personality based primarily on Horney's theories as she presented them in Neurosis and Human Growth.]
When Alfred Kazin describes the "pinched rotted look" of Faulkner's Light in August, he is referring to the influence of the depression on the atmosphere of the novel ["The Stillness of Light in August, in Faulkner, edited by Robert Penn Warren, 1966]. But his words have a resonance for the story of Joe Christmas that goes far beyond the superficial. Light in August looks "pinched and rotted," it seems to me, not only because its characters live stark, luxuryless lives on a barren landscape but because it contains buried within it an aversion to life, a profound inability to confront human existence with openness and joy. Though Faulkner's public utterances on the novel give heavy emphasis to Lena Grove, her "courage and endurance" and her pagan joy in giving birth, the novel itself embodies a denial of those things that Lena represents...
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Quinn, Susan. A Mind of Her Own: The Life of Karen Horney. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1988, 479 p.
Overview of Horney's life and career, with particular emphasis on her role in various debates and controversies within the psychoanalytic community.
Rubins, Jack L. Karen Horney: Gentle Rebel of Psycho-analysis. New York: The Dial Press, 1978, 362 p.
Examines Horney's life and career.
The American Journal of Psychoanalysis: Special Issue on Interdisciplinary Applications of Horney 49, No. 3 (September 1989): 181-341.
Includes several essays that investigate the works of such authors as Mary Shelley, Doris Lessing, and William Shakespeare in light of Horney's psychoanalytic theories.
The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 51, No. 3 (September 1991): 191-291.
Special issue devoted to Horney's life and work, including reminiscences by friends and colleagues, letters to Horney, comparative and interdisciplinary studies relating to Horney's psychoanalytic theories, retrospectives of her accomplishments in the field of psychoanalysis, and a bibliography.
Burgum, Mildred. Review of Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis, by Karen Horney. Science and Society X (1946): 96-102.
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