Karen Horney Reference

Karen Horney

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Horney was a leading psychologist who contributed to understanding the psychology of women, emphasized the role of sociocultural factors in producing neurosis, and developed a new noninstinctivist psychoanalytic theory.

Early Life

Karen Clementina Theodora Danielsen was born in Eilbek, Germany, on September 16, 1885. She was the daughter of Berndt Henrik Wackels Danielsen, a sea captain with the Hamburg-American Lines, who was a Norwegian by birth but later became a naturalized German, and Clothilde Marie Van Ronzelen Danielsen, of Dutch background. Clothilde, or “Sonni,” was sixteen years younger than her husband when she married him. Danielsen had four grown children from a previous marriage who did not like his new wife and the new children that came later. Berndt Danielsen, an intensely religious man, believed in a patriarchal family structure with women in subservient roles. His emotional presence in the home was felt by everyone. Sonni was a religious freethinker, was more educated, liberal, and cultured than her husband, and advocated a greater independence for women.

Karen Danielsen was born as Hamburg was coming into the industrial age. Just ten years after her birth, Hamburg Harbor became the third largest international port in the world. Karen traveled with her father and experienced life in different cultures, which added to her understanding of human nature. She was an avid reader, and her life was greatly augmented and embellished by her own imagination. It may have been her imagination that led her to envision a path for herself that was not common for any German female of her time. In her imagination, she thought of herself as Doctor Karen Danielsen, even though, in 1899, there was not one university in Germany that admitted women. Germany was, however, changing quickly enough to accommodate her. She attended the first Gymnasium for Girls in Hamburg in 1900. In the spring of 1906, Karen graduated from the Gymnasium, and on Easter Sunday of the same year, she boarded a train bound for the University of Freiburg to begin university life and her medical studies. The University of Freiburg became the first university in Germany to graduate a woman, even though female professionalism was considered unnatural. On October 30, 1909, while still a medical student, Karen married Oskar Horney, a student of political science and economics. Oskar was that rare man in Berlin who was able to tolerate ambition in a wife. They had three daughters, Brigitte (born in 1911), Marianne (born in 1913), and Renate (born in 1915). Karen received her M.D. from the University of Berlin in 1915.

Life’s Work

After passing her medical exams, Karen Horney worked for the influential Berlin psychiatrist Hermann Oppenheim, as an assistant in his clinic. It was there that she learned of psychoanalysis and began analysis with Karl Abraham, the only trained Freudian analyst in Berlin. Once Horney had discovered psychoanalysis, it became the intellectual and emotional focal point of her life. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis was frowned upon by the medical establishment. Understanding the stigma associated with psychoanalysis, Horney continued to specialize in psychiatry during the day, but after hours she pursued Freudian psychoanalysis as a patient and a student. She was decidedly cautious about discussing Freud’s ideas in and around Berlin and in the psychiatric clinics where she trained. While writing her doctoral dissertation, she was extremely careful not to discuss Freudian ideas. Everything about her dissertation suggests that she was a faithful and serious disciple of her psychiatric profession. Upon receiving her medical degree in 1915, she was from that point on a psychoanalyst. She was no longer hesitant to discuss Freudian ideas. She became more controversial and even more convinced of the therapeutic value of psychoanalysis. She took her first patients in psychoanalysis in 1919 and became actively involved with the Berlin Psychoanalytic Clinic and Institute for the next twelve years.

The relationship between Karen Horney and her husband became strained and began deteriorating. Their lifestyle had been prosperous, but with the economic crisis of 1923, Oskar was forced to declare personal bankruptcy. He later developed a severe neurological illness that caused a radical change in his personality. The Horneys separated in 1926 and were divorced in 1937. After her divorce, Karen channeled most of her energy into professional writing. Over the next six years, she was to publish a total of fourteen professional papers. The years between 1926...

(The entire section is 1900 words.)