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Feminine Psychology Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Taken together, the essays in Feminine Psychology present the basis of a philosophy of psychotherapy that Horney continued to develop throughout her life. Horney was primarily a therapist and teacher rather than a theoretician. The findings in her writings are based on her work with patients and her own experience, not on other analysts’ studies.

The essays here can be grouped into a few broad categories (with considerable overlap). The essays on the castration complex and its origins have already been discussed briefly. The concept of the vagina as a wound left after castration predominated in much of the work of Freud and his followers. Horney took issue with this, arguing that this image of being genitally wounded was instead an identification with the mother as having been damaged by sexual violation. Horney acknowledged that penis envy existed, but she believed that it was caused by girls’ envy of boys’ ability to see and touch their genitals and to urinate standing up, rather than to some feeling in girls that they were defective through some fault of their own. She also maintained her conviction that, rather than being a minor consideration, as Freud had supposed, male envy of women’s ability to become mothers was of enormous import in male society’s domination of women.

Horney used these basic ideas as jumping-off points for her other essays. She pursued related concerns in her writings on marriage and motherhood, including “The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal” (1928), “The Distrust Between the Sexes” (1931), “The Problem of Marriage” (1932), and “Maternal Conflicts” (1933). Horney asserted that marital problems often occur because of disappointment and guilt from early identification with the mother’s sexual role in marriage and from a corresponding desire to engage in intercourse with the father. She believed that the husband’s residual attitudes toward his mother and the unconscious demands of each partner on the other because of unfulfilled Oedipal desires from childhood give rise to inevitable conflicts in marriage. These demands and desires bring “a perilously heavy load of unconscious wishes” to the marriage, often leading husband or wife to seek fulfillment in sexual relationships outside the marriage.

Horney used her theories on the castration complex to explain phenomena associated with female development and dysfunction. In “The Flight from Womanhood” (1926) and “The Denial of the Vagina” (1933), Horney contends that sexual dysfunction in later life and “immature” feelings of pleasure upon stimulation of the clitoris (this was considered dysfunction if it persisted in adulthood, for only vaginal sensations were deemed to be “mature”) are caused by childhood fears of vaginal injury. The young girl’s Oedipal desire is coupled with both the instinctual realization that her father’s penis would be far too large and the guilt from the incest taboo, and these combine to cause the child to deny the existence of her vagina. This can lead...

(The entire section is 714 words.)