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Karen Horney

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On the 16th of September in 1885, Clotilde and Berndt Wackels Danielson, a

ship’s captain, became the proud parents of the one and only Karen Horney, a pioneer in

the field of psychoanalysis (Boeree, 1997). She along with her brother, also named

Berndt, and five step-siblings described their father as an authoritarian who ruled with an

iron fist and held a strong religious code of ethics; so much so that he was given the

nickname of the “the Bible thrower” (Boeree, 1997). Her mother Clotilde, (also known

as Sonni) on the other hand, was the complete opposite of her father and was 19 years his


Her childhood was one of contradicting perceptions. Horney portrayed her father

as a harsh man who favored her brother Berndt more than he did Karen. This

representation of her father, however, is negated by the fact that her father would

continuously bring her back small trinkets from his excursions around the world (Boeree,

1997). Not only that, but he also allowed her to accompany him on several of his

voyages, which considering the time in which they lived in, when women were still

inferior to men, was quite odd. Whether this perception of her father is correct or

incorrect, ultimately Karen’s viewpoint would end up having the bigger impact, leading

her to the very deep-seated relationship she held with her mother; a closeness that

resulted in her nickname as her mother’s “little lamb” (Boeree, 1997).

Horney spent her childhood reading the multiple volumes of the German author

karl May’s Wild West novels that told the story of her hero, Winnetou, a Native

American Indian (Horney-Patterson, 2006). This tidbit of information was not uncovered until after her death, but it is nonetheless spoken of fondly in the memoirs of her youngest

daughter. It is this discovery that better depicts the “child within” in the historical

character that is Karen Horney (Horney-Patterson, 2006).

Her thirst for knowledge was one that stemmed from a self-deprecating belief that

if she could not be pretty, then she would be smart (Boeree, 1997). A belief which was

by all means incorrect, but one that must have originated from her father’s lack of

affection and depression. The cause of this depression being her brother Berndt’s

rejection of her romantic feelings for him, something which was probably just her way of

displacing her need for the male affection her father refused to give her (Boeree, 1997).

Even though his rebuff was not done with spite but out of the awkwardness that comes

with adolescence, it would prove to be the beginning of Horney’s long fight with

depression. This depression would continue to plague her into her early and late

adulthood, as the stress and complications continued to amount itself over her lifetime.

Another small cause for her desolation was the aftereffect of her parent’s divorce in 1904

and the death of her mother in 1911(Boeree, 1997).

Continuing the childish rebellions of her childhood, Horney went against her

parents desires and the social constructs of her time, and enrolled herself in medical

school in 1906 (Boering, 1997). Like many other young ladies that would one day attend

college, Horney met her husband while she was in school. Three years after entering

medical school, in 1909, she married a law student by the name of Oscar Horney with

whom she would have three daughters (Boeree, 1997). With the addition of this last fact

in the storyline of Karen Horney, it would lead to her down the path of what is remember

for today, psychoanalysis. Oscar Horney, like her father, had a very disciplinarian way of raised their three

daughters (Boeree, 1997). Considering the harsh and loveless manner in which she was

raised, it did not prevent her from wholly supporting her husbands child rearing methods,

a mistake which she would letter look back on and psychoanalyze. It wasn’t until 1926,

only three years after that Berndt developed meningitis and her brother was afflicted with

a pulmonary infection that ended his life, that Horney abandoned her husband and

decided to move to the U.S. (Boeree, 1997). It was difficulties such as this that continued

her bouts of depression and led her as far as thinking suicidal thoughts. Only after she

had moved to the U.S., Brooklyn, New York specifically, that Horney was able to

blossom and take part in the intellectual movements and interactions with other

prominent individuals in psychology. Two such characters being Harry Sullivan, the

psychiatrist, and the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, the latter of which she had a romantic

affair with that did not end until the late 1930s (Boeree, 1997). It was through her

interactions with these like-minded individuals that Horney, and her counterparts as well,

was able to discuss and exchange ideas that would eventually lead to her theories in


Karen Horney’s theory of neurosis is by the far the best theory in this topic area.

Neurosis can be simply defined as some form of mental or emotional disorder that

involves depression, anxiety, or obsessive behavior. A major difference between Karen

Horney and other psychoanalysts like Freud is that she doesn’t entirely focus on the cause

and effect relationship between childhood experiences and neurosis (Horney, 1937). This

connection is important, but it’s not the only determining factor, there are others that play

a role. In this case Horney refers to the cultural conditions in which we live (Horney, 1937). It is never a good idea to say that this one specific thing is the cause of another

because there are always other conditions taking place, especially when it comes to

humans. This is exactly what Horney achieved through her theory of neurosis. Unlike

Freud, who only focused on the biological and physiological conditions, Horney

demonstrated that cultural conditions play a more central role. This, however, might

bring up the question of whether or not what Horney was doing was psychoanalysis

considering that she veered away from what Freud said, which she said had the potential

danger of stagnation (Horney, 1937).

One criterion she applied in diagnosing someone as neurotic is whether or not

their way of living coincided with any of the accepted patterns of behavior for that

particular time (Horney, 1937). In this case, culture plays an important role, for what

might be socially accepted in one cultural background might not be in another. Not only

does the concept of normalness vary between cultures but also within them, too (Horney,

1937). Within a culture there are many factors that need to be taken into account

including gender, social class, and the time period. In the end, this means that there is no

universal trend that humans share. Horney says that “the effect of all this is to

confirm…that there is no such thing as a normal psychology, which holds for all

mankind” (Horney, 1937). This could prove to be problematic, but it allows for a new

understanding of human nature.

The scope of her research was limited in two directions. The first is interested in

how neurosis affects personality, while the second direction states that the symptoms of

neurosis are not as prevalent as character formation because character after all is what

influences behavior (Horney, 1937). This in turn demonstrates that while there are common traits being shared between neurotic people, the differences are far more striking

in types of neurosis. According to Horney, in analyzing the many differences, she

discovered that that their central conflicts and interrelations were essentially similar in all

of them; and “that these basic similarities are essentially produced by the difficulties

existing in our time and culture (1937). Every culture has its problems and fears that its

people must deal with. The difference between these people and a neurotic individual is

that their problems and fear are double in amount.

Horney identified ten particular patterns of neurotic need. Each of these patterns

are based on what every human being needs (Horney, 1937). The ten patterns are as


“1. The neurotic need for affection and approval, the indiscriminate need to please others and be liked by them.

2. The neurotic need for a partner, for someone who will take over one's life. This includes the idea that love will solve all of one's problems. Again, we all would like a partner to share life with, but the neurotic goes a step or two too far.

3. The neurotic need to restrict one's life to narrow borders, to be undemanding, satisfied with little, to be inconspicuous. Even this has its normal counterpart. Who hasn't felt the need to simplify life when it gets too stressful, to join a monastic order, disappear into routine, or to return to the womb?

4. The neurotic need for power, for control over others, for a facade of omnipotence. We all seek strength, but the neurotic may be desperate for it. This is dominance for its own sake, often accompanied by a contempt for the weak and a strong belief in one's own rational powers.

5. The neurotic need to exploit others and get the better of them. In the ordinary person, this might be the need to have an effect, to have impact, to be heard. In the neurotic, it can become manipulation and the belief that people are there to be used. It may also involve a fear of being used, of looking stupid. You may have noticed that the people who love practical jokes more often than not cannot take being the butt of such a joke themselves!

6. The neurotic need for social recognition or prestige. We are social creatures, and sexual ones, and like to be appreciated. But these people are overwhelmingly concerned with appearances and popularity. They fear being ignored, be thought plain, ‘uncool,’ or ‘out of it.’

7. The neurotic need for personal admiration. We need to be admired for inner qualities as well as outer ones. We need to feel important and valued. But some people are more desperate, and need to remind everyone of their importance -- ‘Nobody recognizes genius,’ ‘I'm the real power behind the scenes, you know,’ and so on. Their fear is of being thought nobodies, unimportant and meaningless.

8. The neurotic need for personal achievement. Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with achievement -- far from it! But some people are obsessed with it. They have to be number one at everything they do. Since this is, of course, quite a difficult task, you will find these people devaluing anything they cannot be number one in! If they are good runners, then the discus and the hammer are ‘side shows.’ If academic abilities are their strength, physical abilities are of no importance, and so on.

9. The neurotic need for self-sufficiency and independence. We should all cultivate some autonomy, but some people feel that they shouldn't ever need anybody. They tend to refuse help and are often reluctant to commit to a relationship.

10. The neurotic need for perfection and unassailability. To become better and better at life and our special interests is hardly neurotic, but some people are driven to be perfect and scared of being flawed. They can't be caught making a mistake and need to be in control at all times” (Boeree, 1997).

Looking at these ten patterns of neurosis one can see how unrealistic they really are.

Even though it’s human nature to seek out emotional connections and feelings of love

with other individuals like family members or romantic partners, these types of affections

are expected to be experienced from all individuals all the time. The neurotic‘s

experience, however, is much more intense and if the above mentioned needs are not met

then they experience anxiety (Boeree, 1997). “Anxiety is the dynamic center of neuroses” and Horney uses the term

synonymously with fear, indicating a relationship between the two (Horney, 1937). Both

are a form of emotional reaction, but there is a difference. Horney distinguishes between

the two by saying that “fear is a reaction that is proportionate to the danger one has to

face, whereas anxiety is a disproportionate reaction to danger” (Horney, 1937). Basically,

it’s the difference between fearing for the life of a loved one and the anxiety experience

upon being on stage in front of an audience. Here once again, Horney points out that the

attitude towards a certain reaction depends on culture (Horney, 1937). Certain cultures

have strong reaction of fear to certain things, like an animal, that another culture might

find absolutely preposterous.

Anxiety and fear as symptoms of neuroses are, according to Freud, manifest

symptoms with no organic basis that can only be cured by uncovering the unconscious

factors the underlie them (Horney, 1942). This conclusion has enlarged the scope of

disorders for psychiatrists. Their purpose is to understand and remove the disorder

afflicting an individual. It is for this reason that psychoanalysis is a method of therapy

that is still used and will continue to be used to treat specific neurotic disorders like

compulsive indecision (Horney, 1942). Psychoanalysis is meant for those who are unable

to deal with their disorder. It is a means of aiding them, so they can through their daily

lives without barriers that might cause them harm or their relationships with others. But,

like any to other method of treatment, psychoanalysis has its disadvantages. The

challenges of neuroses could potentially be too much for an individual to handle or a

situation might be so bad that this person might not be able to utilize the assistance

being offered. Not only this, but there are also other outside factors like the cultural conditions of our society that could hinder the psychoanalytic process.

With that in mind, Horney raises the issue of a constructive self-examination

rather than looking for that one unattainable solution or answer. “For Horney self-

analysis was a means of undoing the character trends she believed prevent such individual

self-realization…she located the source of these trends in the failure of parents to love the

child for itself. They thereby fail to foster its supposedly inherent tendency towards self-

realization” (Sayers, 1991). This unfulfilled need for attention and love makes it difficult

for individuals to overcome their own resistance at getting to know themselves. Horney

referred to this as alienation from the “real self” (Sayers, 1991). Without this

understanding of early parenting and how its negative cycle continues to repeat itself in

the lie of the individual, there is no possible way to understand the self.

Horney worked hard to refute Frued’s theory that women experience penis envy.

She used her experience as a mother invert his theory by arguing two points about

women’s psychology. The first is that women’s psychology is determined by an innate

identification with their mother and not with their father; and the second was to draw

attention to men’s envy of women’s mothering (“womb envy”) (Sayers, 1991). Freud’s

theory of penis envy is based on women unconsciously wanting to be men. Their envy of

the penis starts in childhood, and as little girls they look to their fathers to provide them

with one. However, when all they receive is disappointment, little girls look to their

fathers to give them a baby instead. Frigidity and defensive belittling of men are due to

this penis envy (Sayers, 1991). In response to Horney‘s continued disagreement with his

penis envy theory, Freud reasserted his arguments, and he “claimed that the girl’s sense of

lack, of being wounded or castrated, is cause not effect of her Oedipal desire for the father” (Sayers, 1991).

Even though Horney argued against Freud’s phallic obsession, she was not a

feminist. More than anything, Horney was an individualist that kept to her

interdisciplinary work that would eventually set her apart from the rest of the

psychoanalytic orthodoxy (Sayers, 1991). Horney argued that Freud’s ideas about

women’s psychology was no different than the subjective response little boys had when

they first discovered that girls don’t have a penis (Sayers, 1991). Besides Freud there

were other psychoanalyst that supported the penis envy theory. One such psychoanalyst

was Sandor Fernenczi. He claimed that men enjoyed sex because it represented a

symbolic return to the womb, while women were only able to achieve this “orgasmic

pleasure” during childbirth (Sayers, 1991). As a mother of three, Horney automatically

made sure to dispute such a ridiculous idea. The stand Horney made against these

patriarchal psychoanalysts that launched feminist critiques of Freud and his followers.

Alienation is the result of this phallic penetration of feminine identification. Throughout

her career Horney maintained this theory’s counterpart by saying it’s men who envy

women’s power in mothering. Since then Horney’s theories on womb envy have

continued to rise in popularity.

By the time Karen Horney passed away in 1952, she had written several books

including the Neurotic Personality of our Time, Self-Analysis, Our Inner Conflicts, and

Neurosis and Human Growth. Her theories as a psychoanalyst made her quite popular,

especially because she argued against Freud and his teachings. Some in the field of

psychology even refer to her as a neo-Freudian, but in reality this is quite inaccurate

(Boeree, 1997). Her idea on self-analysis is considered to be one of the earliest “self- help” books out there (Boeree, 1997). This alone has gained quite a bit of respect from

the psychological community.

Overall, Horney’s biggest contribution to the field of psychology and

psychoanalysis was her theory on neuroses. This allowed for a more in-depth

understanding of the working mind and personality of neurotics. Not only did struggle

with depression throughout her lifetime, she was also able to use her personal experiences

and self-reflection to help guide her influential work. There is after all that saying that

says psychologist are the ones with the most issues, so who better to come up with the

theories that have helped psychologists of today address the issues that plague society.

Boeree, G. (1997). Karen horney. Retrieved from
Horney, K. (1937). The collected works of karen horney: volume i. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Horney, K. (1942). The collected works of karen horney: volume ii. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Horney-Patterson, R. (2006). The child within. karen horney on vacation. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 62(2), Retrieved from
Sayers, J. (1991). Mothers of psychoanalysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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...Historical Figure Portfolio History and Systems of Psychology Fall 2014 Karen Horney (1885-1952) [pic] Introduction This historical figure portfolio gives a short overview on the life of Karen Horney who was a psychoanalyst and pioneer in feminine psychology. Throughout this portfolio, Karen Horney’s life will be described with the help of a life timeline, a timeline of historical events during her lifetime, a short biography, an image of her, along with a reference page are included to give an synopsis of her life and works. Table of Contents Timeline of Life and Historical Events………………………………………………………4 Brief Biography………………………………………………………………………………6 Image 1………………………………………………………………………………………10 References……………………………………………………………………………………11 Life and World Timeline: September 16, 1885: Karen Horney was born near Hamburg, Germany (previously known as Blankenese, Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia, German Empire). 1886: Statue of Liberty was dedicated to, and placed in, the United States. 1888: Jack the Ripper began his gruesome serial killing in London. 1892: Ellis Island opens as a main east coast immigration center. 1906: Karen Horney entered medical school. 1909: She married Oscar Horney, a man she met in medical school. 1911: Karen Horney’s mother died this year, which then instilled a desire in her to explore psychoanalysis because of the difficulties......

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