Karen Horney And Her Theory Of Neurotic Personality

Horney was one of the first representatives of neo-Freudianism and feminist psychology.

The psychiatrist Karen Horney was one of the leading representatives of neo-Freudism, a movement that challenged the conventions of traditional psychoanalysis and allowed this theoretical orientation to expand, especially in the field of neurosis.

Horney was also the first female psychiatrist to publish essays on female mental health and to question the biologicist approaches to gender differences of her predecessors, which is why she is considered the founder of feminist psychology.

Karen Horney Biography

Karen Danielsen was born in Germany in 1885. She studied medicine at the universities of Freiburg, Göttingen and Berlin, which had only recently accepted women, and graduated in 1913. During her studies she met Oskar Horney, whose surname she adopted after marrying her in 1909 and with whom she had three daughters. before they got divorced.

Within a few years after Horney graduated his parents died and he entered a state of prolonged depression. It was then that he began training as a psychoanalyst while undergoing therapy with Karl Abraham, a pioneer of psychoanalysis of whom Freud said was his best student.

Abraham attributed Horney’s symptoms to his repression of incestuous desires toward his father; Horney rejected his hypothesis and dropped out of therapy. She would later become one of the main critiques of the mainstream of psychoanalysis and its emphasis on male sexuality.

In 1915 she was appointed secretary of the German Psychoanalytic Association, founded by Abraham himself, in which the foundations of the teaching of psychoanalysis that would take place during the following decades were laid.

Horney moved to the United States with his daughters in 1932 because of the rise of Nazism and the rejection he suffered from Freud and his followers. There he established a relationship and worked with other prominent psychoanalysts such as Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan. She devoted herself to therapy, training and the development of her theory until 1952, the year of her death.

Neo-Freudianism and feminist psychology

Is considered to Horney and Alfred Adler are the founders of the Neo-Freudianism, a stream of psychoanalysis emerged in response to some of the principles of Freud and provided that alternative development occurring.

In particular, Horney rejected the emphasis of early psychoanalysis on sexuality and aggressiveness as determining factors in the development of personality and in that of neuroses. This author found the obsession of Freud and other male psychiatrists with the penis particularly absurd.

Horney believed that “penis envy” was explained by social inequality between genders; what women envied in men was not their sexual organ, but their social role, and the same could happen in the opposite sense. In addition, she considered that these roles were largely determined by culture, and not only by biological differences.

Between 1922 and 1937 Horney made various theoretical contributions on female psychology, becoming the first feminist psychiatrist. Among the topics on which he wrote, the overvaluation of the figure of the male stands out, the difficulties of motherhood and the contradictions inherent to monogamy.

Neurosis, real self and self-realization

According to Horney, neurosis is an alteration in a person’s relationship with himself and with others. The key factor in the appearance of symptoms is the way in which the parents handle the child’s anxiety during its development.

The neurotic personality or character neurosis arises when parents do not provide their children with a loving and safe environment, generating feelings of isolation, helplessness and hostility. This blocks normal development and prevents the person from becoming their “real self.

In Horney’s work, the real self (or self) is equivalent to identity. If an individual’s personal growth is healthy, their behaviors and relationships develop properly, which leads to self-realization. For Horney this is a natural human tendency; later humanists like Rogers and Maslow would hold the same belief.

In contrast, the identity of neurotic people is divided between the real self and the ideal self. As the goals of the ideal self are not realistic, the person identifies with a disparaged image of himself, which leads him to distance himself even more from the real self. Thus, neurotics alternate between perfectionism and self-loathing.

Neurotic personality types

Horney’s theory of neurosis describes three neurotic personality types, or neurotic tendencies. These are divided according to the means that the person uses to seek safety, and they are consolidated through the reinforcements obtained from their environment during childhood.

1. Complacent or submissive

Complacent-type character neurosis is characterized by seeking approval and affection from others. It appears as a consequence of continued feelings of helplessness, neglect, and abandonment in early development.

In these cases the self is canceled as a source of security and reinforcement, and the internal conflict is replaced by the external one. Thus, submissive neurotic people often believe that their problems could be solved by a new partner, for example.

2. Aggressive or expansive

In this case , hostility prevails in the relationship with the parents. According to Horney, expansive neurotics express their sense of identity by dominating and exploiting others. They are usually selfish, distant and ambitious people who seek to be known, admired and, sometimes, feared by their environment or by society in general.

3. Isolated and resigned

When neither submission nor aggressiveness allows the child to capture the attention of his parents, he may develop a character neurosis of an isolated type. In these people there are exaggerated needs for perfectionism, independence and loneliness that lead to a detached and shallow life.

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