I. Overview of Horney’s Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Karen Horney built her psychoanalytic social theory on the assumption that social and cultural conditions, especially during childhood, are primary influences on later personality. Although Horney’s books are concerned mostly with neurotic personalities, many of her observations also apply to normal individuals. Like Klein, Horney’s early ideas were influenced by Freud. However, she objected to Freud’s basically masculine theory, which looked first at male development and then applied those observations to women.
II. Biography of Karen Horney
Karen Horney was born in Germany in 1885, the youngest of two children born to a stern, devoutly religious older sea captain and his young wife. Horney was one of the first women in Germany admitted to medical school, where she specialized in psychiatry. She also became acquainted with Freudian theory and was analyzed by Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s close associates. In her mid-40s, Horney left Germany to settle in the United States, first in Chicago and then in New York. She soon abandoned orthodox psychoanalysis in favor of a more socially oriented theory, one that also had a more positive view of feminine development. Horney died in 1952 at age 65.
III. Introduction to Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Although Horney’s writings deal mostly with neuroses and neurotic personalities, her theories suggest much that is appropriate to normal development. She agreed with Freud that early childhood traumas are important, but she placed far more emphasis on social factors.
A. Horney and Freud Compared
Horney criticized Freudian theory on at least three accounts: (1) its rigidity toward new ideas, (2) its skewed view of feminine psychology, and (3) its overemphasis on biology and the pleasure principle.
B. The Impact of Culture
Horney insisted that modern
culture is too competitive and that competition leads to hostility and feelings
of isolation. These conditions lead to exaggerated needs for affection and
cause people to overvalue love. Both normal and neurotic personalities
experience intrapsychic conflicts through their desperate attempts
to find love.
C. The Importance of Childhood Experiences
Neurotic conflict stems largely from childhood traumas, most of which are traced to lack of genuine love. Children who do not receive genuine affection feel threatened and adopt rigid behavioral patterns in an attempt to gain love.
IV. Basic Hostility and Basic Anxiety
All children need feelings
of safety and security, but these can be gained only through the love of their
parents. Unfortunately, parents often neglect, dominate, reject, or overindulge
their child, conditions that lead to the child’s feelings of basic hostility
toward their parents. However, children often repress their feelings of basic
hostility, which leads to feelings of deep insecurity and a pervasive sense of
apprehension called basic anxiety. People can protect themselves from basic
anxiety by a number of protective devices, including (1) affection;
(2) submissiveness; (3) power, prestige, or possession; and (4) withdrawal.
Normal people have the flexibility to use any or all of these approaches,
but neurotics are compelled to rely rigidly on only one.
V. Compulsive Drives
Neurotics are frequently trapped in a vicious circle in which their compulsive need to reduce basic anxiety leads to a variety of self-defeating behaviors; these behaviors then produce more basic anxiety, and the cycle continues.
A. Neurotic Needs
In her early theory, Horney
identified 10 categories of neurotic needs that mark neurotics in their attempt
to reduce basic anxiety. These included the neurotic need (1) for affection and
approval, (2) for a powerful partner (3) to restrict one’s life within narrow
borders, (4) for power, (5) to exploit others, (6) for social recognition or
prestige, (7) for personal admiration, (8) for ambition and personal
achievement, (9) for self-sufficiency and independence, and (10) for perfection
B. Neurotic Trends
Later, Horney grouped these
10 neurotic needs into three basic neurotic trends, which apply to both normal
and neurotic individuals in their attempt to solve
1. Moving Toward People
People often strive to protect themselves against basic anxiety and feelings of helplessness by moving toward people. This strategy results in undue compliance to others’ wishes.
2. Moving Against People
Aggressive people assume that everyone is hostile, and, therefore, they adopt the strategy of moving against people, exploiting them for their own benefit.
3. Moving Away From People
People who feel detached from others adopt the neurotic trend of moving away from people, insisting on privacy, independence, and self-sufficiency.
VI. Intrapsychic Conflicts
Besides these culturally induced needs and trends, people experience inner tensions, or intrapsychic conflicts. These intrapsychic conflicts become part of people’s belief systems and take on a life of their own, separate from the interpersonal conflicts that created them.
A. The Idealized Self-Image
People who do not receive love and affection during childhood are impeded in their natural tendency toward self-realization and are blocked in their attempt to acquire a stable sense of identity. Feeling alienated from self, they create an idealized self-image, or an extravagantly positive picture of themselves that exists only in their mind. Horney recognized three aspects of the idealized self-image.
1. The Neurotic Search for Glory
As neurotic people begin to believe that their idealized self-image is real, they try to incorporate it into all aspects of their lives. This leads to the neurotic search for glory, or a comprehensive drive toward actualizing the ideal self. The neurotic search for glory includes the need for perfection (the tyranny of the should), neurotic ambition, and the drive toward a vindictive triumph.
2. Neurotic Claims
Neurotic people believe that their idealized fantasy world is real and that the rest of the world is skewed. Consequently, they believe that they are entitled to special privileges, and they make neurotic claims on other people that are consistent with their idealized view of themselves.
3. Neurotic Pride
A third aspect of the idealized self-image is neurotic pride, or a false pride based not on reality but on a distorted and idealized view of self.
Neurotic individuals dislike themselves because reality always falls short of their idealized view of self. Therefore, they learn self-hatred, which can be expressed as (1) relentless demands on the self, (2) merciless self-accusation, (3) self-contempt, (4) self-frustration, (5) self-torment or self-torture, and (6) self-destructive actions and impulses.
VII. Feminine Psychology
Horney believed that
psychological differences between men and women are not due to anatomy but to
culture and social expectations. Her view of the Oedipus complex differed
markedly from Freud’s in that she again insisted that any
sexual attraction or hostility of child to parent would be the result of learning
and not biology.
The goal of Horney’s psychotherapy was to help patients grow toward self-realization, give up their idealized self-image, relinquish their neurotic search for glory, and change self-hatred to self-acceptance. Horney believed that, fortunately, patients wish to get better, even though they may find comfort in their present misery. Horney also believed that successful therapy is built on self-analysis and self-understanding.
Horney’s theory has been one of the least productive of all personality theories in generating research. However, her concepts of moving toward and moving against other people have stimulated some research.
A. Morbid Dependency
Horney’s notion of morbid
dependency (moving toward others) and its contemporary offspring—codependency—have
produced research indicating that people with neurotic needs to move toward
others will go to great extremes to win the approval of other people. For
example, research (Lyon & Greenberg, 1991) with college women who had an
alcoholic parent found that these women were much more likely to donate time to
a self-centered man than to a kind and
Horney’s concept of moving against people relates to the notion of hypercompetitiveness. Early research found that hypercompetitiveness was positively related to low self-esteem, neuroticism, and narcissism. Later research (Ryckman, Hammer, Kaczor, & Gold, 1996) on a healthy type of competitiveness—called personal developmental competitiveness—suggests that this style of competition is related to social concern. Still other research (Burckle, Ryckman, & Gold, 1999 found that highly competitive college women were more likely than other college women to suffer from disordered eating, such as anorexia and bulimia.
X. Critique of Horney
Although Horney’s theory has not generated much research, it has provided an interesting way of looking at humanity. The strength of her theory was her vivid portrayal of the neurotic personality, As scientific theory, however, it rates very low in generating research, and low on its ability to be falsified, organize knowledge, and serve as a guide to action. The theory receives a moderate rating on internal consistency and parsimony.
XI. Concept of Humanity
Horney’s concept of
humanity was based mostly on her clinical experiences with neurotic patients,
but it can easily be extended to normal people. In summary, Horney’s view of
humanity is rated high on free choice, optimism, unconscious influences, and
social factors; average on causality versus teleology; and low