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Nick Zhu


Karen Horney

Karen Clementia Theodora Danielson was born outside of Hamburg, Germany in 1885.

Raised in an aristocratic, Lutheran environment, Danielson’s childhood was surrounded by

conflict from her four half-siblings and the distant, unhappy relationship of her parents. After

dealing with depression for a number of years and marrying Oscar Horney, Karen Horney put her

daughters in psychoanalytical treatment in order to progress their growth. She later viewed this as

a mistake, on account of her later ideas that conflicted with the therapist’s Freudian emphasis on

penis envy to her daughters.

By the time Horney had separated from her husband and immigrated to America, Horney

had graduated from the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Berlin and written several essays on

modifying feminine psychoanalysis while staying within the parameters of Freudian ideas. This

became a rather contradictory process in itself, and Horney began to write essays in the late

1930’s redefining psychoanalysis by placing emphasis on social and interpersonal relations rather

than biological orientations (Freud). By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Karen Horney had

developed her theory on individuals coping with past-related anxieties by disowning one’s

spontaneous feelings and fabricating mental strategies of defense.

Horney’s ideas on neurosis are widely regarded as the best theory to date, although this is

slightly debatable. Her views stated that neurosis was a mental way of coping or making life

bearable, which stemmed not from abuse or neglect, but parental indifference. Horney developed

ten different types or patterns of neurotic needs, which are a result not of the parent’s motive but
the child’s perception and are based on distorted basic human needs. She then grouped these ten

patterns into three general coping strategies that are as follows.

The first broad strategy is also the most common in coping, and can be described as the

moving-toward solution. This encompasses the individual’s need for attention, affection, and

approval; the individual’s need for a controlling partner; and the individual’s need of restricting

life to simplicity, inconspicuousness, and satisfaction from little.

The second strategy can be described as the moving-against solution or simply aggression.

This includes the individual’s need for control and power, the need for exploitation and profit

from others, the need for social recognition and prestige, the need for admiration or adoration,

and the need for personal achievement.

The final and third general strategy in neurotic coping is described as the moving-away or

withdrawal solution. This can be found to occur as a result of the failure of the first two

strategies. This approach to managing is comprised of the last two needs: the need for self-

sufficiency and independence and the need for perfection and unassailability.

Horney teaches that although all people have some form of these needs to a certain extent,

the neurotic individual’s needs are extreme and if left unfulfilled will lead to intense anxiety and

disappointment in the future. A simpler way to say this is that the neurotic places these needs too

central to their own existence.

Karen Horney agreed with some aspects of Freudian thought, but seriously disapproved of

Freud’s sexist notions of penis envy and oedipal complex. Her ideas opposed penis envy with the

idea of womb envy, stating that for every woman that envies a man’s genetalia there are probably

just as many men envying women’s ability to bear and raise children. On the basis of Freud’s
oedipal complex idea, she stated that the preference of a parent over another to a child was not

caused by jealousy of the other but simply by anxiety caused by disturbance in the child-parent


Karen Horney was the first psychologist to present a feminine psychology paper at an

international convention, and she wrote fourteen of them between 1922 and 1937. In works such

as “The Problem of Female Masochism”, Horney described the structure of society placing

women in a state of being dependent on men for protection, reputation, wealth and love. In

“Maternal Conflicts” Horney analyzed and explained the difficulties of raising adolescents, while

in “The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal” and in six other papers Horney focused on marriage

problems. In response to the Freudian idea of women being jealous of men in general, Horney

described this as women envying men's freedom to pursue their interests because of women

placing overemphasis on relationships.

Another one of Horney’s huge concepts was that of Self Theory and this in relation to

neurosis. She stressed that the individual’s self-perception and how accurate this was the basis of

the individual realizing his or her potential. Realizing one’s potential would then lead to self-

actualization. When applying this concept to neurosis, Horney states that the neurotic individual

has a split identity between the perfect self and the despised self. These terms are rather self

explanatory, and neurotic persons will fluctuate between hating themselves and pretending to be


The last of Karen Horney’s concepts that will be mentioned here is the emphasis on social

factors that affect people, who are all born healthy and growth seeking. Unlike Freud, Horney

stressed the importance of the present compared to the past, and how current social aspects are
the ones that are important in determining a human being’s future mental state. Another way of

saying this is that an individual destined for neurosis would first have distorted relationships with

surrounding people, particularly significant ones.

Karen Horney, to be blunt, was an important psychologist in history. Along with pioneering

the concepts surrounding feminine psychology, she also offered a new perspective on neurosis,

showed that one’s self-perception and interpersonal relationship are just as if not more important

than one’s past experiences stressed by Freud. Had it not it been for Karen Horney, the

development of truly unbiased psychology might have been delayed for quite some time.