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The Time Has Come to Resurrect Karen Horney's Way of Thinking About Neurotics

By Thomas J. Farrell

May 10, 2010

[In this article, Thomas J. Farrell sees Horneyan neurotic types as consistent with the “eight ‘shadow’ forms of the archetypes of maturity envisioned by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their series of five books about the masculine archetypes of maturity” (with corresponding feminine archetypes). Farrell draws correlations between certain of these neurotic tendencies and the leanings of the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S.

N.B.: The political views expressed herein are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Karen Horney Society.  — AKS]

The Time Has Come to Resurrect Karen Horney's Way of Thinking About Neurotics

By Thomas J. Farrell
University of Minnesota-Duluth

Article on the OpEdNews website. 3 pages.

Duluth, MN (OpEdNews)

May 10, 2010

Last week the natural disaster of the flood in Nashville took third place in media attention behind two man-made disasters: (1) BP’s man-made disaster with its oil spill, and (2) the disaster on the stock market, which in any event was not a natural disaster, as the flood in Nashville was.

Because of the frequency of man-made disasters, I say that the time has come to resurrect the work of Karen Horney, M.D. (1885–1952). She was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and gifted writer (even though English was not her native language – German was her native language). Everything by Horney is still worth reading, even though some of her ways of thinking can be – and have been – qualified in different ways by subsequent insights, as I will explain below.

Horney works with a twofold sense of the divided human self: (1) the neurotic self and (2) the real self. The religious writer Thomas Merton (1915–1968) also worked with a comparable sense of the divided self, which he termed (1) the false self and (2) the true self.

In Horney’s view, all of us are neurotic, so all of us should invest time and effort in undertaking psychoanalysis, so that we can make certain headway in outgrowing our neurotic solutions to our inner conflicts and thereby grow into our real self. Self-realization is the goal toward which we should strive.

In her summative book Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization (1950), Horney works with eight neurotic solutions to our inner conflicts, three of which she groups under the broader category of the expansive neurotic solutions. According to her way of thinking, all of us usually have at least three of the eight neurotic solutions working in us, usually with one of the three dominating over the other two. However, we can have more than three different neurotic solutions operating in us to one degree or another.

Now, most man-made disasters are the work of the three expansive types. I’ll return to the expansive types momentarily.

Unfortunately, according to Horney’s way of thinking, the other five neurotic solutions that she discusses lead to tendencies whereby we step aside and allow the three expansive types to run amok unregulated.

Yes, I am suggesting that the three kinds of neurotic solutions that produce the three expansive types produce people whose activities should be carefully regulated.

In addition, I am suggesting that the three expansive types are probably over-represented among Americans who speak out most loudly against government regulations (a.k.a. Republicans).

Horney has described the three expansive types in the following paragraphs:

“He [the expansive type – any one of the three expansive types] glorifies and cultivates in himself everything that means mastery. Mastery with regard to others entails the need to excel and to be superior in some way. He tends to manipulate or dominate others and to make them dependent upon him. This trend is also reflected in what he expects their attitude toward him to be. Whether he is out for adoration, respect, or recognition, he is concerned with their subordinating themselves to him and looking up to him. He abhors the idea of his being compliant, appeasing, or dependent.

“Furthermore, he is proud of his ability to cope with any contingency and is convinced that he can do so. There is, or should be, nothing that he cannot accomplish. Somehow he must be – and feels that he is – the master of his fate. Helplessness may make him feel panicky and he hates any trace of it in himself.

“Mastery with regard to himself means that he is his idealized proud self. Through will power and reason he is the captain of his soul. Only with great reluctance does he recognize any forces in himself which are unconscious, i.e., not subject to his conscious control. It disturbs him inordinately to recognize a conflict within himself, or any problem that he cannot solve (master) right away. Suffering is felt as a disgrace to be concealed. It is typical for him that in analysis he has no particular difficulty in recognizing his pride, but he is loath to see his shoulds, or at any rate that aspect of them which implies that he is shoved around by them. Nothing should push him around. As long as possible he maintains the fiction that he can lay down laws to himself and fulfill them. He abhors being helpless toward anything in himself as much as or more than being helpless toward any external factor.”

[Neurosis and Human Growth, pp. 214–215]

I myself am acquainted with the type of neurotic sense of mastery that Horney discusses here. For a variety of reasons, my sense of mastery was actually advanced during my childhood and my teenage years as I was socially conditioned to play a helper role. I was my mother’s helper and my father’s helper, and I also played the role of helper in school. My efforts at being a helper were recognized and acknowledged by my mother and my father and other adult authority figures. In this way, my prizing of mastery was enhanced and socially reinforced.

However, in accord with Horney’s observations about mastery and helplessness, my neurotic sense of mastery still makes it difficult for me to tolerate feeling helpless. By definition, feeling helpless is not a pleasant feeling. But who among can go through life without feeling helpless at times?

But the real threat of feelings of helplessness is that they will somehow resonate with our unconscious repressed abandonment feelings, which involve acute feelings of helplessness. When our feelings of helplessness in the present catch our unconscious repressed feelings of helplessness from the past, then the sheer power of our unconscious repressed feelings of helplessness can be overpowering. Such repressed feelings are so overpowering that they must be expressed somehow, because it can seem impossible to contain them within oneself. But the expression of such powerful feelings must be channeled in non-violent ways, because it can lead to violence otherwise.

My mother told me that I was a colicky baby. No mother (or father) could console a colicky baby when the baby is crying inconsolably. Because I was a colicky baby, I suspect that I have abandonment feelings from my early infancy repressed in my unconscious. As a result, when I experience certain kinds of helplessness in the present, there is always that risk that my experience in the present will tap into the repressed abandonment feelings and feelings of helplessness from my past in my unconscious. When the present does tap into the past in my unconscious, my sense of helplessness about the present is magnified several fold. Think of an inconsolable colicky baby crying and you’ll get the picture.

As I’ve indicated, all of us need to struggle with our inner conflicts. Our feelings of helplessness (a.k.a. abandonment feelings) are scary, to say the least. In a word, they are overpowering.

Think of the rage of Achilles at Agamemnon in the Iliad and you’ll get the picture of just how overpowering such feelings can be. By the standards of the time, Agamemnon is outrageously out of line. The goddess Athena intervenes by grabbing Achilles’ long hair from behind and jerking him back from his overpowering impulse to dispatch Agamemnon through violent action. Athena urges Achilles to give Agamemnon a good tongue-lashing instead. Achilles does just that. In this way non-violence wins out over violence.

If you ask me, Republicans in Congress deserve a good tongue-lashing for their efforts in favor of de-regulation, and so do Democrats in Congress for being such wimps and allowing Republicans to advance de-regulation.

The two Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, center on mastery and helplessness, and each one shows a way to open oneself to feeling the powerful feelings of helplessness as the way to integrate those very unpleasant feelings into one’s emerging and expanding sense of mastery.

In the Homeric epics, feelings of helplessness are understandable threats, but threats that are dealt with through the strivings of the heroes, Achilles and Odysseus respectively, for what Horney terms self-realization (i.e., non-neurotic growth).

Of course Achilles and Odysseus receive a lot of help along the way – Achilles from the goddess Athena and from his goddess mother, and Odysseus from the goddess Athena. Clearly the trick is to have a goddess or two on your side to help your strivings with such threats, preferably ones who can influence Zeus to help you.

Today psychoanalysts such as Horney try to play the role that the two goddesses play in the lives of Achilles and Odysseus. But I’m not sure if psychoanalysts today have much influence with Zeus. But I could be wrong – maybe they do.

Interested readers might want to consider how the eight neurotic solutions that Horney discusses in Neurosis and Human Growth can be correlated with the eight “shadow” forms of the archetypes of maturity that Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their series of five books about the masculine archetypes of maturity:

(1) King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (1990)
(2) The King Within (1992; 2nd ed. 2007)
(3) The Warrior Within (1992)
(4) The Magician Within (1993)
(5) The Lover Within (1993).

(For each masculine archetype of maturity, there is a corresponding feminine archetype of maturity.)

Here’s how I correlate the three expansive neurotic types that Horney discusses with three of the “shadow” forms of the archetypes of maturity that Moore and Gillette discuss:

(1) The narcissistic type (pp. 193–96) = the Weakling King.

(2) The perfectionistic type (pp. 196–97) = the Tyrant King.

(3) The arrogant-vindictive type (pp. 197–212) = the Masochistic Warrior.

Here’s how I would correlate the other five neurotic solutions that Horney discusses with the “shadow” forms of the archetypes of maturity that Moore and Gillette discuss:

(4) The self-effacing neurotic solution (pp. 214–38) = the Addicted Lover.

(5) The morbid dependency neurotic solution (pp. 239–58) = the Impotent Lover.

(6) The persistent resignation neurotic solution (pp. 281–83) = the Detached Manipulator Magician.

(7) The rebellion neurotic solution (pp. 283–85) = the Masochist Warrior.

(8) The shallow living neurotic solution (pp. 285–90) = the Denying “Innocent” One Magician.

As I have indicated above, Horney sees all of us as working with at least three neurotic solutions. But she allows that we may be working with more than three neurotic solutions. By contrast, Moore and Gillette sees all of us as working with at least four “shadow” forms of the archetypes of maturity. But they allow that we can alternate between the two “shadow” forms associated with any one archetype of maturity, so that we can be working with five to eight “shadow” forms.

However, for the purposes of understanding the American political typology today, I think that Horney has nailed the three biggest problems – the three expansive-type neurotic solutions. As I have suggested, the three expansive neurotic types are over-represented among Republicans.

Moreover, she has also shown us how many of us who are dominated by one or another of the other five neurotic solutions contribute to allowing the three expansive neurotic types to dominate out American political life. The other five neurotic types are over-represented among Democrats, which is why Democrats tend to be such wimps.

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book Walter Ong’s Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000; 2nd ed. 2009, forthcoming). The first edition won the 2001 Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology conferred by the Media Ecology Association. For further information about his education and his publications, see his UMD homepage: Click here to visit Dr. Farrell's homepage.

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