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Horney & Humanistic Psychoanalysis


Because her thought went through three distinct phases, Karen Horney has come to mean different things to different people. Some think of her primarily in terms of her essays on feminine psychology, written in the 1920s and early 1930s, in which she tried to modify Freud's ideas about penis envy, female masochism, and feminine development while remaining within the framework of orthodox theory. These essays were too far ahead of their time to receive the attention they deserved, but they have been widely read since their republication in Feminine Psychology in 1967, and there is a growing consensus that Karen Horney was the first great psychoanalytic feminist.

Those who are attracted to the second stage of Horney's thought identify her primarily as a neo-Freudian member of "the cultural school," which also included Erich Fromm, Harry Stack Sullivan, Clara Thompson, and Abraham Kardiner. In The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937) and New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939), Horney broke with Freud and developed a psychoanalytic paradigm in which culture and disturbed human relationships replaced biology as the most important causes of neurotic development. The Neurotic Personality of Our Time made Horney famous in intellectual circles. It created a heightened awareness of cultural factors in mental disturbance and inspired studies of culture from a psychoanalytic perspective. Because of its criticism of Freud, New Ways in Psychoanalysis made Horney infamous amongst orthodox analysts and led to her ostracism from the psychoanalytic establishment. Although it paid tribute to Freud's genius and the importance of his contribution, it rejected many of his premises and tried to shift the focus of psychoanalysis from infantile origins to the current structure of the personality. It laid the foundations for the development of present-oriented therapies, which have become increasingly important in recent years (Wachtel 1977).

In the 1940s Horney developed her mature theory, which many feel to be her most distinctive contribution. In Our Inner Conflicts (1945) and Neurosis and Human Growth (1950), she argued that individuals cope with the anxiety produced by feeling unsafe, unloved, and unvalued by disowning their real feelings and developing elaborate strategies of defense. In Our Inner Conflicts, she concentrated on the interpersonal defenses of moving toward, against, and away from other people and the neurotic solutions of compliance, aggression, and detachment to which they give rise. In Neurosis and Human Growth, she emphasized intrapsychic defenses, showing how self-idealization generates a search for glory and what she called "the pride system," which consists of neurotic pride, neurotic claims, tyrannical shoulds, and self-hate. The range and power of Horney's mature theory has been shown not only by its clinical applications, but also by its use in such fields as literary criticism, biography, and the study of culture and gender.

The object of therapy for Horney is to help people relinquish their defenses -- which alienate them from their true likes and dislikes, hopes, fears, and desires -- so that they can get in touch with what she called the "real self." Because of her emphasis on self-realization as the source of healthy values and the goal of life, Horney is one of the founders of humanistic psychology.

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Last updated: 06/18/2002