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Horney & Humanistic Psychoanalysis


Karen Horney is important for her contributions to feminine psychology, which were forgotten for many years but have been highly influential since their republication in Feminine Psychology in 1967. They are especially notable for their exploration of female development from a woman's point of view and for their emphasis on the cultural construction of gender. Unlike her essays on feminine psychology, Horney's first two books had a great impact in their day, and their case for the importance of culture and for a structural model of neurosis continues to have an influence. The growing emphasis on present-oriented therapies owes something to Horney's teachings. Her third book, Self-Analysis (1942), inspired the Institute for Self Analysis in London and is still the most thorough discussion of the possibilities and techniques of successful self-exploration. It should be noted that Horney felt that self-analysis has the best chance of success when it is employed in conjunction with therapy or as a way of continuing to work on oneself after termination.

While each stage of Horney's thought is important, her mature theory represents her most significant contribution. Most of Horney's early ideas have been revised or enriched--by Horney herself or by others--or have been absorbed or discovered anew by later writers. This is not the case with her mature theory. Our Inner Conflicts (1945) and Neurosis and Human Growth (1950) provide explanations of human behavior in terms of currently existing constellations of defenses and inner conflicts that can be found nowhere else. Horney does not account for the whole of human psychology, since like every theorist she describes only part of the picture, but her mature theory is highly congruent with frequently occurring patterns of behavior. Although Horney objected to the instinctivistic nature of Freudian theory, her own theory has a biological basis, since the movements against, away from, and toward other people are human elaborations of the basic defenses of the animal kingdom--fight, flight, and submission. All the strategies are encoded in almost every culture; but each culture has its characteristic attitudes toward the different strategies, its own formulations of and variations upon them, and its own structure of inner conflicts. Horney is often thought of as having described the neurotic personality of her time, but, as its interdisciplinary uses show, her mature theory has wide applicability.

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Last updated: 06/18/2002