SUMMARY OUTLINEI. Overview of Horney's Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Karen Horney's psychoanalytic social theory assumes that social and cultural conditions,
especially during childhood, have a powerful effect on later personality. Like
Melanie Klein, Horney accepted many of Freud's observations, but she objected
to most of his interpretations, including his notions on feminine psychology.
II. Biography of Karen Horney
Karen Horney, who was born in Germany in 1885, was one of the first women in
that country admitted to medical school. There, she became acquainted with Freudian
theory and eventually became a psychoanalyst and a psychiatrist. 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 had a more positive view of feminine development. She
died in 1952 at age 67.
III. Introduction to Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Although Horney's writings deal mostly with neuroses and neurotic personalities,
her theories also appropriate 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.
C. The Importance of Childhood Experiences
Neurotic conflict stems largely from childhood traumas, most of which are traced
to a 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
by love from parents. Unfortunately, parents often neglect, dominate, reject,
or overindulge their children, conditions that lead to the child's feelings
of basic hostility toward parents. If children repress feelings of basic hostility,
they will develop feelings of insecurity and a pervasive sense of apprehension
called basic anxiety. People can protect themselves from basic anxiety through
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
Horney identified 10 categories of neurotic needs that mark neurotics in their
attempt to reduce basic anxiety. These include needs (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 and unassailability.
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
basic conflict. The three neurotic tends are (1) moving toward people, in which
compliant people protect themselves against feelings of helplessness by attaching
themselves to other people; (2) moving against people, in which aggressive people
protect themselves against perceived hostility of others by exploiting others;
and (3) moving away from people, in which detached people protect themselves
against feelings of isolation by appearing arrogant and aloof.
VI. Intrapsychic Conflicts
People also experience inner tensions or intrapsychic conflicts that become
part of their belief system 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 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. Horney recognized three aspects of the idealized self-image:
(1) the neurotic search for glory, or a comprehensive drive toward actualizing
the ideal self;
(2) neurotic claims, or a belief that they are entitled to special privileges;
(3) neurotic pride, or a false pride based not on reality but on a distorted
and idealized view of self.
Neurotics 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
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 insisted that any sexual
attraction or hostility of child to parent would be the result of learning and
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 successful therapy
is built on self-analysis and self-understanding.
IX. Related Research
Horney's concepts of morbid dependency and hypercompetitiveness have both stimulated
some recent research.
A. Morbid Dependency
The current concept of codependency, which is based on Horney's notion of morbid
dependency, has produced research showing that people with neurotic needs to
move toward others will go to great lengths to win the approval of other people.
A study by Lyon and Greenberg (1991) found that women with an alcoholic parent,
compared with women without an alcoholic parent, were much more nurturant toward
a person they perceived as exploitative than toward a person they perceived
Horney's idea of moving against people relates to the concept of hyper-competitiveness,
a topic that has received some recent research interest. Some
of this research indicates that, although hypercompetitiveness is a negative
personality trait, some types of competitiveness can be positive. Other research
has found that hypercompetitive European American women frequently have
some type of eating disorder.
X. Critique of Horney
Although Horney painted a vivid portrayal of the neurotic personality, her theory
rates very low in generating research and low on its ability to be falsified,
to organize data, and to serve as a useful guide to action. Her theory is rated
about average on internal consistency and parsimony.
XI. Concept of Humanity
Horney's concept of humanity is rated very high on social factors, high on free
choice, optimism, and unconscious influences, and about average on causality
versus teleology and on the uniqueness of the individual.