Karen Horney and her neurotic personality theory

Psychiatrist Karen Horney He was one of the main representatives of neofreudismo, a movement that challenged the conventions of traditional psychoanalysis and allowed this theoretical direction to spread, especially in the field of neurosis.

Horney was also the first female psychiatrist to publish essays on women’s mental health and question the biological approaches to gender differences of her predecessors, so she is considered the founder of feminist psychology.

Biography of Karen Horney

Karen Danielsen was born in Germany in 1885. He studied medicine at the universities of Freiburg, Göttingen and Berlin, which had recently accepted women, and graduated in 1913. During his studies he met Oskar Horney, the name he adopted after his wedding. In 1909 and with whom he had three daughters before they divorced.

A few years after graduating, his parents passed away and he went into a state of prolonged depression. That was when he started training as a psychoanalyst at the same time, he underwent therapy with Karl Abraham, a pioneer of psychoanalysis whom Freud said was his best student.

Abraham attributed the symptoms of Horney to the suppression of incestuous desires towards his father; Horney rejected his hypothesis and abandoned therapy. He would later become one of the main critiques of the mainstream of psychoanalysis and its emphasis on male sexuality.

In 1915 she was appointed secretary of the German Psychoanalytic Association, Founded by Abraham himself, who laid the foundation for the teaching of psychoanalysis that would unfold over the following decades.

Horney moved to the United States with his daughters in 1932 due to the rise of Nazism and the rejection he suffered from Freud and his followers. There he established a relationship and he worked with other prominent psychoanalysts such as Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan. He devoted himself to therapy, training and the development of his theory until 1952, the year of his death.

Neo-Freudianism and Feminist Psychology

We consider that Horney and Alfred Adler are the founders of neofreudism, A current of psychoanalysis which emerged in reaction to certain postulates of Freud and facilitated alternative developments.

Specifically, Horney rejected the emphasis of early psychoanalysis on sexuality and aggression as determinants of personality development and neurosis. To this author, the obsession of Freud and other male psychiatrists with the penis seemed particularly absurd.

Horney considered that “Penis envy” is explained by social inequality between genres; what women envied in men was not their sexual organ, but their social role, and the same could happen in the opposite direction. He also considered that these roles were largely determined by culture, and not just by biological differences.

Between 1922 and 1937, Horney made several theoretical contributions on female psychology, becoming the first feminist psychiatrist. Among the subjects on which he wrote are the overestimation of the figure of the man, the difficulties of motherhood and the contradictions inherent in monogamy.

Neurosis, true self and self-realization

According to Horney, neurosis is an alteration in a person’s relationship with themselves and others. The key factor in the onset of symptoms is how parents deal with anxiety of the child during his development.

Neurosis of personality or neurotic character arises when parents do not provide their children with a loving and safe environment, generating feelings of isolation, helplessness and hostility. This blocks normal development and prevents the person from becoming his “real me”.

In Attorney’s work, the true self (or self) equates to identity. If an individual’s personal growth is healthy, their behaviors and relationships develop properly, leading to self-actualization. For Horney, this is a natural human tendency; later humanists such as Rogers and Maslow would have the same belief.

On the other hand, the identity of neurotics is divided between the true self and the ideal self. Since the goals of the ideal self are unrealistic, the person identifies with a despised image of themselves, which leads them to distance themselves even further from the real self. Thus, neurotics alternate between perfectionism and self-loathing.

Neurotic personality types

Horney’s theory of neurosis describes three types of neurotic personality, or neurotic tendencies. These are distributed according to the means used by the person to seek safety, and are consolidated thanks to the reinforcements obtained from his environment during childhood.

1. Complacent or submissive

Complementary type neurosis is characterized by seek the approval and affection of others. It appears as a consequence of continued feelings of helplessness, neglect, and abandonment early in development.

In these cases, the ego is canceled out as the source of security and reinforcement, and the internal conflict is replaced by the external conflict. So, submissive neurotics often believe that their problems could be solved by a new partner, for example.

2. Aggressive or expansive

In that case hostility predominates in the relationship with parents. According to Horney, expansive neurotics express their sense of dominant identity and exploit others. They are often selfish, distant and ambitious people who seek to be known, admired and sometimes feared by their environment or society in general.

3. Isolated and resigned

When neither submission nor aggression allows a child to capture the attention of his parents, he can develop a characteristic isolated type of neurosis. In these people appear needs of perfectionism, independence and loneliness exaggerated that lead to a detached and superficial life.

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