key concepts of karen horney

Theory of neurosis

Karen Horney believed that childhood perceptions of society (mainly the parents) where key when it came to developmental psychology. She brought us the idea of neurotic needs accompanying everyday life and looked at neurosis with a more casual view. The indifferent feelings that parents can inflict upon their children due to their own neurotic tendencies are at the root of the neurotic tendencies in those adults later in life. She brings to us the unhealthy “cycle” that families can harbor if they do not give self-examination an effort. She believes that children should be allowed to be themselves, but have caring but firm parents. Those parents should ideally attempt to acknowledge their own scarring from their childhoods in order to better serve their offspring.

Also, children need to learn to see value in themselves so they are able to trust that the world around them will see them as valuable as well. We’ve all had that moment when suddenly we realize we sound just like our own parents when disciplining, hopefully most of us at this point are capable of taking a step back and re-evaluating what aspects of what we were taught are important to instill in our kids, and what unhealthy aspects can stand to be left behind. These techniques can latter help him become a mentally healthy adult and ultimately help him reach self-actualization. Where this healthy atmosphere can go wrong, is when said parents are either negligent to the child’s needs for approval, manipulative with their conditional love, lacking in an interest in the child, overly critical, or untrustworthy. All these conditions, in Horney’s opinion can cause neurotic tendencies to three extremes.

They may develop a tendency to “move toward” or become compliant to the dissatisfactory atmosphere, “move against” or overly assertive to the point that they dismiss emotion altogether, or even “detached” when they retreat within themselves to avoid any interaction and therefore, any risk of emotional trauma. This is evident in everyday life as we meet people that choose to argue with everyone before they have been asked the question. We see it in people that choose to waste away at home alone, rather than meet new people or go to that party. We also see it in those deemed cold hearted or emotionless, when they really are just incapable of getting past their own neurosis cast upon them from the past. Horney has given us much insight into the unhealthy drives of ourselves and those around us. (16 sentences)

Self therapy
The idea that we have the capability within ourselves to teach ourselves to heal was a key concept by Karen Horney. She brings to the table the idea of self-help with the use of the proper tools and education along the way. Though she may have been criticized for this theory by her peers, it is a significant insight into the world of personality. Her theory shows us that we have at least some capability of analyzing our own mind and inner thoughts to achieve self-actualization. In fact, we have even greater opportunity for therapy with ourselves due to the fact that we have access to ourselves at any time, whereas an actual therapist has limited opportunities to observe the patient in action. In order to accomplish this effectively we must be capable of identifying our own neurotic tendencies and identify the reason why they did indeed form. The ultimate goal is equilibrium between the self and the ideal self in order for the individual to reach their core. The core self is believed to be the natural and healthy state of being that represents our true selves. In order to accept and see ourselves in a realistic light we must overcome the hindrances of the views of society and the effect that it may have on the views of our self. Horney describes this battle between how we feel that society sees us and how we believe we should be perceived as the tyranny of the shoulds.

We each have a constant inner battle going on between these two concepts. The goal is to get the pendulum to stop swinging between the two and come to a halt in the middle where we see ourselves in a realistic light. One may believe that those around them view them as kind, giving and loving, yet have anxiety about whether they are performing these tasks well enough. I believe this is the fear of being seen for who we really are. Sometimes I may fear that a certain comment may have come off in a harsh light toward someone else, but this is due to the fact that I feel that most people perceive me as a fairly objective human being. The thought of them seeing me in an angry and judgmental light is quite unnerving. I suppose that in order to gain my own equilibrium I should acknowledge the fact that I can be judgmental, and harsh at times, even towards myself. (16 sentences)

In response to the negative effects of our childhood perceptions, Horney believes that one of the three major coping mechanisms is compliance. This mechanism involves the neurotic need for approval, a partner, and/or withdrawal from society. Though each individual may feel these sort of feelings from time to time, the neurotic personality may take it to the next level and unconsciously make decisions based on this coping mechanism. I have a history of a dependency upon men and an utter incapability of being alone, though I forced myself to go through long periods of time alone in order to deal with this irrationality of mine. I believe the difference between me and the typical neurotic personality would be that the neurotic would be unaware of the situation and their irrational need. They tend to be conforming, dependent on others, constantly seeking positive reinforcement.

Their very existence feels dependent upon gratifying this need through others, which is why they seek out other people to fulfill it. They often make false life assumptions such as that others are superior to them, or if they could just find someone to love then they would be normal. Unfortunately, once their perceived goal is fulfilled they are left empty, without the sense of wholeness that they were craving and the cycle begins again, perhaps in a new form. We all know the type of person who goes on one date and becomes what is known as a stage 5 clinger. They have just recently met this other person and now they suddenly feel the need to call every hour, text constantly, and stalk all the new prospect’s photos on facebook. This is a very self-defeating strategy to find love. There is no faster way to chase someone away than to leave them without any space, yet the neurotic of this type cannot let go of their need for the other person’s constant approval. They tend to be more in love with the idea of love, rather than the object of their affection. Though this neurotic personality is always moving towards people, they unfortunately push them away.

An aggressive coping strategy would involve the need for domination, control, power, and prestige, admiration, and achievement. The aggressive neurotic type believes that if they are better in some way (or in all ways) than others, then they will be protected from the pain of rejection. They are the people that we commonly refer to as “being full of himself”. Though it is their goal to be the best at everything they attempt, it can be self-defeating because they always have another competition ahead of them as they cannot win against themselves. They are driven to succeed to compensate for their own feelings of insecurity and the anxiety created within themselves. This is similar to the fight or flight response in the animal world. This comes from a hostile reaction they had to their parent’s indifference. The anger it creates pushes the neurotic aggressive to become superior to those around them. In one aspect, it seems similar to Freud’s an anal retentive personality type in the way they feel they must have control over the exterior environment.

Rather than having control over the “things” that surround them, they feel the need to control the social environment. It also seems a bit like Freud’s oral aggressive personality type in the way that they are explained as domineering and controlling. I have explained my husband as this latest type before, and I could relate him to Horney’s aggressive category as well. His most dreaded fear is that of making a poor judgment call (not just for himself, but for others as well) as it is his greatest criticism of others. He very much enjoys the belief that he is much more intelligent than anyone around him, especially when it relates to his work. He very much enjoys being boastful of his personal success and tends to be a bit arrogant. Yes, I would say he has some neurotic tenancies, but I am slowly breaking the bad ones down.

Another type of reaction one may have to parental indifference is withdrawal. This would classify the loners of the world that believe they do not need anyone but themselves. The typically become emotionally unattached in order to protect themselves from pain or disappointment from others. Though it is healthy to be somewhat self-reliant, when taken to the neurotic extreme, it can be a way of life. This is capable of shutting doors to new experiences, people, and a better way of life. They may believe that the world sees them as being quite capable and independent, when in reality they believe that they should be even more separate from society. Contrastingly, they like to believe that they do not have feelings about anything, when they care very much about their independent image. They may also overly emotional about criticism and even defiant to society due to fear of rejection. In fact they have, in theory, resigned from society in an effort to avoid it all together.

This concept is quite similar to compliance and aggressive in the way that one that withdrawals may be attempting to control the environment around them by limiting it, or by attaining perfection. In fact, I believe that it might be a back lash effect of the previous two categories. If you have recognized that your compliance or aggression is getting you a bad end result, then you may veer towards a new route and become withdrawn. This would be swapping one neurosis for another, so again ending up in an unhealthy cycle. I recognize that I have went through neurotic phases of the withdrawal cycle and have been quite hard-headed about asking people for help because I see being dependent on others as a sign of weakness. I still tend to see others that often ask for help as being weak people. It did take me at least thirty years of my life to realize that everyone needs help sometimes and it is ok to ask for it.

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