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Karen Horney (pronounced /ˈhɔːrnaɪ/ in English)[1][2] born Danielsen (16 September 1885 – 4 December 1952) was a German psychoanalyst and psychiatrist of Norwegian and Dutch descent. Her theories questioned some traditional Freudian views, particularly his theory of sexuality, as well as the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis and its genetic psychology. As such, she is often classified as Neo-Freudian.

Early life

Horney was born Karen Danielsen on 16 September 1885 in Hamburg. Her father, Berndt Wackels Danielsen, was a ship's captain, an authoritarian, and religious (his children nicknamed him "the Bible-thrower"). Her mother, Clotilde (known as "Sonni") was very different, being much more urbane than Berndt. Horney's older brother was also named Berndt, and Horney cared for him deeply. She also had four elder half-siblings from her father's previous marriage[3][4][5]

Horney's childhood was marked by misperceptions. She once painted a picture of her father, representing him as a cruel disciplinarian figure holding his son Berndt in higher regard than herself. Instead of being offended or feeling indignation over Horney's perceptions of him, her father bought her gifts and even took her for sea voyages on his boat. Despite this, Horney always felt deprived of her father's affection instead becoming attached to her mother. [citation needed]

From roughly the age of nine Horney changed her perspective on life, becoming ambitious and somewhat rebellious. She felt that she could not become pretty and instead decided to vest her energies into her intellectual qualities—stating her intentions despite the fact she was seen by most as pretty. At this time she developed a crush on her older brother, who became embarrassed by her attentions—soon pushing her away. It was here Horney suffered her first of several bouts of depression -- an issue that would plague her for the rest of her life.[3]

Education and youth

In 1904 Horney's parents divorced, her mother vacating their residence with both children. The University of Freiburg was in fact one of the first institutions throughout Germany to enroll women in medical courses—with higher education only becoming available to women in Germany in 1900. By 1908, Horney had transferred to the University of Göttingen, and would transfer once more to the University of Berlin before her graduation in 1913.

It was during her time as a medical student that she met Oskar Horney, whom she married by 1909. The following year Horney gave birth to a daughter, Brigitte, the German actress, who was to be the first of three daughters. By this time Horney had refined her interests and was keen to pursue study in the then pioneering pursuit of psychoanalysis. Horney's mother died in 1911, an event which put much strain on the young Karen. Her marriage with Oskar proved consistent with Freudian theory; he was just as authoritarian and strict with his children as Horney's own father was with his. During these years, Horney was receptive to having her children raised in this atmosphere; it was only later, during the 1920s, that her attitude towards rearing children changed.[4]

Career and works

In 1920 Horney took up a position within the Institute for Psychoanalysis in Berlin, where she lectured on psychoanalysis for several years. She also taught at The New School in New York City. Karl Abraham, a correspondent of Sigmund Freud, regarded Karen Horney as an extensively gifted analyst and teacher of psychoanalysis.

By 1923, Oskar Horney's firm had become insolvent, with Oskar developing meningitis soon thereafter. Oskar rapidly became embittered, morose and argumentative. It was also in 1923 that Karen's brother died of a pulmonary infection. Both these events contributed to a worsening of Karen's mental health. She entered into a second state of abject depression; she swam out to sea during a vacation and considered committing suicide. In 1926, Karen and her three daughters moved out of Oskar's house. Four years later, they immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was home to a large intellectual community; this was due in part to a high influx of Jewish refugees from Europe, particularly Germany. It was in Brooklyn that Karen became friends with academics such as Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan, at one point embarking on an intimate relationship with the former, which ended bitterly.

Horney quickly set about establishing herself. Her first career posting in the United States was as the Associate Director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. It was while living in Brooklyn that Horney developed and advanced her composite theories regarding neurosis and personality, based on experiences gained from working in psychotherapy. In 1937 she published the book The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, which had wide popular readership. By 1941, Horney was Dean of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis, a training institute for those who were interested in Horney's own organization, the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. Horney founded this organization after becoming dissatisfied with the generally strict, orthodox nature of the psychoanalytic community.

Horney's deviation from Freudian psychology led to her resigning from her post, and she soon took up teaching in the New York Medical College. She also founded a journal, named the American Journal of Psychoanalysis. She taught at the New York Medical College and continued practicing as a psychiatrist until her death in 1952.

Theory of neurosis

Horney looked at neurosis in a different light from other psychoanalysts of the time.[3] Her expansive interest in the subject led her to compile a detailed theory of neurosis, with data from her patients. Horney believed neurosis to be a continuous process—with neuroses commonly occurring sporadically in one's lifetime. This was in contrast to the opinions of her contemporaries who believed neurosis was, like more severe mental conditions, a negative malfunction of the mind in response to external stimuli, such as bereavement, divorce or negative experiences during childhood and adolescence.

Horney believed these assumptions to be less important, except for influences during childhood. Rather, she placed significant emphasis on parental indifference towards the child, believing that a child's perception of events, as opposed to the parent's intentions, is the key to understanding a person's neurosis. For instance, a child might feel a lack of warmth and affection should a parent make fun of the child's feelings - thereby underestimating the significance of the child's state. The parent may also casually neglect to fulfill promises, which in turn could have a detrimental effect on the child's mental state.

From her experiences as a psychiatrist, Horney named ten patterns of neurotic needs. These ten needs are based upon things which she thought all humans require to succeed in life. Horney distorted these needs somewhat to correspond with what she believed were individuals' neuroses. A neurotic person could theoretically exhibit all of these needs, though in practice much fewer than the ten here need be present to constitute a person having a neurosis. The ten needs, as set out by Horney, (classified according to her so-called Coping strategies) are as follows:[6]

Moving Toward People

  • 1. The need for affection and approval; pleasing others and being liked by them.
  • 2. The need for a partner; one whom they can love and who will solve all problems.

Moving Against People

  • 3. The need for power; the ability to bend wills and achieve control over others—while most persons seek strength, the neurotic may be desperate for it.
  • 4. The need to exploit others; to get the better of them. To become manipulative, fostering the belief that people are there simply to be used.
  • 5. The need for social recognition; prestige and limelight.
  • 6. The need for personal admiration; for both inner and outer qualities—to be valued.
  • 7. The need for personal achievement; though virtually all persons wish to make achievements, as with No. 3, the neurotic may be desperate for achievement.

Moving Away from People

  • 8. The need for self sufficiency and independence; while most desire some autonomy, the neurotic may simply wish to discard other individuals entirely.
  • 9. The need for perfection; while many are driven to perfect their lives in the form of well being, the neurotic may display a fear of being slightly flawed.
  • 10. Lastly, the need to restrict life practices to within narrow borders; to live as inconspicuous a life as possible.

Upon investigating the ten needs further, Horney found she was able to condense them into three broad categories:


Needs one and two were assimilated into the "compliance" category. This category is seen as a process of "moving towards people", or self-effacement. Under Horney's theory children facing difficulties with parents often use this strategy. Fear of helplessness and abandonment occurs—phenomena Horney refers to as "basic anxiety". Those within the compliance category tend to exhibit a need for affection and approval on the part of their peers. They may also seek out a partner, somebody to confide in, fostering the belief that, in turn, all of life's problems would be solved by the new cohort. A lack of demanding and a desire for inconspicuousness both occur in these individuals.


Secondly, neurotic persons may employ "aggression", also called the "moving against people", or the "expansive" solution. Needs three, four, five, six, and seven comprise this category: Neurotic children or adults within this category often exhibit anger or basic hostility to those around them. That is, there is a need for power, a need for control and exploitation, and a maintenance of a facade of omnipotence. Manipulative qualities aside, under Horney's assertions the aggressive individual may also wish for social recognition, not necessarily in terms of limelight, but in terms of simply being known (perhaps feared) by subordinates and peers alike. In addition, the individual has needs for a degree of personal admiration by those within this person's social circle and, lastly, for raw personal achievement. These characteristics comprise the "aggressive" neurotic type. Aggressive types also tend to keep people away from them. On the other hand, they only care about their wants and needs. They would do whatever they can to be happy and wouldn't desist from hurting anyone.


Thirdly and lastly, is "detachment". This category encompasses the final three needs, and overlaps with the "compliance" trait. This neurotic trend is often labeled as the "moving-away-from" or "resigning" solution or a detached personality. As neither aggression nor compliance solve parental indifference, Horney recognized that children might simply try to become self sufficient. The withdrawing neurotic may disregard others in a non-aggressive manner, regarding solitude and independence as the way forth. The stringent needs for perfection comprise another part of this category; those withdrawing may strive for perfection above all else, to the point where being flawed is utterly unacceptable. Everything the "detached" type does must be unassailable and refined. They suppress or deny all feelings towards others, particularly love and hate.

Mature theory

Near the end of her career, Karen Horney summarized her ideas in Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization, her major work published in 1950. It is in this book that she summarizes her ideas regarding neurosis, clarifying her three neurotic "solutions" to the stresses of life.[7] The expansive solution became a tripartite combination of narcissistic, perfectionistic and arrogant-vindictive approaches to life. (Horney had previously focused on the psychiatric concept of narcissism in a book published in 1939, New Ways in Psychoanalysis). Her other two neurotic "solutions" were also a refinement of her previous views: self-effacement, or submission to others, and resignation, or detachment from others. She described case studies of symbiotic relationships between arrogant-vindictive and self-effacing individuals, labeling such a relationship bordering on sadomasochism as a morbid dependency. She believed that individuals in the neurotic categories of narcissism and resignation were much less susceptible to such relationships of co-dependency with an arrogant-vindictive neurotic.

As implied, while non-neurotic individuals may strive for these needs, neurotics exhibit a much deeper, more willful and concentrated desire to fulfill the said needs. Horney, together with fellow psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, formed the Neo-Freudian discipline.


While Horney acknowledged and agreed with Freud on many issues, she was also critical of him on several key beliefs. Freud's notion of "penis envy" in particular was subject to criticism by Horney.[8] She thought Freud had merely stumbled upon women's jealousy of men's generic power in the world. Horney accepted that penis envy might occur occasionally in neurotic women, but stated that "womb envy" occurs just as much in men: Horney felt that men were envious of a woman's ability to bear children. The degree to which men are driven to success may be merely a substitute for the fact that they cannot carry, nurture and bear children.

Horney was bewildered by psychiatrists' tendency to place so much emphasis on the male sexual organ. Horney also reworked the Freudian Oedipal complex of the sexual elements, claiming that the clinging to one parent and jealousy of the other was simply the result of anxiety, caused by a disturbance in the parent-child relationship.

Despite these variances with the prevalent Freudian view, Horney strove to reformulate Freudian thought, presenting a holistic, humanistic view on individual psyche which placed much emphasis on cultural and social differences worldwide. She shared Abraham Maslow's view that self-actualization is the ultimate pinnacle of human achievement.

Theory of the self

Through her views on the individual psyche, Horney postulated that the self is in fact the core of one's own being and potential.[9] Horney believed that if one has an accurate conception of oneself, then one is free to realize one's potential and achieve what one wishes, within reasonable boundaries. Thus, she believed that self-actualization is the healthy person's aim through life—as opposed to the neurotic's clinging to a set of key needs.

Horney believed that we have two views of ourselves. The "real self" and the "ideal self". The real self is who and what we actually are. Examples would be parent, child, sister, etc. The real self contains potential for growth, happiness, will power, realization of gifts, etc. The real self has deficiencies that the neurotic does not like. The ideal self is the type of person he feels that he should be and is used as a model to assist him in developing his potential and achieving self-actualization (Engler 125).

Self-actualization is something that individuals strive for. It is important to know the differences between your ideal and real self. Since the neurotic person's self is split between an idealized self and a corresponding despised self, individuals may feel that they somehow lack living up to the ideals. They feel that there is a flaw somewhere in comparison to what they "should" be. The goals set out by the neurotic are not realistic, or indeed possible. The despised self, on the other hand, has the feeling that it is despised by those around them, and assumes that this incarnation is its "true" self. Thus, the neurotic is like a clock's pendulum, oscillating between a fallacious "perfection" and a manifestation of self-hate. Horney referred to this phenomenon as the "tyranny of the shoulds" and the neurotic's hopeless "search for glory".[10] She concluded that these ingrained traits of the psyche forever prevent an individual's potential from being actualized unless the cycle of neurosis is somehow broken, through treatment or otherwise.

Feminine psychology

Horney was also a pioneer in the discipline of feminine psychiatry.[11][12] As one of the first female psychiatrists, she was the first of her gender to present a paper regarding feminine psychiatry. The fourteen papers she wrote between 1922 and 1937 were amalgamated into a single volume titled Feminine Psychology. As a woman, she felt that the mapping out of trends in female behaviour was a neglected issue. In her essay entitled "The Problem of Feminine Masochism" Horney felt she proved that cultures and societies worldwide encouraged women to be dependent on men for their love, prestige, wealth, care and protection. She pointed out that in the society, a will to please, satiate and overvalue men had emerged. Women were regarded as objects of charm and beauty—at variance with every human being's ultimate purpose of self-actualization.

Women, according to Horney, traditionally gain value only through their children and the wider family. She touched further on this subject in her essay "The Distrust Between the Sexes" in which she compared the husband-wife relationship to a parent-child relationship—one of misunderstanding and one which breeds detrimental neuroses. Most notably her work "The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal" was fixed upon marriage, as were six other of Horney's papers. Her essay "Maternal Conflicts" attempted to shed new light on the problems women experience when raising adolescents.

Horney believed that both men and women have a motive to be ingenious and productive. Women are able to satisfy this need normally and interiorly—to do this they become pregnant and give birth. Men please this need only through external ways; Horney proposed that the striking accomplishments of men in work or some other field can be viewed as compensation for their inability to give birth to children.

Horney developed her ideas to the extent that she released one of the first "self-help" books in 1946, entitled Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?. The book asserted that those, both male and female, with relatively minor neurotic problems could, in effect, be their own psychiatrists. She continually stressed that self-awareness was a part of becoming a better, stronger, richer human being.

Karen Horney Clinic

The Karen Horney Clinic opened on May 6, 1955 in New York City, in honor of Horney's achievements. The institution seeks to research and train medical professionals, particularly in the psychiatric fields, as well as serving as a low-cost treatment center.

See also

Works by Karen Horney

The following are all still in print:


  • Paris, Bernard J. Karen Horney: a Psychoanalyst's Search for Self-understanding, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994. ISBN 0-300-06860-3
  • Quinn, Susan. Mind of Her Own: the Life of Karen Horney, Summit Books, New York, 1987. ISBN 0-2011-5573-7
  • Rubins, Jack L. Karen Horney: Gentle Rebel of Psychoanalysis, Summit Books, New York, 1978. ISBN 0-8037-4425-0
  • Westkott, Marcia. The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1986. ISBN 0-300-04204-3


  1. Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures. URL accessed on 2010-04-07.
  2. Merriam-Webster online. URL accessed on 2010-04-07.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Quinn, Mind of her own.
  5. Rubins, Karen Horney: gentle rebel.
  6. Horney, Our inner conflicts.
  7. Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Part 5. Horney's mature theory.
  8. Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Chapter 10. The masculinity complex
  9. Horney, Neurosis and human growth. Chapter 6. Alienation from self.
  10. Horney, Neurosis and human growth. Chaps. 1-5.
  11. Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Part 2. The Freudian phase and feminine psychology.
  12. Westkott, The feminist legacy.

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