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Karen Horney: Theory,
Research, and Practice
Karen Horney Life

Born in 1885—Died in 1952

Hamburg, Germany

Second born child

Father was 50 at her birth, mother 17 years younger than father

Parents had opposite parenting styles

Father absent a great deal due to his work
Karen Horney Life

Developed romantic crushes on male teachers as a teen

Decided to become a physician at the age of 12

Graduated med school in 1913

One of first females admitted to medical school

Had 3 children—a very cold parent

Married for 17 years

Multiple relationships after—often with other psychoanalysts

She believed a lack of love in childhood fosters anxiety and hostility
Horney Key Differences

Took issue with Freud’s view of women

Proposed womb envy in response to the Oedipal complex

Believed people were not motivated by sex, hunger etc but rather by needs
for security and love

Horney felt like a neglected second born, jealous of older sibling

Searched for love all her life

Underwent psychoanalysis by a Freudian trained person

Went on to do self-analysis and was influenced by Adler’s theory
Childhood Need for security

Believed in importance of early years (agreed with Freud on this)

Believed in social forces more than biological forces

Safety Need—need for security and freedom of fear

Believed parents could impact or weaken security by displaying a lack of
warmth and affection toward the child

Believed helplessness in infancy could lead to neurotic behavior
Undermining Child’s Security

Child’s helplessness

Congruence of expressions and reality

Creating dependence

Less likely to rebel if afraid or love parents (will repress hostility)
Origin of Neurosis
“…people…are too
wrapped up in their own
neuroses to be able to
love the child…the child
does not develop a
feeling of belonging…
instead a profound
insecurity and vague
apprehensiveness …
basic anxiety.”
– Horney, 1950, p. 18
Horney: Basic anxiety

We are all alone in an unfriendly
world/foundation of neurosis
Relate to others out of “strategic
necessity”, not the child’s real
How do I get by, cope with people,
with minimal damage to myself??
Abandon the healthy drive for
self-realization (primary goal)
Replace it with…
Ewen, 2010
Protect from Basic Anxiety

1. Securing Affection

2. Being Submissive

3. Attaining Power

4. Withdrawing—all other ways have to do with interaction, this one does not
Neurotic Needs (so permanent takes on
characteristics of a drive)

1. Affection and approval

2. A dominant partner

3. Power

4. Exploitation

5. Prestige

6. Admiration

7. Achievement or Ambition

8. Self-sufficiency

9. Perfection

10. Narrow limits to life
Neurotic “solutions” for basic
anxiety/Neurotic Trends
Move toward people
Move against people
• Reduce anxiety by
being cared for,
• Others must love
me b/c I am weak/
• Repressed:
• Reduce anxiety by
gaining mastery,
• “only the strong
• Ruthlessness =
• Repressed:
healthy need for
Move away from
• Reduce anxiety by
avoiding contact
• I am self-sufficient
• I don’t need help
• Repressed: needs,
emotions, desire
to be dependent,
healthy desire for
affiliation and love
Compliant Personality

Move toward other people

Need for affection/approval

An urge to be loved, wanted, protected

Manipulate to achieve needs

May be considerate, appreciative, responsive


Regard others as superior

Repressed hostility leads to these behaviors
Aggressive Personality

Move against other people

The world is hostile and only the most fit survive

No fear of rejection

Surpass others

Argue, criticize, demand, and do anything to retain superiority

May try to appear superior

But driven by fear, anxiety and hostility
Detached Personality

Move away from others

Keep distance

Do not feel love, hate or cooperate with others

Seek self sufficiency

Desire privacy

Need to feel superior automatically not by striving for it

Believed one neurotic trend was dominant

Other two were present but to a lesser degree

When a repressed trend seeks to be expressed it results in conflict within the

Conflict is basic incompatibility of three neurotic trends-core of neurosis

In non-neurotic person, all three trends can be expressed as circumstances
Idealized image

All develop an image of the self (healthy or

For neurotics: Impossible, unattainable

“a person builds up an idealized image of
himself [sic] because he cannot tolerate
himself as he actually is…having placed
himself on a pedestal, he can tolerate his real
self still less…he then wavers between selfadoration and self-contempt, between his
idealized image and his despised image…” –Horney,
1945, p. 112
Self Image/Idealized Self

Normal people—a picture of oneself built on a flexible and realistic
assessment of abilities.

Neurotic people—based on an inflexible and unrealistic self image
Tyranny of the Shoulds

This is something neurotic individuals tell themselves

Expectation of perfection

Deny self to attain idealized self

Can be self loathing once they realize they can’t achieve self image
Neurotic Self Image

Externalization—way to defend against conflict caused between idealized and
real self-image by projecting onto outside world
Vicious cycle produced by idealized
Increased anxiety,
contempt for real
Basic anxiety
Safety replaces
Child tries to
achieve safety
(3 ways)
Greater need
for idealized
Ewen, 2010

Unrealistic demands or expectations
imposed on other people by the
neurotic person
That girl I’ve
never met
should be
asking me to
Ewen, 2010
Feminine psychology
 One
of Horney’s more well-known
 Developed
 First
in 1922
woman to present on the issue
 Strongly
critical of Freud’s views on women
Womb envy
 Freud:
women have penis envy (forever
 Horney:
 Men
men have womb envy
not capable of childbirth, small role
 Overcompensate
 Also
by achievement in work
demonstrated by belittling women, reinforce their
inferior status
Feminine Psychology
 Horney did not deny that many women believe
themselves to be inferior to men
 Questions Freud’s assertion that this was
biologically based
 Explored role of culture and society
Feminine Psychology

The Flight from Womanhood
 In
1926, Horney proposed that as a result of feelings of
inferiority, women may choose to deny their femininity
and to wish, unconsciously, that they were men.
 Eventually
(1967), Horney concluded this is not
inevitable but a product of a male-dominated culture
and some family dynamics
Feminine Psychology

 Horney
suggested that women should seek their own
identity by developing their abilities and pursuing
careers rather than follow the traditional scheme that
the woman’s role was to love, admire and serve her

Horney used free association—but focused on patients visible responses to
her—visible emotional reactions

Dream analysis—could reveal a person’s true self; attempts to solve
problems—did not offer a list of dream symbols

Self-report—Did not use psychological tests; some test were developed from
her theory

Some research support for:
 Neurotic
 Tyranny
of the shoulds
Neurotic Trends

Researchers have studied Horney’s three proposed neurotic trends,
redefining them as follows: moving against people (ill-tempered),
moving away from people (shy), moving toward people
(dependent). – Caspi, Elder, & Bem, 1988)

Found that there was persistence in the type over time, predictive

Neurotic personality
type and personality
Research on “shoulds”

Neurotic competitiveness—an indiscriminate need to win at all costs

2 types of competitiveness

Competing to win—dominate others

Competing to excel—surpass one’s goals

Excel tied to higher self esteem and lower depression

Competing to win more common among males

Win—greater loneliness and higher depression
“to restore the individual to
himself, to help him regain
his spontaneity and find his
center of gravity in himself”
-Horney, 1939, p. 11
 Psychotherapy
 Underlying

Discover a patient’s deeply repressed inner conflicts
Resolve these inner conflicts
Allow patient the freedom to live up to innate potential Ewen, 2010
Lessen anxiety to stop relying on neurotic solutions
Accept self as they are
Strive for self-actualization
Successful treatment
 Patient
chooses to
relinquish the idealized
 Must choose instead to
actualize ones real self
Treatment procedures
Free association
Interpretation by therapist
Dream Analysis
Encourage self-analysis by patient
Relationship is mutual,
cooperative, and democratic
Progression of treatment
• Recognize painful truths about oneself
• Deal with anxiety
• Overcome fear or hopelessness
• Therapist helps patient believe problems can be resolved
• Central inner conflict emerges
• Therapist works to help patient mobilize forces toward self-actualization
• Ongoing battle: desire to change -vs- fear of relinquishing strategies for survival in the harsh world
• “Balance of power” can shift:
• Striving for growth gets stronger than the pull of neurotic strategies
Karen Horney clinic
“The Clinic’s treatment
programs reflect Karen
Horney’s Optimistic and
humanistic philosophy that
individuals have the
capacity to grow and
change throughout life…”

Not as well known as Jung, Adler, Freud—why?


Modeled from Adler heavily

Took issue with Freud’s views of women

Impacted Erikson and Maslow

Denial of biological instincts

Case study notes—did not take verbatim notes

Not as well developed as Freud’s

Should she just have started over?

Too influenced by middle class culture
Analysis Practice: Horney-style
A professional athlete wins a world championship and immediately feels he has to win
another to get respect. What might Horney say about his “idealized image”?
What might Horney encourage during therapy for someone who only focuses on college
classes and activities that will look good on a resume or future job application? In the
first therapy session they discovered that the patient learned during childhood to fear
taking initiative.
A mother who demands that her grown children cater to her every whim and wish, be
available to her all the time, always talk to her on the phone, no matter whether or not
grandchildren are needing attention. If they don’t her reaction is to consider her children
selfish, ungrateful. Her feelings: hurt, angry, depressed, anxious.
The Study of Personality:
Assessment, Research and Theory
Alfred Adler
Adler: Key concepts:
▪ Inferiority
▪ Striving for superiority
▪ Style of life
▪ Social interest
▪ Birth order
“To be a human being means the
possession of a feeling of
inferiority that is constantly
pressing on towards its own
conquest. The goal of the human
soul is conquest, perfection,
security, superiority. Every child
is faced with so many obstacles
in life that no child ever grows up
without striving for some form of
Alfred Adler on Inferiority
Adler’s life
▪ Born in 1870
▪ Died in 1937
▪ Marked by illness
▪ Was jealous of older brother
▪ Younger brother died in bed next to him
▪ Decided to become a physician
▪ Close to father
▪ Close to mother until age 2 (younger sibling)
Adler’s life
▪ Emphasized role of peer group
▪ School was very difficult but he succeeded
▪ Studied medicine at University of Vienna
▪ Went into opthamology then general medicine
▪ Associated with Freud beginning in 1902
▪ 1912 Adler founded the society for individual psychology
▪ Served in WW I (Austrian army)
▪ Visited US beginning in 1926 (anxiety example)
▪ Moved to New York City in 1929
▪ Died suddenly in 1937 in Scotland
Adler vs Freud: Choice NOT “pawns” of
instinctual urges
▪ “The psychic life of man is
determined by his goal”
▪ We select our life goals and
methods to achieve them.
▪ These goals are formed in
▪ Feelings of inferiority: constant
motivating force
▪ Normal for all people
▪ Begins in infancy (helpless)
▪ Not a sign of weakness, abnormality
Causes of Inferiority complexes
▪ 1. Organic—defective organs (his own life?) or parts of the body
shape personality
▪ Ex. Theodore Roosevelt; Others?
2. Spoiling—children believe they are center of the world
3. Neglecting—lack of love or security
Neglect is now seen as ?
Superiority Complexes
▪ Attempt to overcompensate
▪ Exaggerated opinion of one’s attributes
▪ Vanity
▪ Self-Centered
▪ Tendency to denigrate others
Striving for Superiority
▪ Life goals: Do not have to be
▪ “As if” fictions
▪ For all human beings:
▪ Primary goal = To become
▪ We want to overcome
inferiority (helpless babies)
and master our environment
Style of life
▪ Different ways we strive to attain our goal
of superiority or perfection
▪ 3 problems
▪ “Pattern of behaviors designed to
compensate for inferiority”
▪ Everything we do, shaped by our style of life
▪ Crystallized by an early age
▪ Our attitude matters more than what
happens to us
4 Styles of Life
▪ Dominant—ruling with better social awareness
▪ Gettng Type—most common—expects to receive satisfaction from
other people; becomes dependent
▪ Avoiding type—does not face life’s problems
▪ Socially useful—cooperates with others
Adler vs Freud: Kinship with humanity NOT
selfish drives vs society
▪ We have innate potential for
relating to others
▪ Social interest (cooperate with
▪ Community feeling
▪ We learn to develop this inherent
▪ Denying this social interest ->
“The community is the
best guarantee of the
continued interest of
human beings…[and
social interest] is the true
and inevitable
compensation for all [of
their] natural weaknesses”
Birth order
First borns
▪ Higher attention leads to happiness until dethronement
▪ Higher anxiety
▪ More mature
▪ Higher IQ
▪ Good organizers
▪ Concerned with power and authority
▪ More suggestible
▪ Higher need for social relationships
▪ Lower depression; higher self esteem
Second borns
▪ More relaxed parenting
▪ May take more risks
▪ May compete with second borns
▪ Very little research
Last borns
▪ Develop quickly
▪ Can be spoiled
▪ Pampered but may lead to adjustment problems
▪ Higher risk of alcoholism
▪ Increase in binge drinking
▪ Higher academic rivalry
▪ Mature early
▪ Concerned with being center of attention
▪ Higher achievement and intelligence
▪ Exhibit adult behaviors and attitudes
Birth order discussion
▪ Briefly share your position in your family.
▪ Each person: which traits outlined by Adler did you
identify with? Which traits did not apply to you?
▪ Think about the “roles” you play in your family. Give an
example of one that might be different if you’d been
born in a different order.
▪ What have you observed to be common across people in
same position in their family, if anything??
▪ Discuss what you’ve read about the research on birth
order. What’s your overall opinion of Adler’s birth order
Social interest
▪ Definition?
▪ Our built in need to adjust to the conditions of our
social environment
▪ Measures of social interest (Adler’s followers)
▪ Social Interest Scale
▪ Basic Adlerian Scales for Interpersonal Success –
Adult (BASIS-A)
Crandall, J. E. (1975). A scale for social
interest. Journal of individual psychology, 31(2),
Wheeler, M. S., Kern, R. M., & Curlette, W. L. (1993). Basic Adlerian
Scales for Interpersonal Success-Adult Form (BASIS-A)
Inventory. Highlands, NC: TRT Associates.
▪ Traits had been rated by
▪ Social Interest Scale (SIS)
consists of pairs of
▪ Research participants choose
the word in each pair that
best describes an attribute
they would like to possess.
▪ Believed personality forms in
first 4-5 years of life
▪ Early encounters form the
style of life
psychology faculty and graduate
students for social feeling.
▪ “no implications for social feeling or
▪ “strong implications for social feeling
or behavior”
▪ Underlined traits (judged to have
implications for social feeling)
are added up for a total social
interest score.
© 1975 James Crandal
Assessment: “I would rather be…”
1. Imaginative – rational
2. Helpful – quick witted
3. Neat – sympathetic
4. Level headed – efficient
5. Intelligent – considerate
6. Self-reliant – ambitious
7. Respectful – original
8. Creative – sensible
9. Generous – individualistic
10. Responsible – original
11. Capable – tolerant
12. Trustworthy – wise
13. Neat – logical
14. Forgiving – gentle
15. Efficient – respectful
16. Practical – self-confident
17. Capable – independent
18. Alert – cooperative
19. Imaginative – helpful
20. Realistic – moral
21. Considerate – wise
22. Sympathetic – individualistic
23. Ambitious – patient
24. Reasonable – quick-witted
Score your social interest
1. Imaginative – rational
2. Helpful – quick witted
3. Neat – sympathetic
4. Level headed – efficient
5. Intelligent – considerate
6. Self-reliant – ambitious
7. Respectful – original
8. Creative – sensible
9. Generous – individualistic
10. Responsible – original
11. Capable – tolerant
12. Trustworthy – wise
13. Neat – logical
14. Forgiving – gentle
15. Efficient – respectful
16. Practical – self-confident
17. Capable – independent
18. Alert – cooperative
19. Imaginative – helpful
20. Realistic – moral
21. Considerate – wise
22. Sympathetic – individualistic
23. Ambitious – patient
24. Reasonable – quick-witted
Social interest research
▪ Limited mostly to Adler-focused journals
▪ Studies have found positive correlations
between social interest and:

Reduced stress
Lower depression
Treatment per Adler
▪ Psychotherapy
▪ Underlying goal
▪ Promote a new, more socially interested style of
▪ Reveal selfish modes of striving for superiority
and the underlying inferiority complex
-Ewen, 2010
▪ Examine misguided life goals
▪ Examine childhood factors
▪ Patient is “reeducated”
▪ Role of therapist: model healthy behavior
Three stages of treatment
• Establish rapport
• Understand problems, style of life, fears, inferiority
• Early …
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