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A Description of Karen Horney's Neo-Freudian Theory of Personality

07/11/15 12:09 PM

A Description of Karen Horney's Neo-Freudian

Theory of Personality
Updated on December 28, 2012

Freud and Psychoanalysis

Horney underwent psychoanalysis as a young woman and felt it helped her understand her own inner thoughts and behaviors. Though many
aspects of Freudian theory accounted for Horney's "issues," she felt psychoanalysis was limited by its male bias. Freud believed that
feminine experience and psychopathology resulted from "disappointed" male sexuality. Penis envy was another term Freud used to describe
this; in short, it is the woman's desire for a penis that inhibits the development of her superego. Women, according to Freud, would always be
psychologically stunted. Horney sought to debunk this view by exposing its lack of scientific evidence and set about constructing her own
theory of personality that better encompassed the range of female experience.
Horney was convinced - both by her own experiences and those of
her subjects - that children who grow up having their basic needs
(e.g. safety, food, love) met develop healthy self-concepts and ways
of interacting with others. Conversely, children who grow up feeling
unsafe, unloved, and undervalued develop anxiety and
consequently adopt maladaptive strategies to cope with this anxiety.
Though Horneys theory does not exclusively apply to female
children, it is significant that many females are born in maledominated societies wherein they may be limited or oppressed due
to their sex. This experience leads many women to develop a
masculinity complex, originating from feelings of inferiority, as well
as frustration at the disparity between sexes. Horney believed that a
girl childs familial interactions also played a role in how strongly the
complex would manifest itself; if a female is intimidated by her own
mother or disappointed by her father or brother, she may develop a
disdain for the female sex - herself included.
Similarly, Horney posited that a female child may become insecure
Karen Horney, 1938
and grow anxious about her own femininity and desirability if she
perceives a loss of her fathers love to another woman. Most often
the other woman is the childs mother, who obviously engages in
sexual contact with the childs father and dominates the situation. Horney believed two strategies of defense derive from this defeat: the girl
will withdraw from the competition or she will become hyper-competitive, attempting to win men and prove her desirability through her
conquests. The individuals fervent need for male love - known as the overvaluation of love - is a direct consequence of the real or
perceived loss of her fathers love.

Basic Evil, Hostility, and Anxiety

The opposite of having one's needs met is experiencing basic evil.
Basic evil is defined as parental indifference and may refer to any
behavior that does not meet a childs psychological needs. If a child
experiences any form of basic evil - abuse, neglect, preference for
one sibling over another - it sets the stage for her to grow into a
psychologically maladjusted adult. The child believes that if her own
parents cannot or will not love and care for her, no one can or will.
The wounds of basic evil form basic hostility: feelings of anger at
ones parents or caregivers and frustration because of ones
dependence on them. Basic hostility develops and presents itself in
the following way:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The childs parents exhibit basic evil -> The child wants to avoid the abuse, but cannot leave because she depends on her parents -> The
child cannot express her feelings to her parents and instead redirects her feelings of rage and hostility toward others
Basic anxiety refers to the maladaptive patterns that develop when children are exposed to basic evil or any environment that does not meet
their basic needs. Basic anxiety results in the formulation of interpersonal strategies of defense, or rigid ways of relating to others that may
be understood in terms of whether they move toward, against, or away from others.

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A Description of Karen Horney's Neo-Freudian Theory of Personality

07/11/15 12:09 PM

Interpersonal Strategies of Defense

Interpersonal strategies of defense are utilized by neurotic
individuals to help them cope with basic anxiety. Those who move
toward others manage their anxiety through their dependence. They
tend to seek affection and approval from others and refrain from
expressing aggression or disagreement. This is known as the
compliant solution.
Conversely, people who move away from others respond to anxiety
by removing themselves from the source or threat. This detachment
results from their belief that the world will disappoint them as their
own parents did, so they withdraw from it.
Source: Webspace
Individuals who move against others adopt expansive solutions.
They value power and seek prestige and admiration. Though they
desire such attention, they do not value others and instead view people in terms of what they can do for them. The expansive solution is
expressed in three ways:

1. Narcissistic people were often favored as children and believe there is nothing they cannot accomplish. Though they regularly speak of
their specialness, these individuals need constant attention and confirmation of their abilities. They seek to maintain their exaggerated
view of themselves and break if the image collapses.
2. Perfectionistic folks hold others to unrealistic standards and look down on them when they fail to meet such standards. Unsurprisingly,
most people (including these individuals) cannot meet their exacting standards.
3. Arrogant-vindictive individuals were often mistreated as children and seek retribution for the ills they suffered. Such individuals believe
that only the strong survive. They can be competitive and ruthless in their dealings.

Neurotic Needs
Neurotic needs can be understood as coping mechanisms
developed to manage anxiety. Horney detailed ten neurotic needs,
which are divided into three groups: those behaviors that move
toward others, against others, and away from others.

Neurosis is defined as a mental or emotional disorder affecting part
of the personality. Most commonly, neurotic individuals experience
anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and may experience physical
discomfort with no known cause.

Moving Toward Others

1. People pleasers need affection and approval at any cost.
2. Overly dependent people need a partner to take over their life. They pathologically fear being deserted by their partner.
3. Those with the need to restrict their lives appear to lack ambition. Life is experienced in "safe" and inconspicuous ways.
Moving Against Others
1. A neurotic need for power is the craving of power and strength for its own sake.
2. Individuals with a neurotic need to exploit others believe that they can only achieve success by taking advantage of others.
3. Neurotic need for social recognition or prestige is expressed when people base their self-esteem on the recognition and
compliments they receive from others.
4. A neurotic need for personal admiration means that people desire admiration and have an inflated self-image dependent upon this
5. The neurotic need for personal achievement derives from a person's sense of insecurity; they seek superiority in order to prove their
Moving Away From Others
1. Those who need independence seek freedom from commitment. This need usually follows a disappointing relationship.
2. With a need for perfection comes the fear of failure and criticism. These people try to hide their flaws to protect their image of
Do you know someone that this theory applies to?
Yes, a woman.
Yes, a man.

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A Description of Karen Horney's Neo-Freudian Theory of Personality

07/11/15 12:09 PM

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