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Karen Horney

Karen Horney
Karen Horney
Born 16 September 1885
Blankenese, Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia, German Empire (now Blankenese, Hamburg, Germany)
Died 4 December 1952 (Aged 67)
New York City, New York, USA
Nationality German
Fields Psychoanalyst
Part of a series of articles on
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Karen Horney (;[1][2] born Danielsen, 16 September 1885 – 4 December 1952) was a German psychoanalyst who practiced in the United States during her later career. Her theories questioned some traditional Freudian views. This was particularly true of her theories of sexuality and of the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis. She is credited with founding feminist psychology in response to Freud's theory of penis envy. She disagreed with Freud about inherent differences in the psychology of men and women, and she traced such differences to society and culture rather than biology.[3] As such, she is often classified as Neo-Freudian.


  • Early life 1
  • Education and youth 2
  • Career and works 3
  • Theory of neurosis 4
    • Ten neurotic needs 4.1
    • Three categories of needs 4.2
  • Narcissism 5
  • Neo-Freudianism 6
  • Mature theory 7
    • Self-Realization 7.1
    • Theory of the self 7.2
  • Feminine psychology 8
  • Karen Horney Clinic 9
  • Works 10
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Early life

Karen Horney was born Karen Danielsen on 16 September 1885 in Blankenese, Germany, near Hamburg. Her father, Berndt Wackels Danielsen (1836–1910), was a ship's captain, a traditional devout with a patriarchal thinking (his children nicknamed him "the Bible-thrower"). Her mother, Clotilde, née van Ronzelen (1853–1911), known as "Sonni", was very different, being much more open-minded than Berndt.[4] Horney's elder brother was also named Berndt, and Karen cared for him deeply. She also had four elder half-siblings[5][6][7] from her father's previous marriage.[8]

According to Horney's adolescent diaries her father was "a cruel disciplinary figure," holding his son Berndt in higher regard than herself. Instead of being offended or feeling indignation over Karen's perceptions of him, her father brought her gifts from far-away countries. Despite this, Karen always felt deprived of her father's affection and instead became attached to her mother.[9]

From roughly the age of nine Karen 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 — 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. She suffered the first of several bouts of depression — an issue that would plague her for the rest of her life.[5]

Education and youth

In 1904, Karen's mother left her father (though they were never divorced), taking the children with her. In 1906, Karen entered medical school supported by her mother but was opposed by her father.[10] 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. Attending several universities was common at the time to gain a basic medical education.

It was during her time as a medical student that she met Oscar Horney, whom she married by 1909. The following year Horney gave birth to a daughter, Brigitte, who was to be the first of three daughters. By this time Karen 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 Oscar proved consistent with the optional Freudian theory; he was just as authoritarian and strict with his children as Karen's own father was with his. During these years, Karen was receptive to having her children raised in this atmosphere; it was only later, during the 1920s, that her attitude towards rearing children changed.[6]

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 moved to the United States, eventually settling in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was home to a large intellectual community, 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.[5] 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 stimuli 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. 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.[11] These ten needs are based upon things which she thought all humans require to succeed in life. Horney modified 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 to be present for a person to be considered a neurotic.

Ten neurotic needs

The ten needs, as set out by Horney, (classified according to her so-called coping strategies) are as follows:[12]

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.

Three categories of needs

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

Needs one and two (affection and approval, partner) were assimilated into the compliance category, also called moving toward people. This category is seen as a process of joining, submitting, 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 demands and a desire for inconspicuousness both occur in these individuals.
Needs three through seven (power, exploit others, social recognition, personal admiration, personal achievement) were assimilated into the aggression category, also called moving against people, or the expansive solution. 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.
Needs eight through ten (self sufficiency, perfection, restrict life practices) are assimilated into the detachment category, also called 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.


Horney saw narcissism quite differently from Freud, Kohut and other mainstream psychoanalytic theorists in that she did not posit a primary narcissism but saw the narcissistic personality as the product of a certain kind of early environment acting on a certain kind of temperament. For her, narcissistic needs and tendencies are not inherent in human nature.

Narcissism is different from Horney's other major defensive strategies or solutions in that it is not compensatory. Self-idealization is compensatory in her theory, but it differs from narcissism. All the defensive strategies involve self-idealization, but in the narcissistic solution it tends to be the product of indulgence rather than of deprivation. The narcissist's self-esteem is not strong, however, because it is not based on genuine accomplishments.[13]


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.

Like many who held opposing views with Freud, Horney felt that sex and aggression were not the primary constituents for determining personality. Also Freud's notion of "penis envy" in particular was subject to general criticism by Horney.[14] 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 also thought that men were envious of women because they fulfill their position in society by simply 'being', whereas men achieve their manhood according to their ability to provide and succeed.

Horney was bewildered by psychiatrists' tendency to place so much emphasis on the 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 of the individual psyche which placed much emphasis on cultural and social differences worldwide.

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.[15] 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.

While non-neurotic individuals may strive for these needs, neurotics exhibit a much deeper, more willful and concentrated desire to fulfill the said needs.

Theory of the self

Horney also shared Abraham Maslow's view that self-actualization is something that all people strive for. By "self" she understood the core of one's own being and potential.[12] Horney believed that if we have an accurate conception of our own self, then we are free to realize our potential and achieve what we wish, 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.

According to Horney we can have two views of our self: the "real self" and the "ideal self". The real self is who and what we actually are. The ideal self is the type of person we feel that we should be. The real self has the potential for growth, happiness, will power, realization of gifts, etc., but it also has deficiencies. The ideal self is used as a model to assist the real self in developing its potential and achieving self-actualization. (Engler 125) But it is important to know the differences between our ideal and real self.

The neurotic person's self is split between an idealized self and a real self. As a result, neurotic individuals feel that they somehow do not live up to the ideal self. 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 real self then degenerates into a "despised self", and the neurotic person assumes that this is the "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".[16] 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.

Feminine psychology

Horney was also a pioneer in the discipline of feminine psychiatry.[17][18] As one of the first female psychiatrists, she was the first known woman 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 drive to be ingenious and productive. Women are able to satisfy this need normally and internally — 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. The Clinic has recently witnessed an increase of patients not suitable for psychoanalysis for different reasons. These patients are treated with psychotherapeutic modalities such as supportive psychotherapy, and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, all based on Horney’s ideas.[19]


The following are all still in print:

  • Neurosis and Human Growth, Norton, New York, 1950. ISBN 0-393-00135-0
  • Are You Considering Psychoanalysis? Norton, 1946. ISBN 0-393-00131-8
  • Our Inner Conflicts, Norton, 1945. ISBN 0-393-00133-4
  • Self-analysis, Norton, 1942. ISBN 0-393-00134-2
  • New Ways in Psychoanalysis, Norton, 1939. ISBN 0-393-00132-6 (alternate link)
  • The Neurotic Personality of our Time, Norton, 1937. ISBN 0-393-01012-0
  • Feminine Psychology (reprints), Norton, 1922–37 1967. ISBN 0-393-00686-7
  • The Collected Works of Karen Horney (2 vols.), Norton, 1950. ISBN 1-199-36635-8
  • The Adolescent Diaries of Karen Horney, Basic Books, New York, 1980. ISBN 0-465-00055-X
  • The Therapeutic Process: Essays and Lectures, ed. Bernard J. Paris, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999. ISBN 0-300-07527-8
  • The Unknown Karen Horney: Essays on Gender, Culture, and Psychoanalysis, ed. Bernard J. Paris, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2000. ISBN 0-300-08042-5
  • Final Lectures, ed. Douglas H. Ingram, Norton, 1991.—128 p. ISBN 0-393-30755-7 ISBN 9780393307559

See also


  1. ^ "Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures". Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  2. ^ "Merriam-Webster online". Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  3. ^ Schacter, GILBERT, WEGNER, Daniel (2011). Psychology (1. publ., 3. print. ed.). Cambridge: Worth Publishers. p. 180.  
  4. ^ And yet she was, according to Marcia Westcott, The feminist legacy of Karen Horney, New Haven, Conn. 1986, pp. 7–8, “depressed, irritable, and domineering toward Karen”.
  5. ^ a b c Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search.
  6. ^ a b Quinn, Mind of her own.
  7. ^ Rubins, Karen Horney: gentle rebel.
  8. ^ There was never any contact between the children of her father’s two marriages.
  9. ^ This is to a large extent due to the fact that her father was hardly ever present. The ship of which he was a captain went back and forth to South America. A son and a daughter from the captain’s first marriage died in Chile and Bolivia respectively.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Horney, Self-Analysis.
  12. ^ a b Horney, Our inner conflicts.
  13. ^ Paris, Bernard J, Personality and Personal Growth, edited by Robert Frager and James Fadiman, 1998
  14. ^ Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Chapter 10. The masculinity complex
  15. ^ Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Part 5. Horney's mature theory.
  16. ^ Horney, Neurosis and human growth. Chaps. 1–5.
  17. ^ Paris, Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search. Part 2. The Freudian phase and feminine psychology.
  18. ^ Westkott, The feminist legacy.
  19. ^ Paul, Henry (1991). "A report on the Karen Horney Clinic". The American Journal of Psychoanalysis (51:3): 341. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 


  • Carlson, N.R. & Heth, C.D. (2007). Psychology the science of behaviour. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 459.
  • 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 0-201-15573-7
  • 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
  • Dr. C. George Boeree (Psychology Department, Shippensburg University) Personality Theories. KAREN HORNEY (HTML)
    The same article in PDF format
  • Lead Article: Health and Growth (The article is devoted to Karen Horney's Neurosis and Human Growth) // MANAS Journal Volume XXIII, 1970 No. 16 April 22.

External links

  • The Dynamic Self Searching for Growth and Authenticity: Karen Horney's Contribution to Humanistic Psychology
  • The American Institute for Psychoanalysis
  • International Karen Horney Society
  • Biography at
  • Lecture notes alongside psychological opinions at
  • Our Inner Conflicts: excerpts
  • Our Inner ConflictsCommentary on from 50 Psychology Classics (2007)
  • Books by Karen Horney at the Internet Archive
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