Term Paper: Karen Horney

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Psychology

Karen Horney:

Tale of Self-Actualization

Karen Horney was a leading reformer and theorist in the field of psychology and psychoanalysis. One of the first major proponents of feminine psychology, Horney's ideas can be considered neo-Freudian. Horney was much concerned with the concept of Self-Actualization. It was the individual's goal, she theorized, to achieve the maximum in personal satisfaction based on the actual realities of the self as opposed to the dreams of the less substantial Ideal Self. In order to understand Horney's theories, it is necessary to step back and examine their origin, both in Horney's own personal life, and in her psychological practice. Horney's life is set against the backdrop of many of the seminal events of the Twentieth Century, the ideological and political turmoil of post- World War I Europe, and the ferment of America in that same period. She came of age when Sigmund Freud was still king and joined with others who began to question that psychologist's ideas. Horney focused first and foremost on the underlying causes of neurosis. She saw what she believed was the common thread of the need to achieve self-actualization. Recognizing the extent to which Freud's work had been colored by his own male prejudices, she was among the first to explore the unique psychological and psycho-social situations of women. Though Horney's theories never became the standard that other psychologists' became, many of her writing are still in print today. A study of her life and work raises interesting questions about historic and contemporary ideas on the human condition. How Karen Horney achieved her own version of "self-actualization" can tell us much about psychology, society, and ourselves.

Birth and Early Childhood

Karen Horney was born Karen Clementine Theodore Danielsen on September 15, 1885 in a suburb of Hamburg, Germany. As befits a child who would one day devote her adult life to understanding some of the universal themes of humanity, Horney's parents were of varied background. Her father was a Norwegian sea captain, a widower with four teenaged children of his own, and naturalized citizen of the German Empire. His second wife, and Karen's mother, was a woman of Dutch-German noble extraction (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 184). Her fifty-year-old father, and thirty-two-year-old mother had already had one child together, Karen's brother, Berndt - this child would remain their favorite (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 184). Even on the surface of things, Horney's family would have appeared an arrangement ripe for conflict. The aristocratic German Empire did not look kindly on matches between persons of different class, and Karen's father was a foreigner as well.

Horney's father was an especially powerful influence during her childhood years. Her father, frequently off on voyages at sea, was stern and distant. (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 185)

Years later, the psychologist remembered her father with a mixture of admiration and respect, and fear and intimidation - the image of his blue-eyed gaze still caused her to shudder (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 185)

Perhaps, it was the influence of this powerful man, at once so commanding, and so terrifying, that inspired in Karen Horney her thirst for knowledge of her world, and the intense discipline with which she pursued that knowledge.

Adolescence and Awakening

While still in high school, Karen Horney had already begun to study the mysteries of the mind. She was early drawn to the writings of the Swede, Ellen Key. Ellen Key discoursed particularly about female sexuality, and of a woman's "special capacity" for love (Buhle, 1998, p. 70). Horney felt a particular kinship with the Swedish psychologist, believing at that young age, that the two shared a devotion to the discovering of the truths about human nature, and the human psyche. In later life, Horney would credit Key's with inspiring her interest in psychology (Buhle, 1998, p. 70). In Adolescence, the future reformer of Freud's ideas looked upon Key as a guide. Horney, at this stage, still possessed something of the Freudian - pre-Twentieth Century - view of women as largely subordinate to men in intellectual powers, or at least in intellectual leadership abilities. As Horney writes in her diary on August 27, 1904:

Took up Ellen Key again. it's like a bath in the sea in autumn, when the cold is cutting and you have to battle with wind and waves, but once out you are refreshed and a new person. "The old is gone, see: everything is new." For very strong, independent natures it may make no difference what they read -- for weaker ones, for me, that's not so. Certainly development takes its quiet, steady way, and yet I would like to persuade myself that I can smuggle in some cooperation of my own into this unalterable fate, by undertaking, for example, to read only such elevated books. But this very wish to be ennobled is probably also deeply ingrained in my character. (Horney, 1980, p. 90)

Though clearly drawn to intellectual pursuits, the young Karen Horney likes to think of the struggle toward intellectual achievement as a battle - something she must fight to achieve. Nonetheless, such an attitude would serve her well in the future. Ideas like these would help her to understand the overwhelmingly masculine viewpoint of much of the academic world, and of Freud's psychology. Her father provided additional reinforcement - he initially refused permission for Karen to attend a school of higher education. (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 185) the school would be essential to achieving the young Horney's dream of becoming a physician. Her father relented only after Karen's repeated entreaties, together with those of her mother, brother, and other relatives (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 185) the distance between her intellectual and academic dreams and her father's ideas about womanhood were made even clearer when her mother left (though never divorced her father) and came to live near Karen while she studied at the University of Freiberg. (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p. 185) These would be lessons in stereotypes that Karen Horney would never forget.

Student of Psychology

Karen Horney was mentored by Karl Abraham, founder of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (Buhle, 1998, p. 67). Regarded by Freud as Germany's first true psychoanalyst, Abraham was well-known for his work on the libido and human sexuality (Buhle, 1998, p. 67) - areas that would greatly interest Horney. After completing her studies at Freiberg, Karen married Oskar Hornvieh, and they moved to Berlin. It was there that she was in therapy with Karl Abraham. (McAdams, 1994, p. 163) Through Abraham, she was opened up to Freud's concepts of neuroses, the unconscious, and childhood sexuality - ideas that filled her with wonder (McAdams, 1994, p. 163) Karen and Oskar both had numerous affairs through the 1920s, and eventually divorced (McAdams, 1994, p. 163). Abraham placed enormous emphasis on Freud's idea of the "castration complex," stating that women might express the complex through "wishful" or vengeful" behavior (Kurzweil, 1995, p. 22). Applying, no doubt, many of the experiences of her own life, Karen rejected the Freudian theory of the Castration Complex by stating that little girls were not "castrate little boys," rather their "castration" arose out of their relationships with their fathers (Horney, 1999, p. 107).

Further attributing her realization to readings she had done of the philosopher Georg Simmel, she made the following observation:

Our whole civilization is a masculine civilization. The State, the laws, morality, religion and the sciences are the creation of men. Simmel by no means deduces from these facts, as is commonly done by other writers, an inferiority in women, but he first of all gives considerable breadth and depth to this conception of a masculine civilization. (Horney, 1999, p. 108)

Horney was now set on the path that she would pursue throughout her career, a realization of the importance of individual self-actualization - and significantly - the insight that women's self-actualization was, in many ways, inhibited by the prejudices of a society that was almost wholly male in outlook.

The Acceptance of Self-Actualization

Karen Horney continually to develop her ideas, ideas that gradually diverged further and further from the core of the Freudian tradition. She left Europe to teach in New York. The decisive break with Freud came in 1941, when she was, for all practical purposes, voted off the staff by her colleagues at the New York Psychoanalytical Institute. From then on, she would pursue her own path, cultivating a system of psychological thought that the combined the emphasis on social factors of Alfred Adler, and his positive view of human nature, with a very, un-Adlerian emphasis on intrapsychic conflict.

(Horney, 2003, p. 115) Horney theories on neurosis follow closely from her own behavior. She identified three primary forms of neurotic behavior. The first of these was the need to merge with other people, and to surrender to a passionate relationship with a man. She called this Moving Toward People. (Horney, 2003, p. 116) Horney had clearly exhibited these tendencies many times in her youth… [END OF PREVIEW]

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