Biography of Karen Horney

Karen Danielson was born near Hamburg, Germany, on September 15, 1885. She was the second child in an unhappy marriage of an often absent Norwegian sea captain and his beautiful, somewhat higher-class wife. Danielson and her older brother, Berndt (who later became a lawyer), were disciplined strictly by their tyrannical Lutheran father when he was home from his long sea voyages around Cape Horn to the Pacific coast of South and Central America. She retained a strongly independent character, regarded her father's outspoken religious attitudes as hypocritical, and questioned the fundamentalist teachings of her church.

The secondaiy education traditionally available to German girls would have precluded attending a university. This was, however, a time of social change in Germany. Young Danielson prevailed upon her father to allow her to attend a newly opened nontraditional school that offered girls the course work necessaiy to prepare for the university entrance exams. Her father agreed, and she entered the University of Freiburg in 1906, in a class of 58 women and 2,292 men. There she studied medicine. She was popular and was included in the partying and study sessions of her male classmates. She married one frequent companion, Oskar Horney, in 1909- They moved to Berlin, where she continued her medical studies and he began a business career.

Karen Horney was a psychoanalytic patient of the famous Freudian analyst Karl Abraham. This was an avant-garde interest at that time. It was characteristic of her to explore new ideas, but she sought relief from personal problems as well. Horney was experiencing depression, fatigue, and dissatisfaction with her marriage, which she expressed by having an affair with her husband's friend. Her father died about this time, and she had ambivalent feelings toward him to sort out: anger because of the unhappiness of her parents' marriage, which had culminated in separation a few years before, but also more fondness for him than she admitted. The demands of combining a medical education with family life, without much encouragement from her husband, also required coping. Besides the analytic sessions, she kept a personal diaiy at this time, as she had in past years.

Though psychoanalysis was held in low esteem by the medical and psychiatric establishment, Horney made it her professional specialty. After receiving her traditional psychiatric degree in 1915, she dared to lecture on the controversial Freudian theory and to defend it against critics including, interestingly, Adler and Jung (Quinn, 1988, p. 151). Her own challenges to the theory were still brewing. LTnlike many psychoanalysts of this



Karen Horney

time, however, she did not visit Freud in Vienna and so did not know him personally (Quinn, 1988). Freud did, however, chair a session in 1922 in which Horney presented a paper on "The Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women" (O'Connell, 1980).

Karen and Oskar Horney had three daughters. (One, Marianne Horney Eckardt, became a Horneyan analyst.) But the couple continued to have a troubled marriage and finally separated. Horney poured increasing energy into her career. She became one of the founding members of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute in 1920 and published several papers on male and female development, relationships, and marriage. Her fourteen papers between 1922 and 1935 outlined a theory of female psychology that was clearly critical of Freud's theory. Horney's first suggestions were presented in a spirit of intellectual debate within classic Freudian theory, the sort of challenge that fosters the development of any science. The psychoanalytic community, however, dismissed her points and attacked her motivations. Freud is reported to have said of her, "She is able but malicious—mean" (Quinn, 1988, p. 237). He accused her of an inadequate analysis, saying that she did not accept her own penis envy (Symonds, 1991).

Given this hostile professional environment in Germany, it is no wonder that Horney accepted an invitation to become associate director of a new Institute for Psychoanalysis in Chicago, under Franz Alexander, in 1932. Horney became dissatisfied with her position at the institute, and in 1934 she moved to New York. Ironically, the same sort of professional debates over theoretical orthodoxy that had impelled her to leave Germany divided the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Finally, the orthodox Freudians could no longer tolerate Horney's dissenting views, and in 1941 the New York Psychoanalytic Society voted to remove her from her role as a teacher and clinical supervisor, demoting her to instructor.

Horney and her followers quickly formed a new organization, the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, and founded the American Journal of Psychoanalysis. The announcement of the new training institute contained a statement of commitment to nonauthoritarian teaching: "Students are acknowledged to be intelligent and responsible adults. ... It is the hope of the Institute that it will continue to avoid conceptual rigidities, and to respond to ideas, whatever the source, in a spirit of scientific and academic democracy" (cited in Quinn, 1988, p. 353).

It was not only the orthodox Freudians who were suspicious of her. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) kept a file on her because of her alleged Communist sympathies, and because of this she was for a while denied a passport to travel to Japan (Quinn, 1988). The basis for this accusation seems to have been her affiliation with the liberal New School for Social Research in New York City. She was ultimately granted the passport, and in Japan she stayed at several Zen monasteries (O'Connell, 1980). In Zen Buddhism, Horney found support for the idea of a striving, healthy real self within the individual that Freudian theory, with its biological and genetic views, did not offer (Mor-vay, 1999). On December 4, 1952, within months of her return from Japan, she died of abdominal cancer, which had not been previously diagnosed.

As a person, Karen Horney seems to have had a capacity for enjoying life, despite the seriousness of her career and the disappointments of her marriage. She liked to eat in the best restaurants and to attend concerts and parties. During Prohibition, she at least once spiked the punch by writing her own prescription for "medicinal" alcohol (Quinn, 1988). She enjoyed relationships with men and had several affairs. Her lovers included the famous psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and, it was rumored, a trainee at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, who was also her patient (Quinn, 1988).

Horney challenged Freud's claim that he had discovered universal developmental conflicts. Instead, she argued that personality and its development are greatly influenced by culture and therefore vary from one society to another. This energetic and nontradi-tional woman proposed new understandings of women, and of men, which today are more widely accepted than the classical Freudian theory she challenged. For women in psychology, she is praised as an important mole model (O'Connell & Russo, 1980), and her writings had a major influence on feminist theory (Oilman, 2001). Yet from her early interest in feminine psychology, Karen Horney turned later to the development of a general systematic theory of neurosis in which sex differences were not inevitable but rather developments that occur only in particular cultural contexts (Eckardt, 1991; Symonds,

Infants and young children are highly dependent on their parents, not only for physical survival but also for psychological security. In the ideal case, the infant senses that he or she is loved and protected by the parents and therefore is safe. Under less than ideal circumstances, the child feels intensely vulnerable. This helplessness in childhood, in the absence of adequate parenting, produces a feeling of basic anxiety, which Horney (1945, p. 41) described as "the feeling a child has of being isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world."

Parental neglect and rejection make the child angry, a condition Horney called basic hostility. However, the young child is not able to express the hostility since it would result in punishment or loss of love. This repressed hostility increases the anxiety. The neurotic, then, develops a basic conflict between "fundamentally contradictory attitudes he has acquired toward other persons" (Horney, 1945, pp. 40-41). On the one hand, the child needs the parents and wants to approach them but, on the other hand, hates them and wants to punish them. This conflict is the driving force behind neurosis: an interpersonal conflict, in contrast to Freud's libidinal conflict between sexual desire and the restricting forces of society (see Figure 6.1).

What is the child to do? Three choices are available: Accentuate dependency and move toward the parents, accentuate hostility and move against them, or give up on the relationship and move away from them. The young child resolves the conflict with the parents by using whichever of these strategies seems to best fit his or her particular family environment. This choice becomes the person's characteristic interpersonal orientation.

Ideally, a healthy person should be able to move toward people, move against them, or move away from them, flexibly choosing the strategy that fits the particular circumstances. Paris (1989) observed that these three orientations, moving toward or against or away from people, correspond to "the basic mechanisms of defense in the animal kingdom—fight, flight, and submission" (p. 186). In contrast to healthy flexibility, neurotics are imbalanced in their interpersonal behavior. Some choices cause so much anxiety that they simply are not options. The young child who was never permitted to express any criticism of the parents, for example, is unlikely to be able to compete wholeheartedly against others in adulthood. The rejected child will continue to have difficulty depending on people. Neurotics are not necessarily restricted to only one interpersonal orientation. Horney's theory is not, strictly speaking, a typology of different

ic Anxiety and Basic Hostility ic Anxiety and Basic Hostility mee Interpersonal Orientations

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Supreme Sobriety

Supreme Sobriety

How to Maintain Your Resolution to Be Sober. Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Sobriety. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Turning Your Love For Cooking Into A Money Maker.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment