Biography of Karen Danielsen Horney

Name: Karen Danielsen Horney
Bith Date: September 16, 1885
Death Date: December 4, 1952
Place of Birth: Hamburg, Germany
Nationality: American
Gender: Female
Occupations: psychoanalyst
Karen Danielsen Horney

The German-born American psychoanalyst Karen Danielsen Horney (1885-1952) was a pioneer of neo-Freudianism. She believed that every human being has an innate drive toward self-realization and that neurosis is essentially a process obstructing this healthy development.

Born in Hamburg on September 16, 1885, Karen Horney received her medical and psychiatric education in Berlin. Her medical practice began in 1913, and then she taught in the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute (1918-1932). She participated in many international congresses in which Sigmund Freud was the leading figure, but being influenced by the new currents of 20th-century science, she increasingly questioned some of Freud's ideas.

In 1932 Horney went to Chicago, III., where she served as associate director of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute until 1934. Then she taught at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute until 1941, when she made her definitive move away from the Freudian group. She took the lead in founding the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis; she was the founding dean (1941-1952) of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis and the founding editor (1941-1952) of the American Journal of Psychoanalysis.

In Europe Horney contributed to psychoanalysis in papers dealing mainly with the field of feminine psychology. She opposed Freud's idea that penis envy and the rejection of femininity were the basic factors in woman's psychology, that her wishes for a child and for a man were merely a conversion of her unsatisfied wish for a penis.

Between 1937 and 1951 Horney, a person of remarkable aliveness and dedication, was at the peak of her creative life. While practicing and teaching psycho-analysis, she wrote many articles and five books in which she presented the development of her psychoanalytic concepts.

In The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937) Horney expressed the view that neuroses are generated by cultural disturbances and conflicts which the person has experienced in accentuated form mainly in childhood, in which he did not receive love, guidance, respect, and opportunities for growth. She described the neurotic character structure as a dynamic process with basic anxiety, defenses against anxiety, conflict, and solutions to conflict as its essential elements.

In New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939) Horney presented her major differences with Freud. While continuing to adhere to the fundamental importance of unconscious forces, inner conflicts, free association, dreams, the analytic relationship, and neurotic defenses in psychoanalysis, she rejected Freud's concepts of the role of instincts in health and emotional illness. She saw aggression and sexual problems as the result of neurotic development rather than its cause.

In Self-analysis (1942) Horney indicated the possibilities, limitations, and specific ways in which people can change through increasing self-awareness.

Horney focused on the central position of conflict and solutions to conflict in neurosis in Our Inner Conflicts (1945). She saw the neurotic child feeling helpless and isolated in a potentially hostile world, seeking a feeling of safety in compulsive moves toward, against, and away from others. Each of these moves came to constitute comprehensive philosophies of life and patterns of interpersonal relating. The conflict between these opposed moves she called the basic conflict and recognized that it required the individual to resort to means for restoring a sense of inner unity. These means she called the neurotic solutions.

Neurosis and Human Growth (1950) was Horney's definitive work, in which she placed her concept of healthy development in the foreground. She viewed the real self as the core of the individual, the source of inherent, constructive, evolutionary forces which under favorable circumstances grow and unfold in a dynamic process of self-realization. She presented "a morality of evolution," in which she viewed as moral all that enhances self-realization and as immoral all that hinders it. The most serious obstacle to healthy growth was the neurotic solution, which she called self-idealization, the attempt to see and to mold oneself into a glorified, idealized, illusory image with strivings for superiority, power, perfection, and vindictive triumph over others. This search for glory inevitably leads the individual to move away from himself (alienation) and against himself (self-hate). "At war with himself," his suffering increases, his relationships with others are further impaired, and the self-perpetuating neurotic cycle continues.

Horney died in New York on December 4, 1952. She had helped to lay the groundwork for the Karen Horney Clinic, which was established in 1955.

Further Reading

  • Analytic and critical discussions of Karen Horney's ideas are in Ruth L. Munroe, Schools of Psychoanalytic Thought: An Exposition, Critique, and Attempt at Integration (1955); "The Holistic Approach" by Harold Kelman in Silvano Arieti, ed., American Handbook of Psychiatry, vol. 2 (1959); and "Karen Horney" by Jack L. Rubins in Alfred M. Freedman and Harold I. Kaplan, eds., Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (1967). An important background study is Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970).
  • Horney, Karen, The adolescent diaries of Karen Horney, New York: Basic Books, 1980.
  • Paris, Bernard J., Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search for self-understanding, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Quinn, Susan, A mind of her own: the life of Karen Horney, New York: Summit Books, 1987; Reading, Massachussetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1988.
  • Rubins, Jack L., Karen Horney: gentle rebel of psychoanalysis, New York: Dial Press, 1978.

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