Peter Jay Stein, MD, MA
KAREN HORNEY, MD
Beyond her brilliant intellectual contributions to psychoanalysis, perhaps it was Horney's renegade status (despite subsequent marginalization and vilification), her defiance of traditional Freudian orthodoxy, that represents her greatest contribution, laying some (rarely acknowledged) groundwork for creative theoretical change.
This diagram was inspired by Karen Horney's (1885-1952) masterpiece, Neurosis and Human Growth, The Struggle Toward Self-Realization (1950). Horney's towering independence of intellect and insight were not compatible with the various forms of Freudian, psychoanalytic orthodoxy of her time, and she developed her own ideas, and founded her own school. The Karen Horney Institute, a prominent edifice, sits on the western side of the Queensboro Bridge, just as one enters Manhattan.
The accompanying diagram is designed to convey Horney's vision of the central, inner conflict that is the root cause of human psychological suffering: IF YOU MUST BE SOMEONE THAT YOU ARE NOT, YOU WILL HATE WHO YOU ARE, I.E., YOU WILL HATE YOURSELF. Echoes of this theme are evident in Brandchaft's ideas of "pathological accomodation" (2010), and Masterson's "false self" (1988), among others.
Horney proposes (lacking Bowlby's not-yet elucidated language of attachment theory, but heralding the "organizing principle" concept of intersubjectivity - see center quote, in blue) that the infant and young child, in order to survive the emotional traumas and deprivations of childhood, must erect an ideal image of himself or herself.
Such a 'larger-than-life" image of perfectionistic traits serves as a defensive shield, against the multiple emotional violations of the inevitable humiliating experiences of childhood.
Unfortunately, such defensive maneuvers are not supportive of healthy psychological growth. Hidden from conscious awareness, these embedded, inflexible security devices ( or "organizing patterns" of Fosshage, Stolorow) behave as compulsive inner dictates, almost impervious to change or modification.
In fact, the defensvive structure thus erected, becomes a "tyrannical self", conflated with pretenses, claims, and impossible demands, such that the REAL self, i.e., who one naturally can be, is viewed with disdain and disgust, and, tragically, may never materialize.
Published more than 50 years after Horney's final work, Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange (2002, p. 13) echo, clarify, and refine Horney's "idealized image" concept, within the contextual, perspectival, intersubjective sensibility, underscoring the child's overarching need to maintain the vital maternal tie: "...From recurring experiences of malattunement, the child acquires the unconscious conviction that unmet developmental yearnings and reactive painful feeling states are manifestations of a loathsome defect or of an inherent inner badness. A defensive self-ideal is often established, representing a self-image purified of the offending affect states that were perceived to be unwelcome or damaging to caregivers. Living up to this affectively purified ideal becomes a central requirement for maintaining harmonious ties to others and for upholding self-esteem. Thereafter, the emergence of prohibited affect is experienced as a failure to embody the required ideal, an exposure of the underlying essential defectiveness or badness, and is accompanied by feelings of isolation, shame, and self-loathing..."
Horney's work is especially notable for its use of non-technical language. Most readers will discover many of their conflictual personality traits described within her elegantly stylized chapters of Neurosis and Human Growth.
Horney describes 3 general "solutions" to the child's insecure circumstances, i.e., 3 broad strategies to cope with danger and humiliation, from which the idealized, glorified image (of tyrannical shoulds) is constructed:
1) moving towards (self-effacement);
2) moving away (detachment or resignation);
3) moving against (expansiveness).
These solutions or psychological maneuvers might now be described as variations of insecure attachment patterns.
Horney specifically states that we can "...experience ourselves as different selves..." (ibid., p. 188). Her vision utilizes 'systemic' concepts, positing diverse, interactive, often contradictory and conflictual "self-systems", e.g., the "pride system" (noted in illustration, under the 'tyranny of shoulds'), the "Real Self", and the "Actual Self".
Horney's work, as brilliant as it was, did not greatly transform mainstream psychoanalytic theory, because she seemed disinterested in integrating the language of her ideas within Ego Psychology, the dominant analytic paradigm of the 1930's and 1940's. Such integration would have required that she connect her language to Freudian intrapsychic terminology, in her formulations of subjective developmental "solutions".
As a forerunner to Self psychology and Intersubjectivity, Horney, too, emphasized the dreadful problem of worthlessness and self-contempt. To ward off his self-loathing, the neurotic constructs an image of a godly self. In spite of his or her colossal efforts at perfection and superiority, "...the neurotic does not gain what he most desperately needs: self confidence and self respect.." (ibid, p.86).