Karen Horney is one of the few female names to appear in the history of psychoanalysis and psychiatry during the first half of the 20th century. She was, no doubt, an admirable woman. She was not afraid to confront the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, by proposing his own theory.
This psychoanalyst did not share Freud's point of view on the determinant of sex in the conformation of the psychic structure. Karen Horney thought that beyond biology, culture had a decisive influence on the formation of personality. Her theories had a significant impact and, as a result, she shone with her own light.
The theory she created bears her name. She was rejected by many psychoanalysts of her time. Despite this, she was the founder of the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in the United States. This organization was attended by such personalities as Erich Fromm, Harry Sullivan and Margaret Mead, among others.
"Fortunately, analysis is not the only way to resolve internal conflicts, life itself is still a very effective therapist."
The beginnings of Karen Horney
Karen Horney was born in Hamburg, Germany, on September 16, 1885. She was the daughter of a very conservative couple, consisting of her father, a sea captain, her mother, a housewife, and five brothers. Four of them were the children of their father's first marriage.
Karen's mother did not like her husband. It seems to have had a big impact on Horney as a child. The mother's contempt for marriage led her to educate her daughter to be above the classic fate of women at the time. She encouraged her to study medicine and supported it with great sacrifices.
Nevertheless, Karen married Oskar Horney and finished school. She joined the neuropsychiatric clinic of the University of Berlin and met one of the most brilliant psychoanalysts of his time: Karl Abraham. She realized her psychoanalysis with him and, at the same time, began to train as a psychoanalyst.
A conceptual change
Karen Horney had emotional problems. She was unable to have a full sex life and was also suffering from depressive episodes. During his psychoanalysis, Abraham claimed that this was due to an incestuous desire for his father. Karen rejected this interpretation and was therefore critical of classical psychoanalysis.
Karen Horney's marriage began to sink when her husband went bankrupt and became ill with meningitis. Later, with the advent of World War II, Karen decided to move to the United States. It was there that she would develop most of her work.
Karen Horney's Contributions
Karen Horney decisively rejected Freud's concept of "penis envy". She argued that the feelings of inferiority and sexual inhibitions present in many women were not due to anatomical determinations. They were rather the result of a restrictive education that denied and reduced femininity.
Although Karen Horney has maintained the psychoanalytic postulate that childhood is the decisive stage in the formation of neurosis, she has also given her own interpretation of this postulate. According to her, it is not sexual conflicts that end up generating anxiety and neurosis. It is rather the affection or the disaffection of the parents which determines the mental health.
For Horney, if parents do not respond to the emotional needs of their children, they arouse feelings of hostility, frustration and inhibition. And if the expression of this hostility is restricted, self-destructive fantasies and difficulties in social relations appear in the person. All this leads to anxiety.
From psychoanalysis to humanism
Karen Horney was affectionately linked to Erich Fromm and her humanistic thinking had a great impact on her. Their union was intellectually very productive. However, professional jealousy and marital conflict have also emerged. This led them to break off their relationship and, at the same time, to break the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, of which they both were part.
Karen Horney is considered the first to give an absolutely decisive place to infantile affection. His whole theory holds that the feeling of helplessness during the first years marks the entire human spirit.
The most remarkable works of Horney are The Neurotic Personality of Our Time and Neurosis and Maturity. It was only ten years after her death that she earned a special place in the history of the sciences of the mind. Today, she is considered one of the founders of the humanist movement.