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Karen Horney

Karen Horney Psychologist

Karen Horney, a leading German psychoanalyst, was born 16 September 1885. She graduated from University of Berlin in 1913 with a degree in medicine. This was a time when higher education for women was not common and Karen had to face a lot of opposition in order to join the program. She had a difficult childhood. By nine, she did not consider herself pretty and decided she would have to rely on her intellect, rather than her looks, to prove herself. This made her ambitious and rebellious. She was attracted towards her brother who rebuffed her advances, sending her into first of her many bouts of depression. In 1909, Karen married Oskar Horney and had three daughters. In 1920, Karen started teaching at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Berlin. In 1926, Oskar suffered losses in his business. He soon came down with meningitis and became quite embittered. As Karen’s marriage fell apart, she fell into depression again and even considered committing suicide. By 1930, she, along with her children, moved to Brooklyn due to its large intellectual community. By this time, Karen had proven herself to be a gifted psychoanalyst, and she was offered Associate Directorship for Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis which she accepted.

Horney’s deviation from Freudian psychology led to her resigning from the post. She took up teaching at New York Medical College. Karen Horney’s theories about neurosis are considered the best that exist today. She said that neurosis was not a medical ailment, which it was considered at the time, rather a continuous process occurring occasionally during one’s lifetime. She thought it was greatly dependent on the childhood and behavior of parents towards the child, as perceived by the child, determined his/her neurosis. From her clinical practices, she identified three broad categories of a person’s neurotic needs: compliance, aggression and detachment. In “compliance” stage, a person sought affection and approval of his peers. He may also seek a partner, someone he could share his feelings with. A person in “aggression” stage may display anger or hostility to those around him. He seeks power and control. A person in “detachment” category may strive to become self-dependent, considering isolation and independence as the only way forward.

She although agreed with many of Sigmund Freud’s theories, deviated from some of them. She laid the foundations of Neo-Freudian discipline. Horney believed that sex and aggression were not the primary determinants of one’s personality, a view held by Freud. Rather, she believed in the holistic approach, maintaining that environment and social differences played a major role in the development of one’s personality. She also developed the “Self theory” to explain neurosis: a person suffering from neurosis splits himself into a despised self and an ideal self. Ideal self being unrealistic, the neurotic becomes alienated from himself and fails to reach his true potential. She founded American Institute for Psychoanalysis where her own views on psychoanalysis were taught. She kept on teaching and writing until her death in 1952. To honor her contributions to the field of psychoanalysis, Karen Horney Clinic was established in New York in 1955.

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