This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

Horney's Emphasis on Family Life

To Horney, neurotic patterns (persistent, maladaptive behavior) arose from basic anxiety , which she traced to insecurities of early family life. Horney said that normal personality development resulted in basic confidence within a child's personality. Basic confidence was fostered by genuine and predictable warmth, interest, and respect from the parents or caregivers. If a child was neglected or abused, however, the opposite occurred. The child developed a lack of confidence about life.

What was basic anxiety supposed to feel like?

Basic anxiety, Horney wrote, is "the feeling a child has of being isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world" (Horney, 1945, p.41). Sometimes this feeling continues into adulthood, resulting in neurosis. (Like other Freudian-based theorists, Horney used the term neurosis and neurotic to indicate a mental disorder of non-biological origin.) A neurotic, in Horney's view, suffered from basic anxiety and therefore tended to feel the world was out to "abuse, cheat, attack, humiliate, betray."

What caused basic anxiety or basic confidence, in Horney's view?

Horney said that basic anxiety came from negative experiences in the early years. Parents could cause it by domination, belittling attitudes, indifference, unkept promises, overprotection, a hostile home atmosphere, encouraging the child to take sides in parental disputes, isolating the child from other children, or failing to respect the child's individual needs. The most important underlying problem was "a lack of genuine warmth and affection" due to the parents' own neurotic incapacity to give it (Horney, 1937, p.80). Unlike Adler, Horney did not see inferiority feelings as inevitable in childhood. Everything depended on the parents. If parents provided warmth, affection, and consistency, then the child would feel "basic confidence" instead of "basic anxiety." Basic confidence provided a solid foundation for trust, happiness, and productive living.

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