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Karen Horney's Theory

Karen Horney

One of the few prominent female personality theorists from the first half of the 20th Century was Karen Danielsen Horney (1885-1952). Horney (pronounced HORN-eye) added social factors to the basic ideas of Freud's theory. Horney's approach, called psychosocial analysis, put special emphasis on the emotional relations between parent and child early in the child's life.

Danielsen married Oscar Horney, a Berlin lawyer and economist, in 1909. Early letters to Oskar reflected Karen's interest in the theories of Alfred Adler. Karen was especially intrigued by Adler's ideas of inferiority and self-confidence. It seemed to her these had special relevance for women, who Horney believed were pressured by society to feel inferior and dependent.

What were some additional life experiences that helped shape Horney's theory?

Oscar and Karen had three daughters, but their marriage was not a happy one. Karen immersed herself in her work. She graduated from the University of Berlin in 1915. She joined the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute in 1918, and the following year she started her private practice. Freudians trained her but she never knew Freud personally. In 1932, with conditions deteriorating in Europe prior to World War II, Karen decided to immigrate to the United States. Oscar stayed behind in Germany and they were divorced five years later. The experience gave her valuable insights into troubled relationships, which she wrote about often.

What did Horney learn from the people in the United States?

Horney found that people in the United States had different different problems of living than people in European countries. Horney concluded, "Only the difference in civilizations could account for this." (Horney, 1945) She concluded that "neuroses are brought about by cultural factors." This was a major departure from Freud's view that neuroses involved universal instinctual conflicts.

How did she rebut the idea of penis envy?

Horney is famous for her response to the Freudian idea of penis envy in women. She said that, to the contrary, her work with male patients had revealed a sort of "womb envy" in some of them. They were jealous of the women's ability to be productive and creative by having babies. Some men compensated by developing a neurotic overemphasis on career success.

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