Psychology: Karen Horney Theory Summary - Paper Example

Published: 2023-12-23
Psychology: Karen Horney Theory Summary - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Psychology
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1192 words
10 min read


Among the theories of psychoanalysis is the theory of neurosis by Karen Horney. According to Horney, interpersonal relationships are the primary cause of neurosis through anxiety (Horney, 2013). Neurosis is a type of mental disorder that consists of stress and functioning deficiency. According to Horney (2013), it is characterized by depression, unhappiness, distress beyond life’s circumstance, and anxiety. Like most other psychological disorders, neurosis may impair a person’s functionality in almost all areas of life, but unlike other disorders, it is not enough to incapacitate a person. For example, patients with neurosis would not experience a loss of a sense of reality, as seen in patients with psychosis. As a result, while Horney’s theory was different in that it did not perceive neurosis as a product of the mind’s malfunction to external stimuli, but instead perceived it as a continuous process that occurs sporadically in one’s life due to their need to cope with such anxiety.

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Theory of Psychopathology

Neurosis disorder develops from the need to cope with basic anxiety. According to Horne, people tend to overuse strategies meant to cope with anxiety hence causing a person to become dependent on the coping mechanisms (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Basic anxiety could develop from many things like domination were direct or indirect, belittle attitude, less or more admiration, discrimination, overprotection, hostile environment, among others. Horney’s theory indicates that children would cope with these experiences in four ways (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). The first one is attaining power to compensate for helplessness and achieving security by adopting behaviors such as perfection or superiority. The belief is that power gives them immunity from harm. The second one is securing affection by moving towards others. These neurosis needs to seek affirmation, which makes a person search for other people’s love and approval. Third, there is withdrawal, which, according to Horney’s theory, can lead to hostility and anti-social behaviors; hence the individual feels unwanted, discriminated, and detached from others (Lubell, 1981). Such a person would pursue psychological independence of not relying on anyone else to satisfy both internal and external needs. Finally, there is being submissive, which entails complying with a person’s or people’s wishes within the social environment. Such people tend to avoid doing anything that might antagonize others.

Theory of Balance Health

Horney’s theory shows that neurosis can be addressed by resolving the intrapsychic conflicts that she refers to as the central inner conflicts (Paris, 2002). According to Horney, living in a real self involves accepting uncertainty, limitations, and process. It also means recognizing the limits of coping mechanisms and avoid relying on them (Paris, 2002). When an individual does not recognize the limits of one’s coping mechanisms, they become dependent on these behaviors. They develop neurosis that alters their functionality. Therapy is one of the best ways to help treat neurosis by helping the individual discover the mechanisms that they are overusing.

An individual’s early years play a crucial role in the avoidance of neurosis. According to Schultz and Schultz (2017), Horney agreed with Freud on the importance of early years in shaping an adult’s personality. The four categories of neurotic needs show that addressing the social forces in childhood could help avert the neurosis during adulthood. For example, Horney’s theory indicates that the need for safety is dominant in childhood (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). The child experiencing the feeling of security and absence of fear is one of the keys to ensuring their personality development has normality. According to Schultz and Schultz (2017), a child’s security depends on the treatment that they receive from their parents. Parental warmth and affection is one way of strengthening and promoting the feeling of security.

Assessment Method

Free association

Unlike Freud, Karen believed that individuals could easily fake, distort, or hide an aspect of their lives or falsify feelings about events they remembered (Schultz, & Schultz, 2017). According to Schultz and Schultz (2017), a person’s visible emotional reaction can explain his or her attitudes towards other people. Karen confirmed these after inquiring about the early years of a patient life only to evaluate present attitude, conflict, and defense.horney believes that a person’s attitude or feeling results from a more in-depth pre-existing feeling of a deeper one. However, with the free association, the analyst gradually uncovers a patient’s early life experience and emotions.

Dream analysis

Horney’s theory perceived dream analysis as one of the assessment methods of revealing a true person self (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). The representation of that dream can solve problems constructively or neurotically. According to Schultz and Schultz (2017, Horney’s theory explains that a dream can show a set of attitudes that may differ from those of our self-image and that each dream could be explained within the context of the patient conflict. The patient’s feeling in the dream is the best way to understanding the same(Schultz & Schultz, 2017)

Treatment Method (What is the treatment method?)

The resolution of the intrapsychic conflicts happens by recognizing the patient’s defenses and inner conflicts (Paris, 2002). Horney was against the too distant and passive role Freud (Schultz, & Schultz, 2017). Horney advocated for a more cooperative and democratic therapist-patient relationship. Horney’s method is not one where the therapist and the patient analyze one another. Instead, Horney’s method has the therapist analyze themselves while simultaneously helping the patient towards self-understanding and growth (Paris, 2002). It transforms the therapist from an authority figure to a real person such as the patient, with strengths and weaknesses.

Mechanism (How does change occur because of the treatment method?)

Change occurs through the confrontation of loss of glory and unsavory characteristics that are part of neurosis (Paris, 2002). According to Paris (2002), patients will feel profoundly threatened when they realize they are not as saintly, as loving, independent, and as powerful as they had believed. That is when the patient moves to confront their loss of glory and other coping mechanisms to overcompensate for their anxiety. Their typical reaction would be unconstructive self-hate instead of acceptance that would enable personal growth (Paris, 2002). A therapist’s encouragement mitigates the effects of the self-hate and produces appreciation and respect for self.


According to Horney’s theory, the goal of therapy is in the self-analysis where the analyst uses transference to understand the patients’ defense and inner conflict and countertransference to understand their defenses (Paris, 2002). The focus is on understanding the patient’s defenses to discover their functions and consequences. Treatment is meant to help people achieve self-realization, rather than transforming mystery hysterically into everyday unhappiness.


Horney, K. (2013). Our inner conflicts: A constructive theory of neurosis (Vol. 17). Routledge.

Lubell, R. A. (1981). The idealized self-image and the reaction to social criticism: a study of Karen Horney’s theory of neurotic personality. [Masters Theses 1911 - February 2014. 1741]. The University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Paris, B. (2002). Horney & Humanistic Psychoanalysis. International Karen Horney Society.

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2017). Theories of personality. Cengage Learning.

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