Karen Horney’s is one of the few female names that appear in the history of psychoanalysis and psychiatry, during the first half of the 20th century. She was, without a doubt, an admirable woman. He was not afraid to confront the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, proposing his own theory.
This psychoanalyst did not share Freud’s vision of the determinant of sex in the conformation of the psychic structure. Karen Horney thought that, beyond biology, culture decisively influenced the formation of personality. His theories reached an important impact and that is why he shined with his own light.
The theory that he created bears his name. He suffered the rejection of many of the psychoanalysts of his time. Despite this, she was the founder of the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in the United States. This organization was frequented by figures of the stature of Erich Fromm, Harry Sullivan and Margaret Mead, among others.
“Fortunately, analysis is not the only way to resolve internal conflicts. Life itself remains 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, formed by her father, who was captain of the navy, his mother, a housewife, and five brothers. Four of them were children of his father’s first marriage.
Karen’s mother did not love her husband. This seems to have impacted Horney a lot as a child. The mother’s contempt for marriage led her to educate her daughter so that she was above the classic destiny of women at that time. He encouraged her to study medicine and supported her to achieve it, making great sacrifices.
Nevertheless, Karen married Oskar Horney and then concluded her studies. He joined the neuropsychiatric clinic of the University of Berlin and there he met one of the most brilliant psychoanalysts of his time: Karl Abraham. He psychoanalyzed himself and, at the same time, began to train as a psychoanalyst.
A conceptual turn
Karen Horney had some emotional problems. I could not have a full sex life and also suffered from depressive episodes. During his psychoanalysis, Abraham claimed that this was due to an incestuous desire for his father. Karen rejected that interpretation and since then she had a critical position towards classical psychoanalysis.
The marriage of Karen Horney began to be shipwrecked when her husband had an economic bankruptcy and became ill with meningitis. Later, due to the arrival of World War II, Karen decided to settle in the United States. There he would develop most of his work.
The contributions of Karen Horney
Karen Horney decisively rejected the concept of “penis envy” proposed by Freud. He argued that the feelings of inferiority and sexual inhibitions present in many women were not due to anatomical determinations. Rather they were the result of a restrictive education, which denied and lowered the feminine.
Although Karen Horney maintained the psychoanalytic postulate according to which childhood is the decisive stage in the conformation of neurosis, she also gave her own interpretation to this. According to her, it is not sexual conflicts that end up generating anguish and neurosis. It is rather the affection or the disaffection of the parents that determines mental health.
For Horney, if parents do not meet the emotional needs of their children, they give rise to feelings of hostility, frustration and inhibition. And if the expression of that hostility is restricted, self-destructive fantasies and difficulties in social relationships appear in the person. All this leads to anguish.
From psychoanalysis to humanism
Karen Horney interacted emotionally with Erich Fromm and his humanist thought had a great impact on her. Their union was intellectually very productive. However, professional jealousy and couple conflicts also appeared. This caused them to break the relationship and, at the same time, to undo the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, of which both were part.
It is considered that Karen Horney was the first to give an absolutely decisive place to affect during childhood. All his theory holds that the feeling of helplessness during the first years completely marks the human mind.