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Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis Ireland


Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Karen Horney (1885 - 1952)

Karen was born in 1885 in Germany to a religious, authoritarian ship's captain and his
much younger second wife. Although her father doted on her, bringing her presents
from all over the world, she describes him as harsh, claiming that he preferred her
older brother to her. For those reasons, she became very close to her mother. At nine
she developed a crush on her brother and his subsequent rejection of her marked the
beginning of a life-long battle with depression. She emerged from this saying that if
she could not be pretty, at least she would be smart, and eventually attended
university in Berlin to study medicine, against the wishes of her parents. This was
seen as unusually ambitious for a girl. During her studies she met and later married
law student Oskar Horney and the couple had three daughters. Just like her father,
Oskar was harsh and authoritarian. When his business collapsed and he became ill,
and after her beloved brother died of a lung infection, she again became very
depressed. Eventually she and her daughters left Oskar and then moved to the US
where she spent the rest of her life, rising to prominence in psychoanalytic circles.
While still Berlin, she studied psychoanalysis under Karl Abraham and
became a prominent member of the Berlin Association. She joined in the Freud-Jones
debate with her own particular take on female sexuality. Ernest Jones had crystallised
this debate around the question of whether men and women were born or made. This
has repercussions that go far beyond the topic of sexuality, since it expresses a
fundamental view about how humans are formed. Freud posited an innate sexuality,
but not an innate masculinity or femininity and was at pains to separate the biological
and the psychical. Horney viewed penis envy as justified and caused by real
disadvantages: the organ's more satisfactory unrinatory performance, its greater
visibility, and its greater suitability for masturbation, as well as the inferior position
afforded in society to women, thereby seeking to take cultural conditions into account.
She saw sexual attraction as a biological given. For the little girl, the primal and
fundamental feminine fantasy is of being raped by the father and being given a child.
This is doomed to disappointment and is followed by an identification with the father.
The subsequent entry into the Oedipus complex, where this masculine identification
has to be relinquished, is therefore seen as a secondary formation. Penis envy and the
wish to be a man that analysis finds to be so widespread is a defence against this
deepest wish. She stressed the knowledge that girls have from the beginning of the
womb, and suggests womb envy in the male is the counterpart of penis envy in the
Later on she developed theories about personality development, explaining
neurosis by the universal experience of basic anxiety. The response to this may be a
feeling of needy helplessness, where there is a continual move towards others,
hostility, where there is an aggressive move against, and isolation, where there is a
move away from others. She also developed the notion of the neurotic's split into the
despised self and the ideal self, between which the neurotic swings back and forth.

Selected Works:
The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937)
Further Reading:
A Mind of Her Own: A Life of Karen Horney (1987) by S. Quinn
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