Karen Horney: As a Psychologist

Karen Horney was a German medical practitioner, who later developed an interest in psychology and became a psychoanalyst. In later phase of her life, she moved to New York City, the United States, where she taught and trained psychanalysts while working both at the New School for Social Research and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. She developed a popular neurotic theory and suggested that people possess a number of neurotic needs that play a role in driving behavior. In 1942, she wrote a book titled "Self-Analysis," in which she outlined her theory of neurosis.

Karen Horney’s Life History

Karen Horney was born in Germany in 1885, and she studied at Germany’s University of Berlin, where she received her medical degree in 1911. Horney studied under Karl Abraham, a close friend and admirer of Sigmund Freud and his theories. While working as a physician, she was attracted by the newly burgeoning science of psychoanalysis. Horney worked as a psychiatrist in Berlin hospitals after studying psychoanalytic theory with Abraham. But later, she relocated to the US to take a position as the Institute for Psychoanalysis' associate director.

In New York City, the United States, Horney established a private psychoanalytic clinic and began educating at the New School for Social Research. She published her two significant works there, “The Neurotic Personality of Our Time” and “New Ways in Psychoanalysis.” Horney held controversial views on psychoanalytic theory because they did not adhere to the traditional Freudian school of thought. Despite her commitment to the psychoanalytic tradition, Horney thought that a person's personality and neuroses were influenced by their social and environmental circumstances than by their innate biological tendencies.

Horney also challenged the notion that female mental disorders are a by-product of the male-dominated environment, departing significantly from Freud's beliefs on female psychology. The early school of psychoanalysis, which concentrated on the human psyche and the underlying emotional problems that influenced it, was predominantly male-dominated.

Karen Horney, who is known as a pioneer in the area of psychoanalysis, challenged numerous dominant masculine notions and revolutionized and enlarged the science of psychoanalysis. The idea that neurotic tendencies were a product of one's surroundings rather than an innate manifestation of Horney's thoughts on neurotic behaviour was contested. Horney developed theories about female psychology that deviance researchers might utilize to comprehend why crimes committed by women are comparatively uncommon.

Contributions to Psychology

Karen Horney became an outspoken critic of several aspects of Freudian psychology. Despite adhering to Freud's teachings, Horney was vehemently opposed to his views on female psychology, particularly the notions of penis envy and the other ways in which masculine prejudice might manifest itself, which Freud's psychoanalytic theory established. In opposition to Freud's proposal of penis envy, Horney introduced the concept of womb envy, which is related to the masculine envy of pregnancy and motherhood that motivated men to display their superiority in other professions. She further suggested that societal factors dominated by men rather than instinctive desires were the source of female psychiatric disorders. She is therefore regarded as a pioneer in the area of feminine psychiatry. Feminine psychiatry is a subfield of psychology that focuses on the psychiatric care of women. It also examines how gender power differentials affect mental health and how psychological theories are created and comprehended within the field of psychology.

Horney's work had an impact on a variety of subfields of psychology. Maslow, for example, credited with helping to build humanistic psychology and influencing the development of the Hierarchy of Needs. Horney's phrase "basic anxiety" informed Erik Erikson's concept of "basic mistrust," which became his first stage of psychological development. Horney's neurosis theories also affected the interpersonal school of psychology and neurotic illness psychiatric diagnosis.

Horney, in turn, impacted cultural psychology, interpersonal psychotherapy, and humanistic psychology in addition to psychoanalytic theory. Horney's work on feminine psychology, which questioned the conventional Freudian psychology's conception of women, was one of her major contributions. For instance, Horney (1932) remarked in The Flight from Womanhood that psychoanalysis's phallocentric bias resulted from the fact that its founders, including Sigmund Freud, were overwhelmingly male.

Horney and Sigmund Freud

Contrary to conventional Freudian views, Horney argued that girls were aware of their genitalia before puberty. She also asserted that while girls may exhibit "penis envy" at a young age, the same craving can also be experienced by guys who desire breasts or the ability to become a parent. According to Horney, penis envy results from the girls' father's disappointment, which causes a "flight from womanhood" or desire not to be a woman. Horney believed that this was not unavoidable because a girl may get over penis envy by empathizing with her mother. Horney studied history and culture to determine the origins of the "distrust between the sexes." She compared the connection between a husband and wife to a parent and a kid, saying that it fosters distrust and hostility. She also pointed out that society as a whole has a dual dread and resentment of women, pushing them into a situation where they depend on men.

Horney concluded that men's womb jealousy, rather than penis envy, was the cause of the animosity between genders. This demonstrates Horney's most obvious departure from psychoanalysis: whereas Freud thought women were incomplete because they lacked a penis, Horney disagreed. Horney believed that women were whole individuals who deserved to be viewed and discussed in their own right. Horney's divergent perspectives on women sparked debate within the psychoanalytic community. As a result of her departure from Freud, Horney ran afoul with influential psychologists of the day. Freud himself once referred to her as "Able and wicked," who claimed that female psychoanalysts, in general, were more prone to minimize penis envy in their patients because they, too, could not recognize it.


Karen Horney, a medical practitioner turned psychoanalyst, was a popular person in the field of personality psychology. She contended that a person's personality and neuroses were impacted more by social and environmental factors than fundamental biological characteristics. Horney is often regarded as a forerunner in the field of feminine psychiatry. One of Horney's significant contributions was her work on feminine psychology, which challenged Freudian psychology's understanding of women. Maslow credited her with influencing the formulation of the Hierarchy of Needs and assisting in the development of humanistic psychology.


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Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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