Neurosis and Human Growth

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According to Karen Horney in Neurosis and Human Growth, people defend themselves against feeling unsafe, unloved, and unvalued by developing interpersonal and intrapsychic strategies of defense. The interpersonal strategies involve adopting a self-effacing, expansive, or resigned solution. Each of these solutions entails a constellation of personality traits, behaviors, and beliefs, and a bargain with fate in which obedience to the dictates of that solution is supposed to be rewarded. Because people tend to employ more than one solution, they are beset by inner conflicts.

In the self-effacing solution, people try to gain safety, love, and esteem through dependency, humility, and self-sacrificing "goodness." Their bargain is that if they are helpful, submissive people who do not seek their own gain or glory, they will be treated well by fate and by other people.

There are three expansive solutions: the narcissistic, the perfectionistic, and the arrogant-vindictive. Narcissists are full of self-admiration, have an unquestioned belief in their own greatness, and often display unusual charm and buoyancy. Their bargain is that if they can hold onto their exaggerated claims for themselves, life is required to give them what they want. Perfectionists take great pride in their rectitude. They have a legalistic bargain in which correctness of conduct ensures fair treatment by fate and fellow humans. Arrogant-vindictive people have a need to retaliate for childhood injuries and to achieve mastery by manipulating others. They do not count on life to give them anything but are convinced that they can reach their ambitious goals if they remain true to their vision of the world as a jungle and do not allow themselves to be influenced by their softer feelings or the traditional morality.

Resigned people worship freedom, peace, and self-sufficiency. Their bargain is that if they ask nothing of others, they will not be bothered; that if they try for nothing, they will not fail; and that if they expect little of life, they will not be disappointed.

The intrapsychic strategies are linked to the interpersonal. To compensate for feelings of weakness, inadequacy, and low self-esteem, people develop an idealized image of themselves that they seek to actualize by embarking on a search for glory. The idealized image generates neurotic pride, neurotic claims, and tyrannical shoulds. People take pride in the imaginary attributes of their idealized selves, demand that the world treat them in accordance with their grandiose conception of themselves, and drive themselves to live up to the dictates of their solution. This tends to intensify self-hate, since any failure to live up to one's shoulds or of the world to honor one's claims leads to feelings of worthlessness. The content of the idealized image is most strongly determined by the predominant interpersonal strategy, but because the subordinate strategies are also at work, the idealized image is full of inner divisions. As a result, people are often caught in a crossfire of conflicting shoulds.

The object of therapy for Horney is to help people relinquish these self-defeating defenses and actualize their real selves. This book is a major contribution to psychoanalytic theory and has influenced the study of literature, biography, gender, and culture.

Bernard Paris

See also: Horney-Danielson, Karen.

Source Citation

Horney, Karen. (1950). Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization. New York: W. W. Norton.


Horney, Karen. (1937). The neurotic personality of our time. New York: W. W. Norton.

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. (Ed.). (1946). Are you considering psychoanalysis? New York: W. W. Norton.

Paris, Bernard. (1994). Karen Horney: A psychoanalyst's search for self-understanding. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.