Karen Horney is one of those figures who deserves her own space in history, and not just in the scientific field. She was a woman who was ahead of her time and who dared to question the foundations of the psychology of her time.
Her revolutionary theories led her to clash with the most conservative factions of science of the time. Added to this was the difficulty of being a woman in a way dominated by men’s theories.
The life of Karen Horney
Karen Horney was an early 20th century German psychoanalyst. Founder of feminist psychology and co-founder of neo-Freudian psychology, she was one of the most critical voices in Sigmund Freud’s theories.
Depression, which she suffered from several times in her youth, prompted her to study medicine and become a psychoanalyst. He developed revolutionary theories about personality and neurosis that caused his expulsion from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
Its influence in the advancement of psychology is undeniable. To her we owe not only the contributions to the treatment of neurosis, but also the adoption of a new psychological approach towards women. We must not forget that at the beginning of the twentieth century psychology was dominated by men and many referred to Freud’s theories.
Karen Horney argued that it was men who felt inadequate and jealous of women’s abilities to create and develop life. That is why they tried to dominate in all other areas of life. In contrast to Freud’s theories, Horney called this phenomenon “the envy of the womb.”
The early years
Karen Danielsen was born on September 16, 1885 in Blankenese, Germany. Her childhood was marked by a strict father who imposed a very strict upbringing on her. From a very young age she found support in her older brother, to whom she felt very attached.
When her brother walked away, Karen fell into a deep depression which repeated several times throughout her youth. He then decided to devote himself body and soul to studies. Years later she said that at that moment she chose that if she couldn’t be pretty, she would be smart.
In 1906 he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Freiburg, one of the few universities that accepted women. He later attended the University of Göttingen and finally in 1909 the University of Berlin.
Here he chose to study psychoanalysis – a new psychological current for the time – and graduated in 1915. In 1910, he married a fellow student, Oskar Horney, and his three daughters were born from this marriage.
Karen Horney’s professional life
In the early years of her career, Karen Horney worked as a lecturer and analyst at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Berlin. His professional successes, however, were not accompanied by as much happiness in private. His marriage didn’t work out and his older brother died of a lung infection. Thus he fell into depression again.
In 1932 she moved to the United States, where she served as associate director of the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis. Two years later she moved to Brooklyn and became a professor at the New School for Social Research and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
In those years, he began to develop his theories on neurosis and personality and came into contact with other scholars of the time such as Erich Fromm and Harry Stack.
The theories developed by Horney were critical and at odds with Freudian ideas. This cost her expulsion from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. It was then that he along with other dissidents founded the American Journal of Psychoanalysis and the American Institute for Psychoanalysis, where he worked until his death in 1952.
Jare Horney’s Contributions to Psychology
Kare Horney argued that the differences between men and women were due to education and the patterns of socialization imposed, and not by biology as has long been argued. She laid the foundations of feminist psychology and argued that it was gender differences that affected women’s mental health.
He dared to contradict the Freudian view of penis envy. Breaking with tradition, he carried on the idea that women envied men power and privileges, not penis.
He also criticized Freud’s Oedipus complex, which he viewed as a product of insecurity in the parent-child relationship. He supported the fundamental role of environmental influences in psychological development and considered narcissism not a psychological disorder but the result of low self-esteem and excessive indulgence in childhood.
An important legacy
Karen Horney went against theories that supported the masochistic nature of women and their addiction to love, money and the protection of men. He believed that these ideas caused women to place too much emphasis on qualities such as charm and beauty and to seek the meaning of their life only in marriage and children.
She was a revolutionary in various respects: from her contribution to psychology, with her theories on neurosis and personality, to her presence at the university at a time when women were relegated to the domestic sphere alone. Her statements and criticisms, especially those towards Sigmund Freud, provoked a rejection of her from a world that, perhaps, was close to her.
In 1967, the 14 articles that made up his work Female Psychology were published posthumously . Her work and writings have influenced humanistic and Gestalt psychology, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, Ellis’ rational emotional behavioral therapy, existentialism and feminism.
Without a doubt Karen Horney left a unique legacy. His life, certainly not easy, was characterized by a constant struggle. An internal struggle, due to her depression, and an external struggle against a male chauvinist world where it was difficult to be heard because she was a woman.