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Karen Horney and Self-Analysis

So far we have discussed the therapy techniques of three personality theorists whose theories were discussed in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories): Freud, Jung, and Adler. The next theorist described in that chapter, Karen Horney, also had a distinct approach to therapy.

Horney (pronounced hor-NAY) was the only one in the group who advocated self-analysis. Horney believed that, in some respects, we can understand our inner worlds better than anyone else. That puts us in the position of making needed changes if we take the job seriously.

Freud had a very different position, regarding self-analysis as probably futile (because of defenses built into the psyche) and possibly dangerous (because of the forces that might be uncovered). Freud was prone to exaggerate and mystify the powers of psychoanalysis. He presented his therapy as powerful and dangerous, not to be attempted by amateurs.

Horney disagreed. She thought there were some built-in protections that made self-analysis safe. If a patient had something in the past so terribly painful, so traumatic, that it could traumatize the patient if introduced to consciousness, the patient was unlikely to come upon it in self-analysis anyway.

As a practical matter, self-analysis tended to produce valuable insights, in Horney's view. It had many of the same benefits as expensive psychoanalysis. One could explore difficult or conflicted feelings, work at dealing with traumatic memories, and educate oneself about dimly perceived motivations or impulses.

How did Horney differ from Freud's view about the possibilities for self-analysis?

Horney saw three goals in self-analysis.

1. To be completely frank and honest with oneself.

2. To become aware of unconscious driving forces and motivations.

3. To develop a capacity for changing, especially in relationships with others.

Horney advocated such techniques as free association and dream analysis. Free association, when self-adminis­tered, simply meant giving free range to thoughts. Odd associations could be analyzed for meaning, especially if they evoked emotion.

Horney said to pay attention to feelings we might prefer to ignore (in dreams, for example). However, people should avoid blame when doing a self-analysis, Horney believed. The effort should be to understand, not to blame.

Another technique was looking for contradictions and exaggerations in reactions to everyday events. A dramatic overreaction to a life event could provide valuable clues about motivations and conflicts.

Insight was the goal of self-analysis, for Karen Horney. Horney had two best-sellers in the 1940s. In 1942, she wrote Self-Analysis. A few years later she published Our Inner Conflicts (1945).

You might not be able to change your inner conflicts, Horney wrote, but you were usually better off if you understood them. Then you could encourage, in yourself, the capacity to change for the better in your interactions with others.


Horney, K. (1945) Our Inner Conflicts. New York: Norton.

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