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Horney's Three Neurotic 'Solutions' to Alleviate Anxiety

I do not agree with Karen Horney's personality theory; but her personality typology is a useful heuristic tool for analyzing personality. "In The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney, Marcia Westkott identifies Karen Horney's "three neurotic 'solutions' to basic anxiety" as ideal types.

"Horney's best-known theoretical construct is most often identified with her typology of neurosis. The neurotic types are character strategies that individuals create to cope with the anxiety-hostility conflict. If anxiety predominates, the sense of helplessness and fear prevails. Like the child's admiration for what it fears, the solution for neurotic anxiety is self-effacement, compliance, and excessive admiration. This is the compliant or dependent type. Conversely, when hostility is employed defensively, aggression, power, and domination prevail. These are characteristics of the hostile or domineering type. Because anxiety and hostility are interlocking components of neurotic character structure, each type incorporates the other. Hence, beneath neurotic compliance and admiration smolders a rage for revenge, and beneath neurotic aggression and domination naked terror hides.

"These two neurotic types represent logical solutions to the problem of feeling helpless in a hostile world: relying on others to protect one from hostility, or overpowering the aggression of others through one's own hostility. The third solution is flight from the problem, an attempt to quell anxiety and avoid hostility by withdrawing from social relations. Basic anxiety and hostility remain, but the social contexts that aggravate them are avoided. Like the other two, the detached type strives for safety in a dangerous environment.

"Horney described four neurotic patterns in The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937): (1) seeking affection, (2) submissiveness, (3) gaining power over others, and (4) withdrawal. Eventually, however, she came to understand the first two as aspects of a single type and collapsed them into a category of dependency (1942). She used this threefold typology throughout her subsequent work. In Our Inner Conflicts (1945) she termed the patterns (1) moving toward people (emphasizing helplessness), (2) moving against people (emphasizing hostility), and (3) moving away from people (emphasizing isolation). In her last book, Neurosis and Human Growth (1950a), her terminology emphasized the intrapsychic over the interpersonal: (1) self-effacing, (2) expansive, and (3) resigned" (pp. 77-78).

"Horney saw these three neurotic "solutions" to basic anxiety and hostility as ideal types. As concepts, each one forms a pure configuration of motives, feelings, and behaviors uncontaminated by the others. The dependent and domineering types, for example, are diametric opposites, and the detached type opposes them both. As extremes they represent analytical concepts, not actual people, who display greater variety, complexity, and intermeshing of characteristics than the types suggest. But the analytic purity of the types permits greater theoretical insight and development" (pg. 81).

PTypes - Neurotic Solutions

Karen Horney (1937). The Neurotic Personality Of Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1942). Self-Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1945). Our Inner Conflicts. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Marcia Westkott (1986). The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney. New Haven: Yale UP.

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