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Theory of Neurosis

Horney looked at neurosis in a different light from other psychoanalysts of the time. Her expansive interest in the subject led her to compile a detailed theory of neurosis, with data from her patients. Horney believed neurosis to be a continuous process—with neuroses commonly occurring sporadically in one's lifetime. This was in contrast to the opinions of her contemporaries who believed neurosis was, like more severe mental conditions, a negative malfunction of the mind in response to external stimuli, such as bereavement, divorce or negative experiences during childhood and adolescence.

Horney believed these assumptions to be less important, except for influences during childhood. Rather, she placed significant emphasis on parental indifference towards the child, believing that a child's perception of events, as opposed to the parent's intentions, is the key to understanding a person's neurosis. For instance, a child might feel a lack of warmth and affection should a parent make fun of the child's feelings - thereby underestimating the significance of the child's state. The parent may also casually neglect to fulfill promises, which in turn could have a detrimental effect on the child's mental state.

From her experiences as a psychiatrist, Horney named ten patterns of neurotic needs. These ten needs are based upon things which she thought all humans require to succeed in life. Horney distorted these needs somewhat to correspond with what she believed were individuals' neuroses. A neurotic person could theoretically exhibit all of these needs, though in practice much fewer than the ten here need be present to constitute a person having a neurosis. The ten needs, as set out by Horney, (classified according to her so-called coping strategies) are as follows:

Moving Toward People

• The need for affection and approval; pleasing others and being liked by them.

• The need for a partner; one whom they can love and who will solve all problems.

Moving Against People

• The need for power; the ability to bend wills and achieve control over others—while most persons seek strength, the neurotic may be desperate for it.

• The need to exploit others; to get the better of them. To become manipulative, fostering the belief that people are there simply to be used.

• The need for social recognition; prestige and limelight.

• The need for personal admiration; for both inner and outer qualities—to be valued.

• The need for personal achievement; though virtually all persons wish to make achievements, the neurotic may be desperate for achievement.

Moving Away from People

• The need for self sufficiency and independence; while most desire some autonomy, the neurotic may simply wish to discard other individuals entirely.

• The need for perfection; while many are driven to perfect their lives in the form of well being, the neurotic may display a fear of being slightly flawed.

• Lastly, the need to restrict life practices to within narrow borders; to live as inconspicuous a life as possible.

Upon investigating the ten needs further, Horney found she was able to condense them into three broad categories:

1. Compliance

Needs one and two were assimilated into the "compliance" category. This category is seen as a process of "moving towards people", or self-effacement. Under Horney's theory children facing difficulties with parents often use this strategy. Fear of helplessness and abandonment occurs— phenomena Horney refers to as "basic anxiety". Those within the compliance category tend to exhibit a need for affection and approval on the part of their peers. They may also seek out a partner, somebody to confide in, fostering the belief that, in turn, all of life's problems would be solved by the new cohort. A lack of demanding and a desire for inconspicuousness both occur in these individuals.

2. Aggression

Secondly, neurotic persons may employ "aggression", also called the "moving against people", or the "expansive" solution. Needs three, four, five, six and seven comprise this category: Neurotic children or adults within this category often exhibit anger or basic hostility to those around them. That is, there is a need for power, a need for control and exploitation and a maintenance of a facade of omnipotence. Manipulative qualities aside, under Horney's assertions the aggressive individual may also wish for social recognition, not necessarily in terms of limelight, but in terms of simply being known (perhaps feared) by subordinates and peers alike. In addition, the individual has needs for a degree of personal admiration by those within this person's social circle and, lastly, for raw personal achievement. These characteristics comprise the "aggressive" neurotic type. Aggressive types also tend to keep people away from them. On the other hand, they only care about their wants and needs. They would do whatever they can to be happy and wouldn't desist from hurting anyone.

3. Detachment

Thirdly and lastly, is "detachment". This category encompasses the final three needs and overlaps with the "compliance" trait. This neurotic trend is often labeled as the "moving-away-from" or "resigning" solution or a detached personality. As neither aggression nor compliance solve parental indifference, Horney recognized that children might simply try to become self sufficient. The withdrawing neurotic may disregard others in a non-aggressive manner, regarding solitude and independence as the way forth. The stringent needs for perfection comprise another part of this category; those withdrawing may strive for perfection above all else, to the point where being flawed is utterly unacceptable. Everything the "detached" type does must be unassailable and refined. They suppress or deny all feelings towards others, particularly love and hate.

Mature Theory

Near the end of her career, Karen Horney summarized her ideas in Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization, her major work published in 1950. It is in this book that she summarizes her ideas regarding neurosis, clarifying her three neurotic "solutions" to the stresses of life. The expansive solution became a tripartite combination of narcissistic, perfectionistic and arrogant-vindictive approaches to life. (Horney had previously focused on the psychiatric concept of narcissism in a book published in 1939, New Ways in Psychoanalysis). Her other two neurotic "solutions" were also a refinement of her previous views: self-effacement, or submission to others and resignation, or detachment from others. She described case studies of symbiotic relationships between arrogant-vindictive and self-effacing individuals, labeling such a relationship bordering on sadomasochism as a morbid dependency. She believed that individuals in the neurotic categories of narcissism and resignation were much less susceptible to such relationships of co-dependency with an arrogant-vindictive neurotic.

As implied, while non-neurotic individuals may strive for these needs, neurotics exhibit a much deeper, more willful and concentrated desire to fulfill the said needs. Horney, together with fellow psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, formed the Neo-Freudian discipline.

 
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