While Horney acknowledged and agreed with Freud on many issues, she was also critical of him on several key beliefs. Freud's notion of "penis envy" in particular was subject to criticism by Horney. She thought Freud had merely stumbled upon women's jealousy of men's generic power in the world. Horney accepted that penis envy might occur occasionally in neurotic women, but stated that "womb envy" occurs just as much in men: Horney felt that men were envious of a woman's ability to bear children. The degree to which men are driven to success may be merely a substitute for the fact that they cannot carry, nurture and bear children.
Horney was bewildered by psychiatrists' tendency to place so much emphasis on the male sexual organ. Horney also reworked the Freudian Oedipal complex of the sexual elements, claiming that the clinging to one parent and jealousy of the other was simply the result of anxiety, caused by a disturbance in the parent-child relationship.
Despite these variances with the prevalent Freudian view, Horney strove to reformulate Freudian thought, presenting a holistic, humanistic view on individual psyche which placed much emphasis on cultural and social differences worldwide. She shared Abraham Maslow's view that self-actualization is the ultimate pinnacle of human achievement.
Theory of Self
Through her views on the individual psyche, Horney postulated that the self is in fact the core of one's own being and potential. Horney believed that if one has an accurate conception of oneself, then one is free to realize one's potential and achieve what one wishes, within reasonable boundaries. Thus, she believed that self-actualization is the healthy person's aim through life—as opposed to the neurotic's clinging to a set of key needs.
Horney believed that we have two views of ourselves. The "real self" and the "ideal self". The real self is who and what we actually are. Examples would be parent, child, sister, etc., The real self contains potential for growth, happiness, will power, realization of gifts, etc. The real self has deficiencies that the neurotic does not like. The ideal self is the type of person he feels that he should be and is used as a model to assist him in developing his potential and achieving self-actualization (Engler 125).
Self-actualization is something that individuals strive for. It is important to know the differences between your ideal and real self. Since the neurotic person's self is split between an idealized self and a corresponding despised self, individuals may feel that they somehow lack living up to the ideals. They feel that there is a flaw somewhere in comparison to what they "should" be. The goals set out by the neurotic are not realistic, or indeed possible. The despised self, on the other hand, has the feeling that it is despised by those around them and assumes that this incarnation is its "true" self. Thus, the neurotic is like a clock's pendulum, oscillating between a fallacious "perfection" and a manifestation of self-hate. Horney referred to this phenomenon as the "tyranny of the shoulds" and the neurotic's hopeless "search for glory". She concluded that these ingrained traits of the psyche forever prevent an individual's potential from being actualized unless the cycle of neurosis is somehow broken, through treatment or otherwise.
Horney was also a pioneer in the discipline of feminine psychiatry. As one of the first female psychiatrists, she was the first of her gender to present a paper regarding feminine psychiatry. The fourteen papers she wrote between 1922 and 1937 were amalgamated into a single volume titled Feminine Psychology. As a woman, she felt that the mapping out of trends in female behaviour was a neglected issue. In her essay entitled "The Problem of Feminine Masochism" Horney felt she proved that cultures and societies worldwide encouraged women to be dependent on men for their love, prestige, wealth, care and protection. She pointed out that in the society, a will to please, satiate and overvalue men had emerged. Women were regarded as objects of charm and beauty—at variance with every human being's ultimate purpose of self-actualization.
Women, according to Horney, traditionally gain value only through their children and the wider family. She touched further on this subject in her essay "The Distrust Between the Sexes" in which she compared the husband-wife relationship to a parent-child relationship—one of misunderstanding and one which breeds detrimental neuroses. Most notably her work "The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal" was fixed upon marriage, as were six other of Horney's papers. Her essay "Maternal Conflicts" attempted to shed new light on the problems women experience when raising adolescents.
Horney believed that both men and women have a motive to be ingenious and productive. Women are able to satisfy this need normally and interiorly—to do this they become pregnant and give birth. Men please this need only through external ways; Horney proposed that the striking accomplishments of men in work or some other field can be viewed as compensation for their inability to give birth to children.
Horney developed her ideas to the extent that she released one of the first "self-help" books in 1946, entitled Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?. The book asserted that those, both male and female, with relatively minor neurotic problems could, in effect, be their own psychiatrists. She continually stressed that self-awareness was a part of becoming a better, stronger, richer human being.