Karen Horney [1885-1952] is an eminent psychologist. I found her personality theory quite illuminating. Let me present it here as briefly as possible.
Horney’s primary theoretical concept is basic anxiety. Nature and society impose constant threats before us. Children need loving guidance to cope with these threats. Otherwise basic anxiety would be the outcome.
It is worth noting here that Horney’s concept of basic anxiety is not different from Erik Erikson’s (another famous psychologist, 1902-1994) concept of basic mistrust. Depending on how well our needs are met and how much love and attention we receive during the first year of life, we develop a basic trust or basic mistrust of the world, said Erikson. The mother is the centre of the infant’s ‘universe’. The mother’s presence, her looking, holding, touching, smiling, feeding, etc establish the sense of security in the infant and the basic trust in built into its psyche. Lack of such loving presence and its acts can cause estrangement in the infant’s personality – a sense of separation and abandonment. Basic mistrust of the world is the consequence. I wonder how many infants today are fortunate to have the basic trust inbred in them with so many mothers around who are forced to smother the lactation in their breasts with the hectic schedule in their workplaces.
I wonder what fraction of the mounting evil in our world can be ascribed to Erikson’s basic mistrust. [Want statistics? Number of homicides in India every year = 32,000. Number of attempted homicides = 30,000. That makes it about 170 murders per day, attempted or accomplished! Seven murders per hour. Every ten minutes somebody is trying to kill somebody in our country alone. Add to that other forms of crime and you would really want to know what the hell is happening to our species, homo sapiens, wise creatures.]
I wonder what fraction of the mounting evil in our world is due to Karen Horney’s basic anxiety.
Basic anxiety leads to basic hostility, says Horney. And that’s a vicious cycle. Because this basic hostility will express itself in negative ways and the child will receive punishments. In order to avoid punishments, the child will rather repress the hostility. Horney says the repression may follow any of 3 different strategies:
The child will assume – I have to repress my hostility (1) because I need you, (2) because I am afraid of you, and (3) because I don’t want to lose your love.
But repression is not a solution. The solution is building up the basic trust. Repression will only exacerbate the inner conflict. This inner conflict creates more anxiety which seeks more affection which in turn will not be met since the seeking is exaggerated or made negatively. The unfulfilled need for affection adds on to the negativity in the individual as he/she grows up giving us [the world] an adult who is “locked in a circle of intensifying distress and unproductive behaviour.”
Such an adult will grow up with neurotic needs, says Horney. Horney lists ten such common neurotic needs. They are: [please prefix the word neurotic before each need listed]
- Need for affection and approval – such people try to please others
- Need for a partner who will take over one’s life – such people are parasites; they are afraid of being left alone.
- Need to restrict one’s life within narrow borders – such people are undemanding, content with little; modesty is a great value for them.
- Need for power – such people love to exercise power over others. Covertly, this neuroticism is manifested in the emphasis laid on will power by certain people.
- Need to exploit others.
- Need for prestige – such people lay a premium on public recognition.
- Need for personal admiration – the emphasis is on an inflated image.
- Neurotic ambition for personal achievement
- Need for self-sufficiency and independence – such people are usually loners.
- Need for perfection and unassailability – such people are afraid of making mistakes, of criticism.
Horney says that people generally find one of three neurotic solutions for these problems.
- Moving towards people: Such people are compliant, self-effacing. Their logic is: “If you love me, you won’t hurt me.”
- Moving away from people: Such people withdraw into privacy. Their logic: “If I withdraw, nothing can hurt me.”
- Moving against people: Such people look for power over others. Their logic: “If I have power, no one can hurt me.”
The healthy solution, however, is to integrate these three orientations of helplessness, isolation, and aggression, says Horney.
By Horney’s standards, I am a neurotic. This was confirmed also by a Personality Test which I took last week as part of a psychology course I’m pursuing. “Even if you have a few extremes in your graph you don’t have to worry unless you are facing some problems in your day-to-day life,” said the instructor who conducted the test looking at the extreme swings that my personality graph had taken when it came to socialisation-isolation. My day-to-day life poses no problems at all. Except that I come across a lot of neurotics 🙂 [That’s a smiley, ok?]
Back to Horney: You are not helpless, if you don’t want to be. You need not isolate yourself – it’s fun to be attacked by others (who are neurotics, you see). You don’t need to exercise power over anyone; exercise it over yourself. Simplistic? Not really. The judgement is yours, it has to be.