Who do I think I am?

The holy grail of a "real self" motivates Jeckyll & Hyde.

Where did I get this used paperback (W. W. Norton, 1966, $4.95) of Karen Horney’s Our Inner Conflicts (1945) and why has it taken me this long to read the print on the pages inside?

Of course it sent me to Wikipedia and I experienced the earned regret that I didn’t donate to them, willfully resisted, in fact, each plea, with those photos of cute people who edited and posted, during their seemingly neverending fundraising campaign, even as I admired its design and, grudgingly, tenacity.

Here I learned things I didn’t know about Karen Horney, like she revised Freud, even as she sustained his fundamental enterprise. What I never understand, when I stumble on something like this is, Why didn’t someone turn me on to Karen Horney before?

As a Taoist, or a follower of Lao-Tze, however you spell it, I accept that things come to me when I’m ready for them. And I know how resistant I can be to things that arrive out-of-synch with my internal tides. But still…

Diagram courtesy of Dr. C. George Boeree, Professor Emeritus, Psychology Department, Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania.


8 thoughts on “Who do I think I am?

  1. Recently I’ve been looking again at parts of Bernard J. Paris’s book from 1997, _Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature_ — you can access the Preface and first two chapters online:


    Karen Horney’s mature theory is most fully developed in her book from 1950, _Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization_, which relies on the concept of the “real self.” When faced with neurosis-inducing conditions (which abound in contemporary “civilized” societies), an individual may experience self-alienation and a rejection of the “actual self” because it is limited and imperfect. But it is the search for glory, the quest to become the infinite and absolute and measure oneself by the standards of the unrealistic “idealized image,” that produces further alienation from the real self and an equally unrealistic “despised image,” which contains all the qualities in which one cannot take pride (according to the tyrannical dictates of the idealized image). I think the scene beginning around 1:02:40 in the animated film _Howl’s Moving Castle_ (2004) by Hayao Miyazaki shows four “selves” vividly: the “real self” (Sophie), the “actual self” (Howl), the “idealized image” (Madam Suliman), and the “despised image” (the Witch of the Waste / Grandma):


    Incidentally, there is some *great* material in _Feminine Psychology_, but the parts that I like in this posthumous work tend to come in the last few paragraphs of each paper/lecture.

  2. I hear what you’re saying about the joy of reading. I just can’t shake the feeling that Harold Kelman did his former mentor/lover a major disservice by putting together Feminine Psychology. Here was a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst who, after having initially thought it her task as a woman psychiatrist to focus on specifically feminine psychology, dispensed with this view in favor of developing a theory that would be of value and relevance to men and women alike; after having faced strong resistance from the Freudian establishment who regarded her as ideas as heretical; after, indeed, being cast out from their circles following the publication of New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939) for daring to critique Freud’s assumptions of a basic irrational and destructive instinct lurking in all human beings (among other challenges she faced); along came her protégé fifteen years after her death to print a book that she may well have very deliberately avoided publishing. After all, if she composed five books based on her own lectures between 1937 and 1950, but nowhere in them focused exclusively on feminine psychology (and in so doing, perhaps achieved a much greater advancement toward the realization that “women’s issues” are of direct relevance to men), why did she not revisit her earlier writings on feminine psychology in her lifetime? One can never be sure what decisions a person might have made after she died, but in my view she would have strongly objected to and sought to prevent the publication of the 1967 book.

    • fascinating. funny how you know the topic so much more intimately than the blogger!

      um, yeah, when we start to write, or speak, our words are no longer entirely ours, if they ever were to begin with, and funny things happen to them.

      like Margaret Thatcher, like any other woman who advances, Hilary Clinton, in this man’s world, KH had to suppress/repress/deny her culturally-female-specificity to be taken “seriously” ie, considered “human”. it’s an old, sad story. to be considered “relevant”. most of these women do untold damage-carnage and are of little use to their sex in real, practical terms. they’re so busy being ersatz-men.

      there’s no corollary “men’s issues”. all serious issues are ipso facto “male”. one might say, men are the issue.

      • On your last point — exactly! I was thinking much the same just now on the point of there not being a subject (at least not one that is taken seriously) called “men’s issues” or “masculine psychology.” Of course that might be a more or less accurately descriptive term for *everything else* that gets taken for granted as ma[i]nstream curricula.

        I should probably not berate Harold Kelman too much. It is to HK’s credit that we have one of the first books that shows up when we search in a library catalogue for “feminine psychology” and it leads us to KH. I’m delighted that you have discovered KH, who I think has received much less attention than she merits. But this neglect isn’t solely attributable to HK. It may have seemed a logical, appropriate, and farily courageous step in 1967 to put together a book that dared to call itself Feminine Psychology, when it may not have won easy acceptance as representing the gamut of perspectives in the field at the time.

        As the German sociologist Georg Simmel has noted (cited in Feminine Psychology, pp. 54–70, in a chapter entitled “The Flight from Womanhood: The Masculinity-Complex in Women as Viewed by Men and by Women,” translated from the original German from 1926), “our whole civilization is a masculine civilization.” As much as it may have been difficult for HK to entitle the work anything other than Feminine Psychology, and although this would have been subject to the publisher’s preference, I wish it had ben called something clearer, such as “Karen Horney: 1922–1937” or “Early Theory of Karen Horney” or something along those lines. To me, titling the book “Feminine Psychology” is almost like compiling Darwin’s early writings as calling it “Intelligent Design.”

        As you may have gathered by now, I’ve been reading KH (and I would be remiss not to mention Bernard J. Paris) and spouting to friends about her, with a sometimes irritatingly evangelical zeal, for quite a while — the past several years. Hence my familiarity with her work. But the intensity of my interest is propelled by my own “search for glory” and a desire to become more like my idealized image. In any case, I am overjoyed when others take interest in her (sometimes at my suggestion).

        I keep trying to remember (but to no avail) where I saw the passage, which I think was written by KH, in which she observes that when people seem to turn their attention to “explaining” the difference between women’s and men’s natures or roles, this should be a warning that people may be less interested in questioning the assumption that there *is* such a difference and that we *know* what the difference is, than they are interested in finding justification for their assumption. They may be drawn to lines of reasoning that let them believe that they have already figured out why the currently existing historical circumstances — while unfortunate and deplorable — are *unavoidable* and that ultimately nothing better can be realistically hoped for and in the end it doesn’t matter one way or another (postmodernistically) because the undesirable occurrences have sprung naturally from the unchangeable “instincts” or from the inescapably acquired predilections of men, of women, of people having one or another sexual orientation, of particular political affiliations, religions, ethnicities, cultures, languages, classes, professions, and so on and so forth.

        I am often reminded of the sentences quoted below whenever I think of the commendable efforts made in myriad fields and disciplines to question assumptions, only to come up short (in my jaundiced and judgmental view) by persuasively demonstrating that other possibilities exist and are equally valid, but not really proving convincingly that the older, received knowledge was *less* valid because the difference that was assumed to exist naturally was in fact a byproduct, a symptom, of more fundamental unequal power relationships and a latent desire (a) in an overt way (moving against), to perpetuate the received views that legitimate the imbalances, or (b) in a covert way (moving toward), to accept the received views as objectionable but internally consistent, while embracing and championing the values and possibilities still afforded to a given oppressed group, or (c) in a detached, seemingly impartial way (moving away), to disavow the possibility or necessity of judgment and taking any sort of right action, perhaps under the assumption that human beings are innately irrational and destructive. Here are the sentences I have in mind:

        « Freud’s disregard of cultural factors not only leads to false generalizations, but to a large extent blocks an understanding of the real forces which motivate our attitudes and actions. I believe that this disregard is the main reason why psychoanalysis, inasmuch as it faithfully follows the theoretical paths beaten by Freud, seems in spite of its seemingly boundless potentialities to have come into a blind alley, manifesting itself in a *rank growth of abstruse theories and the use of a shadowy terminology*. » (The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, 1937, pp. 20–21)

  3. My own view is that Feminine Psychology represents a bit of a step backward with regard to the development of Dr. Horney’s theory. I should mention two other posthumously published works: The Therapeutic Process: Essays and Lectures (1999) and The Unknown Karen Horney: Essays on Gender, Culture, and Psychoanalysis. In a lecture entitled “Woman’s Fear of Action” (1935, included in The Unknown Karen Horney, Chapter 7), she says:

    “I have sometimes been told that, although the picture I have drawn may be accurate for European women, conditions are quite different in this country [in the U.S.]. To the extent that the American woman has succeeded in imporant achievements outside of home, that is a valid distinction. She is a great factor in social and cultural life, and artistic pursuits are regarded as a domain wide open to women here. But although opportunities for women are certainly wider than in Europe, we must not be blinded by the surface. For the principle is the same here as there. That general self-confidence which is the psychic capital for achievement is not won, because a few women have have succeeded in competition with men. There are too many neglected tasks that require initiative, creative imagination, courage, planning experience, capacity to stand on one’s own feet which can be accomplished only by women endowed with this self-confidence.

    Since it is impossible to fight successfully without feeling justified, where are we to find justification for the struggle of women for self-confidence? In this thought: As long as women are thwarted in their personalities, men and children are afflicted too. If we fight for the chance to develop our human values, we shall certainly be happier ourselves, and men and children will benefit as well. Ultimately the fight is a joint enterprise, for the well-being of everyone depends on success in the battle against men’s prejudices and fears.

    Once it was believed that something innate in women made it impossible for them to cooperate with one another. It is true that women’s long restriction to the emotional sphere has made action in solidarity more difficult and has created a stronger rivalry among women than among men. Their competition for men has generated a great deal of anxiety and insecurity, and the resulting hostility has made it difficult for women to work together. This has given rise, even among the greatest psychologists, to the belief that women are biologically disposed to be more jealous than men.

    Until recently men, and men only, were forced by their own interests to form cooperative groups for economic or political action. This education in solidarity has taught them to develop the discipline that is necessary for united action.

    Solidarity is necessary for any great action, and it is particularly important for women because of all the inner security they feel. The more insecure the individual, the greater is her need for support from a cooperative group.

    It is not sufficient to say, as women do these days, that we must overcome the delusion of inferiority. It is more than a delusion, for the handicaps we have faced have created real deficiencies. But we need to understand that there are no unalterable qualities of inferiority of our sex due to laws of God or of nature. Our limitations are, for the most part, culturally and socially conditioned. Men who have lived under the same conditions for a long time have developed similar shortcomings.

    Once and for all, we should stop bothering about what is feminine and what is not. Such concerns only undermine our energies. Standards of masculinity and femininity are artificial standards. All that we definitely know at present about sex differences is that we do not know what they are. Differences between the two sexes certainly exist, but we shall never be able to discover what they are until we have first developed our potentialities as human beings. Paradoxical as it may sound, we shall find out about these differences only if we forget about them.

    In the meantime what we can do is to work together to promote the full development of the human personalities of all for the sake of general welfare.”

    (pp. 122–123)

    I must admit I was initially a bit reluctant to read Feminine Psychology, and this was partly because I wondered if I would be able to understand and relate properly to a book with such a title, but also because the time frame of the lectures from which the work was compiled (1922–1937) seemed to be the least recent. I preferred to read her other books first (I started with Self Analysis). I was also not sure whether posthumous compilations would leave a different impression from what Dr. Horney may have intended. Ironically this reservation made me reluctant to read and delayed me from benefiting from Bernard J. Paris’ semi-biographical work, Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst’s Search for Self-Understanding (1994). In an appendix to this book, Bernard Paris talks about interdisciplinary applications of Horneyan theory:


    which have been extremely insightful for me — although I have not made much real headway in applying it to my studies, partly because of a certain laziness, self-doubt, and wildly unrealistic, unattainable illusions of grandeur about being able to masterfully explain anything and everything about world history, literature, culture, music, etc. If you have the time and interest, I highly recommend taking a look at any of his numerous works analyzing plots and characters using a Horneyan approach that he has developed and applied over the past fifty years:


    I noticed, by the way, that you refer to Stendhal — he is one of the authors whose work Dr. Paris analyzes in his 1974 book, A Psychological Approach to Fiction: Studies in Thackeray, Stendhal, George Eliot, Dostovesky, and Conrad. On the page linked just above, you can find a link to the online digital PDF of this out-of-print book, but here it is just in case it is helpful. I am not widely read and have no prior background in literary or literary critical theory, so it is very helpful for me to be able to read *about* the books in question in a sort of pre-digested way:


  4. I love all of her books — 1937, 1939, 1942, 1945, 1946 (ed.), and 1950; and the work by others whom she has inspired (Bernard J. Paris, Robert C. Tucker).

    千里之行 始於足下 — A journey of a thousand miles begins right beneath your feet. (Tao Te Ching 64)
    Or to be excruciatingly accurate, a journey of *** 258.4 miles/415.8 km *** begins right beneath your feet.

    • sometimes one has to step backward to catch up with one’s own theorizing.

      i don’t think i’ve read Stendhal. i’ve barely read Thackeray & Dostoevsky. i’ve tried reading George Eliot, not my thing. some writers resonate, and at particular times in one’s life. some grow with us. as fun as “predigested” writing is, it robs us of one’s unique relationship to text, aka the joy of reading. there is no objective text, only our relationship to it.

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