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Karen HorneyBiography

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Karen HorneyBiography

Karen Horney

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Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.
--Karen Horney

Karen Horney Is Best Known For:

Timeline of Her Life:

  • Karen Horney was born in Germany on September 16, 1885.
  • 1906 - Entered medical school.
  • 1909 - Married law student Oscar Horney.
  • 1911 - Horney's mother died.
  • 1926 - Horney left her husband and moved to the U.S.
  • 1942 - Published Self-Analysis
  • She died on December 4, 1952.

Early Life:

Karen Horney dealt with depression early in life. She described her father as a strict disciplinarian and was very close to her older brother, Berndt. When he distanced himself from her, Horney became depressed, a problem she would deal with throughout her life.
Horney devoted herself to school, believing that, "If I couldn't be pretty, I decided I would be smart." She began medical school in 1906 and married a law student named Oskar Horney in 1909. The death of her mother and then brother in 1911 and 1923 were extremely difficult for Horney. In 1926, Horney left her husband and in 1930 moved to the United States with her three daughters, Brigitte, Marianne and Renate. It was here that she became friends with other prominent intellectuals and developed her theories on psychology.


Karen Horney developed a theory of neurosis that is still prominent today. Unlike previous theorists, Horney viewed these neuroses as a sort of coping mechanism that is a large part of normal life. She identified ten neuroses, including the need for power, the need for affection, the need for social prestige, and the need for independence.
While Horney followed much of Sigmund Freud's theory, she disagreed with his views on female psychology. She rejected his concept of penis envy, declaring it to be both inaccurate and demeaning to women. Horney instead proposed the concept of womb envy in which men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth to children.
"Is not the tremendous strength in men of the impulse to creative work in every field precisely due to their feeling of playing a relatively small part in the creation of living beings, which constantly impels them to an overcompensation in achievement?" Horney suggested.

Contributions to Psychology:

Karen Horney made significant contributions to humanism, self-psychology, psychoanalysis, and feminine psychology. Her refutation of Freud's theories about women generated more interest in the psychology of women. Horney also believed that people were able to act as their own therapists, emphasizing the personal role each person has in their own mental health and encouraging self-analysis and self-help.

Selected Works by Karen Horney:

  • Horney, K. (1967). Feminine Psychology, New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Horney, K. (1942). Self-Analysis, New York: Norton.
  • Horney, K. (1942). The collected works of Karen Horney (volume II). New York: W.W. Norton Company.

Biographies of Karen Horney:

  • Hitchcock, S. T. (2004) Karen Horney: Pioneer of Feminine Psychology, Chelsea House Publishers.
  • Quinn, S. (1987). A mind of her own: The life of Karen Horney, New York: Summit Books.
  • Rubins, J. L. (1978). Karen Horney: Gentle rebel of psychoanalysis, New York: The Dial Press.

Related Reading:

  • Kelman, H. (1972). Power: the cultural approach of Karen Horney, SPSA, 20:71-82.
  • Paris, B. (1994). Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search for self-understanding., New Haven, CT:Yale Univ. Press.
  • Sayers, J. (1991). Mothers of Psychoanalysis. Helene Detsch, Karen Horney, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, New York/London: W.W.Norton and Co.


Boeree, C. G. (1997). Karen Horney: 1885-1952. Personality theories. Retrieved from http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/horney.html

Gilman, S. L. (2001). Karen Horney, M.D., 1885?1952. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1205-1205.

Quinn, S. (1987). A mind of her own: The life of Karen Horney. New York: Summit Books.

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