Karen Horney - Life and Theory

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karen horney:

A Paper
Presented to
Dr. Dickens
Dallas Theological Seminary


In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
BC 205 Personality Theory


Ashley Keith
May 2011
Box #759

karen horney: Life & Personality theory
Karen Horney’s childhood and adult life have been reflected in much of her work; her personality theory is not separate from her own personal life experiences. The purpose of this study is to exemplify Karen’s personal life, and to demonstrate how her life influenced her personality theory and her profession. Karen Horney was born on September 16th, 1885 to Clotilde and Berndt Wackels Danielson. Her parents were polar opposites. Horney's father, Berndt, was known as a God-fearing fundamentalist who believed that women were inferior to men. He was an authoritarian, and was a harsh disciplinarian. It is common knowledge that he sometimes threw the Bible at his wife and kids in fits of anger.  Horney developed a negative attitude towards religion, and a skepticism towards authority figures, that was to manifest itself later in life. Her mother, Clotilde, was considered to be more polished and polite than her father, possibly more easy-going. Her mother was nineteen years younger than her father. Karen had a tender yet powerful emotional relationship with her brother. He was four years older, and she always believed her father favored him more than her. Karen was infatuated with her brother, and when her overwhelming attention began to bother him, he pushed her away. This rejection had a significant effect on young Karen’s emotional wellbeing, and it led to her becoming deeply depressed. She always felt that she was treated differently than her brother. She wondered if it was because he was male gender and different physically or if people simply felt different about boys and girls. She also questioned if males had qualities that females lacked. There was further despair as she witnessed how her father allowed his son freedom, privilege and education, yet denied his wife and daughter these things. However, Horney’s mother disagreed with her husband, and she supported her daughter’s quest for education.  This presence of a strong female role-model may have affected her later opinions about feminine psychology.   Horney felt rejected by her father, and became very competitive with her brother.  Rebelling against the norm for her day, she used her intellect to surpass them both in social status and education. She first experienced depression around the age of nine. It’s reported that she battled depression throughout her entire lifetime. In 1904, her parents got divorced, and Karen’s mother left both children with their father. In 1906, at the age of 21, she entered medical school against not only her parents' wishes, but the whole political society. Women just were not to pursue such things during this period of time. While in medical school she met a law student by the name of Oskar Horney whom she married in 1909. One year after her marriage to Oskar (1910), Karen gave birth to their first child, the first of three girls. During 1911, the year after Karen gave birth to their first daughter, Karen’s mother passed away. It was during this time that she began her study of psychoanalysis. By 1912, she and Oskar had an open marriage. They were discreet in their affairs, and they upheld an image of a happy marriage for their children.  Image was something Horney was perpetually concerned with.  She seemed to pride herself on not showing her feelings, and had a strong need to separate her private self from her public self. According to some reports, Karen’s husband was much like her father in that he was a strong disciplinarian. In the beginning, Karen did not dispute her husband’s authoritative ways, and she might have actually thought his discipline was good for their children....
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