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DeRosis, L.E. (1981). Horney Theory and Narcissism. Am. J. Psychoanal., 41(4):337-346.

(1981). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41(4):337-346

Horney Theory and Narcissism

Louis E. DeRosis, M.D.

Nearly 50 years ago, Karen Horney contended that human behavior is not naturally destructive, a notion that distinctly contradicted Freudian thinking. Ashley Montague and other anthropologists hold that our nearest mammalian relatives, the chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla, and other apes, are by nature very peaceful,1 a position which parallels Horney's contention.

Horney showed that human destructiveness, when it does occur, is the outcome of anxiety and neurotic conflicts, rather than destructive instincts. Once these conflicts are resolved, afflicted human beings can live more constructively not only for others, but for themselves as well. Once liberated, such constructiveness renews itself. It is not bound in amount to some hypothetical libido which exists in limited quantity. Freud believed that once libido was spent on oneself, it could not be available for anyone else, illustrating his economic principle.

In order to explain how human existence could come to be, Freud was forced to convert “the destructive” by way of ingeniously convoluted theories into the constructive. One of these is his concept of sublimation as a means of transforming a destructive instinct into constructive behavior. For example, the so-called anal sadistic drive can be converted into the makings of a surgeon, and so forth.

In contrast, Horney's approach is optimistic, simple, and direct. Nothing gets in the way of a constructive mode except the limitations inherent in the learning process in the particular culture. The driving force of this constructive struggle is the essence of the person. Horney calls that essence the “real self.” She believed that essential potentialities for constructive living are inherent in the real self. If not obstructed by excessive stress, these potentialities tend to grow into actual realities. Reality is not merely something that is “out there.”

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