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Neuroses, N. (1991). Karen Horney on Work, Art, Creativity, and Neurosis. Am. J. Psychoanal., 51(3):245-247.
  

(1991). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 51(3):245-247

Karen Horney on Work, Art, Creativity, and Neurosis

Nullified Neuroses

A famous American writer, sunk in emotional distress, once confessed to his psychiatrist: “I suppose I do need psychotherapy … but I'm afraid of it. It might destroy that something in me which is my own.”

The writer was one of the 9,000,000 Americans who are said to have neuroses (disorders of the psyche) to some degree. By “that something” he meant his peculiar talent which had lifted him to the top of his profession. Resting on the theory that “misery loves company,” he and the other neurotics had found satisfaction in such catch phrases as “of course, every genius is a neurotic,” and “be grateful for your neurosis,” which, they believed, might help in any effort from holding a routine job to creating a masterpiece of art.

To Dr. Karen Horney, the handsome, gray-haired dean of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis, this stand is neither practical nor scientifically correct. Speaking at the New York Academy of Medicine, the 64-year-old Norwegian-Dutch psychoanalyst bluntly discounted the value of a neurosis for the creative person. “An artist,” she concluded, “can create not because of his neurosis, but in spite of it.”

Blow Hard and Give Up

No matter how self-assured or realistic the neurotic may seem, his self-confidence, “probably the most crucial prerequisite for creative work,” is always shaky, Dr. Horney pointed out. He is rarely able to make an adequate appraisal of what is expected of him: he either underrates or overrates the job he sets out to do.

When working conditions are fairly rigid, the neurotic pays a tremendous price in physical and emotional effort. He seldom works up to his maximum capabilities, and the quality of the work actually performed suffers.

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