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Horner, A.J. Paris, B.J. (1999). Visions of the Self: Karen Horney's Vision of the Self. Am. J. Psychoanal., 59(2):157-166.

(1999). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 59(2):157-166

Visions of the Self: Karen Horney's Vision of the Self

Althea J. Horner and Bernard J. Paris

Although my role as editor of this series calls only for a few introductory remarks, there is no way I cannot enter more fully into the theoretical fray, especially with respect to Ingram's quoted views, since the issues touch upon my own theoretical and clinical interests. My problem is less with the views themselves than with the subtle and complex problems of the very language with which we put forth those views. Rather than as prologue, my short discussion will follow at the end of Dr. Paris's paper.

When I first read Neurosis and Human Growth in 1959, everything in it seemed clear to me except the concept of the real self, upon which Horney's mature theory is founded. That concept seemed vague, mystical, elusive, and did not make sense until I made contact with what I felt to be my real self after a number of years of psychotherapy. When I then reread Horney, I realized that she had anticipated this sequence of events. The real self will seem like “a phantom,” she wrote, unless we are “acquainted with the later phases of analysis” (Horney, 1950, p. 175). It is a “possible self,” what we would have been if we had developed in a nurturing environment, or what we can become if we are “freed of the crippling shackles of neurosis” (p. 158). The notion of a possible self seems highly “speculative,” Horney continued, for who, seeing a patient, “can separate the wheat from the chaff and say: this is his possible self? But while the real or possible self … is in a way an abstraction, it is nevertheless felt and we can say that every glimpse we get of it feels more real, more certain, more definite than anything else” (p. 158).

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