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Horney, K. (1951). On Feeling Abused. Am. J. Psychoanal., 11(1):5-12.

(1951). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 11(1):5-12

On Feeling Abused

Karen Horney, M.D.

When speaking of feeling abused I refer to a neurotic phenomenon which is well known to psychoanalysts in all its multiple facets. Patients may dwell on the harm done to them by previous psychotherapists, by other physicians, by their boss, wife or friends, and, going all the way back, by their parents. In more diffuse ways, they may also feel themselves to be victims of social institutions, or of fate in general.

The particular content of such complaints varies infinitely. The emphasis may be on the general iniquity of fate. The patient may be convinced, then, that everybody is better off than he. Others find a better job, get a raise in salary; their clocks always keep the correct time, their cars never need repairs, their sorrows are negligible. More specifically, the emphasis may be on injustice done to him. He, the patient, has been cooperative, efficient, helpful, understanding; he has, in fact, done more than his share. But he got an unfair deal. The others failed to be grateful, to help him, to consider him, or even to show a minimum of decency. The emphasis may be on others’ criticizing and accusing him, imputing motivations that were quite alien to him. He may feel exploited and imposed upon. Everybody seems to want something from him, or, indeed, to expect the impossible of him and to make him feel guilty if he does not measure up to their expectations. The emphasis may be on being frustrated by others: “They” frustrate him; they keep him down; they squelch every joy he may have; they put every possible obstacle in the way of his achievements, or of his career.

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