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Symonds, A. (1978). The Psychodynamics of Expansiveness in the Success-Oriented Woman. Am. J. Psychoanal., 38(3):195-205.

(1978). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 38(3):195-205

The Psychodynamics of Expansiveness in the Success-Oriented Woman

Alexandra Symonds, M.D.

In recent years I have become interested in the changing status of women in our culture, especially in light of the theories of Karen Horney. Due to cultural pressures most women develop the predominantly compliant, self-effacing character structure as described by Horney. In previous articles1-3 I have discussed the consequences and complications that this dependency produces in women. However, I have found that there is a significant number of women who do not grow up in a conventional manner, but develop the predominantly expansive personality. In this article I will share with you my understanding of the dynamics, conflicts, and repercussions of expansiveness in women. The material I will present is based on personal reflections, clinical observations in my analytic practice, contact with the woman's movement, participation in a study group of women analysts, and my work as chairperson of the Committee on Psychoanalysis and Women in the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. All of these involvements combined with the constant use of Horney theory have enlarged and deepened my understanding of the profound changes now taking place in the roles, attitudes, and activities of women and the subsequent effect of these changes on men and family life.

Because of the woman's movement, women are now participating in many activities that were formerly reserved for men. The old sexual stereotypes are fading, and classical psychoanalysts are forced to reevaluate their concepts of male and female personality. Those of us who have worked with Horney theory, however, have not had to make these readjustments. Expansiveness, as dependency, can and does occur in women as well as men. Horney made no distinctions between male and female character structure, and for this reason her theory is eminently suitable to the understanding of the problems of women today. Since I am discussing expansiveness in the context of Horney theory, I must digress briefly at this point with some theoretical discussion before going on with the clinical material.

Horney described three main character types based on three predominant solutions to intrapsychic conflict.4

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