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Rendon, M. (1984). Karen Horney's Biocultural Dialectic. Am. J. Psychoanal., 44(3):267-279.

(1984). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44(3):267-279

Karen Horney's Biocultural Dialectic

Mario Rendon, M.D.

The function of these [neurotic] trends can be better understood if we take a look at their genesis. They develop early in life through the combined effect of given temperamental and environmental influences. Whether a child becomes submissive or rebellious under the pressure of parental coercion depends not only on the nature of the coercion but also on given qualities, such as the degree of his vitality, the relative softness or hardness of his nature. Since we we know less of the constitutional factors than of the environmental ones, and since the latter are the only ones susceptible of change, I shall comment only on these. (Karen Horney, Self-Analysis. New York: Norton, 1942. Emphasis added)

A look at the past reveals that the biological and the cultural have represented an antithetic duality which has only been resolved in a gradual and incomplete manner. Modern science, of which we are so proud, has its roots in philosophy and religion, which were preceded by magic and mythology. The advance of civilization has created such a marked compartmentalization of the world of knowledge that sometimes a Tower of Babel seems to draw near when, even within such a relatively small discipline as psychonalysis, we refer to perceived phenomena in opposed psychological and metapsychological languages. If we encompass a slightly wider domain and include psychiatry and psychology in our panorama, the perceived heterogeneity is even more overwhelming.

Karen Horney's group represents a relatively small minority in the psychoanalytic world. However, what the effort initiated by the Horneyan group represents in the history of psychoanalytic thought is of such magnitude that we could only possibly appreciate it when time will allow us to contemplate the totality of the development of psychoanalysis in a panoramic view. Karen Horney, like Freud, introduced a contradiction in psychological epistemology that, being of a greater than ordinary magnitude, brought with it a qualitative change: the beginning of the self as the central focus of analytic thinking.

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