Horney's theories were modifications of classical psychoanalytic beliefs. Her theories are best understood when viewed in relation to the Freudian con cepts that were prevalent during her lifetime. According to Sigmund Freud, who founded classical psychoanalysis during the late nineteenth century, biological influences determine human behavior. Of these biological factors, sexual instincts are the strongest motivators of human behavior. Neurosis, or mental disorder, was considered by Freud to be the result of unconscious sexual conflicts which began in early childhood.
Horney was grounded in psychoanalytic thinking and agreed with many of Freud's concepts. She disagreed radically, however, with the heavy sexual content of Freudian theory. A major point of departure was the Freudian concept of penis envy. Freud essentially viewed all psychological problems in women to be the result of the woman's inherent wish to be a man. Freud maintained that girls are not born with a natural sense of their femininity and regard themselves as inferior, castrated boys. As a result of penis envy, the female rebels against her biological inferiority. The consequences, according to Freud, are resentment, devaluation of her "negative sexual endowments," envying the opposite sex, and a constant search for compensation.
Horney considered penis envy to be contrary to biological thinking. She maintained that little girls are instinctively feminine and aware of their fe-maleness in early childhood. Thus, girls are not programmed to feel inferior. Women may envy men the power and freedom they have in their private and professional lives, but women do not envy men's genitals. The behaviors which Freud associated with penis envy—including greed, envy, and ambition—Horney attributed to the restrictions society places on females.
Horney also disagreed with the Freudian theory that viewed frigidity and masochism as biologically determined aspects of woman's nature. Frigidity, or the inability of a woman to experience sexual desire, is neither a normal condition for a woman nor an illness, according to Horney. She considered frigidity to be a symptom of an underlying psychological disturbance, such as chronic anxiety. Frequently, it is caused by tensions between marital partners. Powerful forces in society restrict a woman in the free expression of her sexuality. Custom and education promote female inhibitions. Men's tendency to view their wives as spiritual partners and to look for sexual excitement with prostitutes or others whom they do not respect may also cause frigidity in wives.
Masochistic tendencies, wherein a woman seeks and enjoys pain and suffering, particularly in her sexual life, result from special social circumstances, Horney maintained. Freudian theory, holding that women are biologically programmed for masochism, is associated with the Freudian concept of the female as having been rendered less powerful than the male through castration. Horney, on the other hand, believed that society encourages women to be masochistic. Women are stereotyped as weak and emotional, as enjoying dependence, and these qualities are rewarded by men. Masochistic tendencies, according to Horney, are a way of relating by which a woman tries to obtain security and satisfaction through submission and self-effacement.
Karen Horney's theories stressed the positive aspects of femininity. As her ideas developed, she became more influenced by social scientists of her period. Her theories placed increasing emphasis on interpersonal and social attitudes in determining women's feelings, relations, and roles. Her ideas about the development of women's sexuality were focused on adolescent girls, rather than on young children, as in Freudian theory. According to Horney, adolescents develop attitudes to cope with sexual conflict, and these attitudes carry over into adulthood.
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