Karen Horney stands alone as the only woman recognized as worthy of her own chapter in many personality textbooks, and the significance of her work certainly merits that honor. She did not, however, focus her entire career on the psychology of women. Horney came to believe that culture was more important than gender in determining differences between men and women. After refuting some of Freud’s theories on women, Horney shifted her focus to the development of basic anxiety in children, and the lifelong interpersonal relationship styles and intrapsychic conflicts that determine our personality and our personal adjustment.
Personally, Horney was a complex woman. Jack Rubins, who knew Horney during the last few years of her life, interviewed many people who knew her and came away with conflicting views:
She was described variously as both frail and powerful, both open and reticent, both warm and reserved, both close and detached, both a leader and needing to be led, both timid and awesome, both simple and profound. From these characterizations, the impression emerges that she was not only a complex personality but changeable and constantly changing. She was able to encompass and unify, though with struggle, many diverse attitudes and traits… (pg. 13; Rubins, 1972)
Erich Fromm, who was a lay-analyst with a Ph.D. (not an M.D. like most early psychoanalysts), focused even more than Horney on social influences, particularly one’s relationship with society itself. He not only knew and worked with Horney personally, but the two were intimately involved for a number of years, and Fromm analyzed Horney’s daughter Marianne. Both Horney and Fromm can be seen as extending Adler’s emphasis on social interest and cooperation (or the lack thereof), and their belief that individuals pursue safety and security to overcome their anxiety is similar to Adler’s concept of striving for superiority.