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Our Inner Conflicts

man and illusions Neurotic conflicts

By Karen Horney
Neurotic conflicts may be concerned with the same general problems as perplex the normal person. The content of this conflict differs but the essential characteristics are the same. The normal conflict is concerned with an actual choice between two possibilities, both of which the person. The neurotic person engulfed in a conflict is not free to choose. He is driven by equally compelling forces in opposite directions, neither of which he wants to follow. Hence a decision in the usual sense is impossible. He is stranded, with no way out. The neurotic is not flexible;he is driven to comply, to fight, to be aloof, regardless of whether the move is appropriate in the particular circumstance, and he is thrown into a panic if he behaves otherwise. Another factor, and one that considerably widens the scope of the conflict, is that the attitudes do not remain restricted to the area of human relationships but gradually pervade the entire personality, as a malignant tumor pervades the whole organic tissue. They end by encompassing not only the person's relation to others but also his relation to himself and to life in general. It is not accidental that a conflict that starts with our relation to others in time affects the whole personality.
Human relationships are so crucial that they are bound to mold the qualities we develop, the goals we set for ourselves, the values we believe in. All these in turn react upon our relations with others and so are inextricably interwoven. The conflict can only be resolved by working at the neurotic trends involved, and by so changing his relations with others and with himself that he can dispense with the trends altogether. Inconsistencies are as definite an indication of the presence of conflicts. An acute depression, for instance, reveals only the fact that a person is caught in a dilemma. In other instances the inner conflict may be externalized and appear in the person's conscious mind as an incompatibility between himself and his environment.

So we are led to ask: Can there be a basic conflict underlying all these particular conflicts and originally responsible for all of them? Can one picture the structure of conflict in terms, say, of an incompatible marriage, where an endless variety of apparently unrelated disagreements and rows over friends, children, finances, mealtimes, servants, all point to some fundamental disharmony in the relationship itself? I see the basic conflict of the neurotic in the fundamentally contradictory attitudes he has acquired toward other persons. To approach the problem genetically we must go back to what I have called basic anxiety, meaning by this the feeling a child has of being isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world.Disturbing conditions, the child gropes for ways to keep going, ways to cope with this menacing world. Despite his own weakness and fears he unconsciously shapes his tactics to meet the particular forces operating in his environment. In doing so, he develops not only ad hoc strategies but lasting character trends which become part of his personality. I have called these "neurotic trends." When moving toward people he accepts his own helplessness, and in spite of his estrangement and fears tries to win the affection of others and to lean on them. Only in this way can he feel safe with them. If there are dissenting parties in the family, he will attach himself to the most powerful person or group. By complying with them, he gains a feeling of belonging and support which makes him feel less weak and less isolated.
When he moves against people he accepts and takes for granted the hostility around him, and determines, consciously or unconsciously, to fight. He implicitly distrusts the feelings and intentions of others toward himself. He rebels in whatever ways are open to him. He wants to be the stronger and defeat them,partly for his own protection, partly for revenge.
When he moves away from people he wants neither to belong nor to fight, but keeps apart. He feels he has not much in common with them, they do not understand him anyhow. He builds up a world of his own with nature, with his dolls, his books, his dreams. In each of these three attitudes, one of the elements involved in basic anxiety is overemphasized:helplessness in the first, hostility in the second, and isolation in the third. The predominant attitude, however, is the one that most strongly determines actual conduct. It represents those ways and means of coping with others in which the particular person feels most at home. Thus a detached person will as a matter of course use all the unconscious techniques for keeping others at a safe distance because he feels at a loss in any situation that requires close association with them. Moreover, the ascendant attitude is often but not always the one most acceptable to the person's conscious mind.
This does not mean that the less conspicuous attitudes are less powerful. My contention is that the conflict born of incompatible attitudes constitutes the core of neurosis and therefore deserves to be called basic. And let me add that I use the term core not merely in the figurative sense of its being significant but to emphasize the fact that it is the dynamic center from which neuroses emanate. The theory may be viewed as an elaboration of my earlier concept that neuroses are an expression of a disturbance in human relationships.

We shall see gradually what unresolved conflicts do to people, how they produce states of anxiety, depression, indecision, inertia, detachment, and so on finds really desirable, or between convictions, both of which he really values.
“Compulsive drives are specifically neurotic; they are born of feelings of isolation, helplessness, fear and hostility, and represent ways of coping with the world despite these feelings they aim primarily not at satisfaction but at safety; their compulsive character is due to the anxiety lurking behind them. Two of these drives—neurotic cravings for affection and for power stood out at first in clear relief and were presented in detail in The Neurotic Personality. I could see that a neurotic need for affection, compulsive modesty, and the need for a "partner" belonged together. What I failed to see was that together they represented a basic attitude toward others and the self, and a particular philosophy of life. These trends are the nuclei of what I have now drawn together as a "moving toward people." I saw, too, that a compulsive craving for power and prestige and neurotic ambition had something in common. They constitute roughly the factors involved in what I shall call "moving against people." But the need for admiration and the perfectionist drives, though they had all the earmarks of neurotic trends and influenced the neurotic's relation with others, seemed primarily to concern his relations with himself. trees thoughts
Also, the need for exploitation seemed to be less basic than either the need for affection or for power; it appeared less comprehensive than these, as if it were not a separate entity but had been taken out of some larger whole. A crescendo of observation opened my eyes to the significance of such conflicts. What first struck me most forcibly was the blindness of patients toward obvious contradictions within themselves. Then I began to recognize the amazing amount of energy and intelligence that was invested in more or less desperate efforts to "solve"1 the conflicts or, more precisely, to deny their existence and create an artificial harmony. The initial attempt was to eclipse part of the conflict and raise its opposite to predominance. The second was to "move away from" people. Detachment was part of the basic conflict—that is, one of the original conflicting attitudes toward others; but it also represented an attempt at solution, since maintaining an emotional distance between the self and others set the conflict out of operation. The third attempt was very different in kind. Instead of moving away from others,the neurotic moved away from himself.

His whole actual self became somewhat unreal to him and he created in its place an idealized image of himself in which the conflicting parts were so transfigured that they no longer appeared as conflicts but as various aspects of a rich personality. The need for perfection now appeared as an endeavor to measure up to this idealized image; the craving for admiration could be seen as the patient's need to have outside affirmation that he really was his idealized image. And the farther the image was removed from reality the more insatiable this latter need would logically be. Of all the attempts at solution the idealized image is probably the most important by reason of its far-reaching effect on the whole personality. The fourth attempt at solution seeks primarily to do away with this rift, though it helps as well to spirit away all other conflicts. Through what I call externalization, inner processes are experienced as going on outside the self. If the idealized image means taking a step away from the actual self, externalization represents a still more radical divorce. It again creates new conflicts, or rather greatly augments the original conflict—that between the self and the outside world.
Meanwhile the consequences of all these unresolved conflicts were gradually becoming clearer to me. I saw the manifold fears that were generated, the waste of energy, the inevitable impairment of moral integrity,the deep hopelessness that resulted from feeling inextricably entangled. Thus a theory of neurosis evolved, whose dynamic center is a basic conflict between the attitudes of "moving toward," "moving against," and "moving away from" people. Because of his fear of being split apart on the one hand and the necessity to function as a unity on the other, the neurotic makes desperate attempts at solution. While he can succeed this way in creating a kind of artificial equilibrium, new conflicts are constantly generated and further remedies are continually required to blot them out. Every step in this struggle for unity makes the neurotic more hostile, more helpless, more fearful, more alienated from himself and others, with the result that the difficulties responsible for the conflicts become more acute and their real resolution less and less attainable. He finally becomes hopeless and may try to find a kind of restitution in sadistic pursuits, which in turn have the effect of increasing his hopelessness and creating new conflicts.

Neurotic conflicts cannot be resolved by rational decision.  The neurotic's attempts at solution are not only futile but harmful. But these conflicts can be resolved by changing the conditions within the personality that brought them into being. Every piece of analytical work well done changes these conditions in that it makes a person less helpless, less fearful, less hostile, and less alienated from himself and others. I believe that man can change and go on changing as long as he lives. And this belief has grown with deeper understanding. An animal's actions are largely determined by instinct. In contrast, it is the prerogative as well as the burden of human beings to be able to exert choice, to have to make decisions. We may have to decide between desires that lead in opposite directions. We may, for instance, want to be alone but also want to be with a friend; we may want to study medicine but also to study music. Or there may be a conflict between wishes and obligations: we may wish to be with a lover when someone in trouble needs our care. We may be divided between a desire to be in accord with others and a conviction that would entail expressing an opinion antagonistic to them. We may be in conflict, finally, between two sets of values, as occurs when we believe in taking on a hazardous job in wartime but believe also in our duty to our family.

The kind, scope, and intensity of such conflicts are largely determined by the civilization in which we live. If the civilization is stable and tradition bound, the variety of choices presenting themselves are limited and the range of possible individual conflicts narrow. Even then they are not lacking. But if the civilization is in a stage of rapid transition, where highly contradictory values and divergent ways of living exist side by side, the choices the individual has to make are manifold and difficult. He can conform to the expectations of the community or be a dissenting individualist, be gregarious or live as a recluse, worship success or despise it, have faith in strict discipline for children or allow them to grow up without much interference; he can believe in a different moral standard for men and women or hold that the same should apply for both, regard sexual relations as an expression of human intimacy or divorce them from ties of affection. The more we face our own conflicts and seek out our own solutions, the more inner freedom and strength we will gain. Only when we are willing to bear the brunt can we approximate the ideal of being the captain of our ship. When conflicts center about the primary issues of life, it is all the more difficult to face them and resolve them. But provided we are sufficiently alive, there is no reason why in principle we should not be able to do so.
Education could do much to help us to live with greater awareness of ourselves and to develop our own convictions. A realization of the significance of the factors involved in choice would give us ideals to strive for,and in that a direction for our lives.(Source:Our Inner Conflicts by Karen Horney, M.D.)

Karen Horney was undoubtedly a great influence to numerous self-psychologists, humanists, cognitive therapists, psychoanalysts, feminists, and existentialists.
Growing up was not an easy process for Karen. She battled depression from the time she was nine, stemming from the crush that she had on her brother followed by the rejection she felt when he rejected her love. At around the same time, she became very ambitious and rebellious. As she did not see herself as an attractive girl, she was certain that doing good in school was the best alternative. She once said, "School is the only true thing after all".
Using her clinical experience, Horney named ten particular patterns of neurotic needs. They are based on things that all humans need, but that are distorted in some because of difficulties within their lives. As she investigated them further, she found that she could clump the ten into three broad coping strategies. Karen Horney(click here)
The first strategy is compliance, also known as the moving-toward strategy or the self- effacing solution. Most children facing parental indifference use this strategy. They often have a fear of helplessness and abandonment, or what Horney referred to as basic anxiety. This strategy includes the first three needs: the need for affection and approval, which is the indiscriminate need to both please others and be liked by them; the neurotic need for a partner, for someone else to take over one's life, encompassing the idea that love will solve all of one's problems; and the neurotic need to restrict one's life into narrow boarders, including being undemanding, satisfied with little, inconspicuous.
Horney's second broad coping strategy is aggression, also called the moving-against and the expansive solution. Here, children's first reaction to parental indifference is anger, or basic hostility. Needs four through eight fall under this category. The fourth need is for power, for control over others, and for a facade of omnipotence. Fifth is the neurotic need to exploit others and to get the better of them. Another need is for social recognition and prestige, with the need for personal admiration falling along the same lines. The eighth neurotic need is for personal achievement.
The final coping strategy is withdrawal, often labeled the moving-away-from or resigning solution. When neither aggression nor compliance eliminate the parental indifference, Horney recognized that children attempt to solve the problem by becoming self- sufficient. This includes the neurotic needs for self sufficiency and independence and those for perfection and unassailability.
While it is human for everyone to have these needs to some extent, the neurotic's need is much more intense, Horney explained. He or she will experience great anxiety if the need is not met or if it appears that the need will not be met in the future. The neurotic, therefore, makes the need too central to their existence. Horney's ideas of neurotic needs mirrored those of Adler in many ways. Together, Adler and Horney make up an unofficial school of psychiatry and they are often referred to as neo-Freudians or Social Psychologists.(source:http://www2.webster.edu/~woolflm/horney.html)



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