Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance

Horney’s Social and Cultural Psychoanalysis


Hypercompetitiveness: A Major Form of Neurotic Competitiveness

  • Hypercompetitiveness: indiscriminate need to win at all costs in order to feel superior
  • Hypercompetitive parents tend to treat their children poorly, giving rise to neurosis

Traits of hypercompetitiveness

  • Hostile
  • Dogmatic
  • Arrogant
  • Aggressive
  • Derisive toward others


  • Characterized by primary psychopathy: aggressiveness, callousness, and lack of remorse
  • Not characterized by secondary psychopathy: excessive guilt; lack of clarity about goals

Hypercompetitiveness and academic success; at what price?

  • Lying
  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism

Competition avoidance: need to check ruthless ambition and excessive competitive strivings because of extreme fear of losing the affection and approval of others due to success or failure in competition

  • Competition avoiders:
    • –Minimize their chances for success by belittling themselves
    • –Feel embarrassed or humiliated by competitive defeat
    • –Engage in self-handicapping: giving plausible excuses for poor performance in order to protect one’s self-esteem

Personal Development Competitiveness: Competing in a Psychologically Healthy Way

Personal development competitiveness: an attitude in which the primary focus is not primarily on the outcome (i.e., winning), but rather more on the enjoyment and mastery of the task

  • Individuals are more concerned with self-discovery, self-improvement, and task mastery than with comparisons with others

Personal development competitors want strongly to win and be successful, but not at the expense of other people

The Etiology of Neurosis in the Family

Attitudes and behaviors of hypercompetitive parents that cause disturbed relationships:

  • –Direct or indirect domination
  • –Indifference and erratic behavior
  • –Lack of respect for individual needs and real guidance
  • –Disparaging attitudes
  • –Lack of reliable warmth
  • –Having to take sides in parental disagreements
  • –Isolation from other children
  • –Injustice and discrimination
  • –Unkept promises and hostile atmosphere

Poor treatment by parents creates basic anxiety: person feels isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world, leading to neurosis

The Use of Neurotic Strategies to Cope with Feelings of Basic Anxiety

  • Neurotic need for affection and approval
  • Neurotic need for partner to control one’s life
  • Neurotic need to restrict one’s activities
  • Neurotic need for power
  • Neurotic need to exploit others
  • Neurotic need for social recognition and prestige
  • Neurotic need for personal admiration
  • Neurotic ambition for personal achievement
  • Neurotic need for self-sufficiency and independence
  • Neurotic need for perfection and unassailability

The Three Basic Neurotic Trends

Horney simplified the 10 neurotic strategies into three basic neurotic trends

  • Compliant type: individuals who cope with feelings of basic anxiety by indiscriminately seeking the approval and affection of others through excessive conformity; such individuals move toward people, a trend that protects them against basic anxiety by self-effacement and obliteration
  • Aggressive type: individuals who protect themselves against feelings of insecurity by exploiting others in order to feel superior;  such individuals adjust by moving against people, a trend that seeks to control basic anxiety through domination and exploitation of others
  • Detached type: individuals who protect themselves by continual avoidance of others; such individuals move away from people, a trend that protects the person against basic anxiety by utter detachment and extreme self-sufficiency

The Basic Conflict in Neurosis

For neurotic individuals one trend (compliant, aggressive, or detached) predominates

  • The gratification of the associated needs is pursued relentlessly and endlessly
  • The other two trends and their associated needs are repressed

Basic conflict in neurosis: turmoil created within neurotics because the three major trends are incompatible with one another

Personality Development

Horney’s critique of Freud

  • Sexual and aggressive strivings are NOT more important than the environment
  • Important experiences in the formation of character are NOT primarily sexual in nature
  • In adulthood, people are NOT doomed to repeat compulsively ways of behaving learned in childhood

Do women really want to be men?

  • Penis envy is NOT a castration complex, but rather as a justifiable envy of qualities associated with masculinity in our culture

Horney’s Humanistic View of Development

Humanistic view of development: each person is special and has a unique set of potentials that will flourish under wise parental guidance

  • Real self: unique set of potentials for constructive growth within each person

Alienation and the idealized self

  • Idealized self: defensive identification of neurotics with their idealized images

Tyranny of the shoulds: moral imperatives that drive neurotics to accept nothing less than perfection from themselves

  • When neurotics compare the actual self (the self as it is at the moment) against the idealized self, the actual self inevitably falls short

Externalization: trying to keep the idealized self intact

  • Externalization: tendency of neurotics to experience internal processes as if they occurred outside the self and to hold external factors responsible for their difficulties

Involves projection: tendency to attribute one’s own failings and shortcomings to others

Auxiliary approaches to artificial harmony

  • Seven defenses used by neurotics to keep the idealized self intact
    • Blind spots: painful experiences are denied or ignored because they are at variance with the idealized self
    • Compartmentalization: alleviation of tensions by separating beliefs and actions
    • Rationalization: person wards off anxiety by offering plausible, but inaccurate, excuses for his or her conduct
    • Excessive control: person exercises willpower to keep emotional impulses under control
    • Arbitrary rightness: conviction that one is always right
    • Elusiveness: person refuses to take a position on anything so that he or she can never be proven wrong and criticized or ridiculed by others
    • Cynicism: person claims to believe in nothing so that he or she cannot be hurt or disappointed by others

Assessment Techniques

Free association

  • Interpretation different from Freud’s

Dream analysis

  • Interpretation different from Freud’s

Relationship between analyst and patient

  • More honesty with patients
  • Active and directive in offering suggestions

Theory’s Implications for Therapy

  • Neurotics are alienated from their real selves and from others
  • Neurotics can realize their potential only when they are able to relinquish their illusions about themselves and their illusory goals
  • Self-knowledge must be intellectual and emotional to promote change
  • The goal is to begin to find the inner certainty that comes from a feeling of belonging through active and unselfish participation

Evaluative Comments

  • Comprehensiveness: limited scope
  • Precision and testability: not very precise and very difficult to test adequately
  • Parsimony: appropriately complex
  • Empirical validity: not much prior research interest; new development instrument is generating more tests
  • Heuristic value: major contributions to the development of humanistic psychology movement
  • Applied value: has high applied value for cognitive-behavioral therapy

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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