Neurosis and Human Growth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Neurosis and Human Growth
First edition
AuthorKaren Horney
CountryUnited States
PublisherW. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)

Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization is the magnum opus of German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney. In it she outlines her theory of neurosis.

In Horney's view, the key difference between neurosis and healthy growth is the difference between compulsive actions fueled by anxiety and spontaneous actions fueled by one's full range of emotions. If a person grows up able to maintain his or her spontaneity, that person grows up by a process which Horney calls self-realization. Horney describes self-realization as the development of a person's given potentialities, and compares it with the process of an acorn growing, given fertile soil, into a tree.

The principal subject of the book, however, is what happens when a person's spontaneity is crushed in early life. The person will slowly lose touch with that spontaneity or "real self" and develop, instead, a reactive self which is constructed to respond to dangers of various kinds. If a child's early environment is such that the child grows up seeing the world as basically hostile, compulsive actions will predominate and the child will grow up devoted to allaying anxiety. This development and its consequences for the adult personality are what Horney calls neurosis.

Horney devotes thirteen chapters to an analysis of the neurotic development in all its nuances and the various forms it can take as a person grows into adulthood, one chapter to the process of overcoming neurosis in therapy, and one chapter to how her theory compares and contrasts with classical psychoanalytic theory.


This book was the inspiration for Robert C. Tucker's biographies of Joseph Stalin, whom Tucker describes as a Horneyan neurotic.[1]

Horney influenced Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and inspirer of Neurotics Anonymous, who had this to say in a letter to another AA member:

You interest me very much when you talk of Karen Horney. I have the highest admiration of her. That gal's insights have been most helpful to me. Also for the benefit of screwballs like ourselves, it may be that someday we shall devise some common denominator of psychiatry — of course, throwing away their much abused terminology — common denominators which neurotics could use on each other. The idea would be to extend the moral inventory of AA to a deeper level, making it an inventory of psychic damages, reliving in conversation episodes, etc. I suppose someday a Neurotics Anonymous will be formed and will actually do all this.

— Bill W., Letter to Ollie in California, January 4, 1956.[2]


  1. ^ Tucker, Robert C (November 3, 1982). "Memoir of a Stalin Biographer". Princeton Alumni Weekly [1]
  2. ^ Fitzgerald, Robert (July 1995). "Chapter 6. The Purple Haze: Depression". The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. and Bill Wilson in Letters. Hazelden. pp. 40–42. ISBN 1-56838-084-4. OCLC 32166323.


  • Horney, Karen (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-30775-7