Karen Horney’s book, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Towards Self Realization, has been stretching me on so many levels. Horney, who wrote this book when she was in her 70’s is one of the most original psychoanalysts after Freud. In the book, Horney describes the “search for glory,” or the pursuit of the idealized self. The implications are so relevant for so many of us who had to develop certain ways of interacting with the world and view ourselves in the midst of ongoing early anxiety. The need to actualize the idealized self, that self that one wants the world to see gets prioritized over the so-important realization of the true self. At the end of the first chapter, Horney writes of the “devil’s pact” to refer to the solution of two powerful desires: “the longing for the infinite and the wish for an easy way out.” She then concludes with, “Speaking in these symbolic terms, the easy way to infinite glory is inevitably also the way to an inner hell of self-contempt and self-torment. By taking this road, the individual is in fact losing his soul – his real self.”
It seems so often the world we live in teaches us that we can be whomever we want, do what every we want, we just have to work hard at it. Websites, workshops, books are created to help us perform better, look better, be more charismatic, and make more money. While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, my own experience tells me there is a drive there that is far from driven by contentment or acceptance with what is. Frustration of our progress leads to guilt, shame, working harder, desperation and anger. We shift the responsibility to others, we cry “Unfair!”, and we have every defense under the sun why we are not covering something. This is the “pursuit of glory” that Horney writes about, the actualization of an idealized self… a false self.
My hope is that individuals everywhere would seek to realize and discover who that true self is that was forgotten and kept quite so long ago. My hope is for communities and families to arise who will encourage true selves to blossom, to sing, and to dance. Though I am not far into Neurosis and Human Growth, I find that Karen Horney provides such an accurate look at a very real problem we face and many ways to find freedom. After all, awareness often leads to change.