Theory of Neuroses

(This article is heavily referenced from the book “PSYCH101”, written by Paul Kleinman)

Anxiety comes in different forms and can be triggered by practically anything, may it be an approaching deadline that's creeping in or simply overthinking what may happen if you leave your phone unattended for 5 minutes. Yet, we can all agree that there’s a type of anxiety that all of us can relate to a degree: social anxiety. In a way we can refer this as “basic anxiety”, one that isn’t necessarily unique to certain groups of people.

Karen Horney defined this “basic anxiety” as to be alone and abandoned in a potentially hostile world. She explained this in her published research called “The Neurotic Personality of Our Time”, written in 1937. Although unrelated, it’s interesting how this definition does align with one of Aristotle’s most notable quote: “Man is by nature a social animal”, showing how we as people survive through interdependency and building communities.

(I would recommend reading Leland Van den Daele’s article/research paper regarding Karen Horney’s journey from Research Gate:'s_theory_of_neurosis_A_developmental-structuralist_interpretation)

This theory believes that this “basic anxiety” is caused by interpersonal relationship, or lack thereof.

This theory discusses how people have neurotic needs that needs to be fulfilled. We act upon these needs, whether it may it be conscious or subconsciously. These needs can be categorised as follows:

1. Needs that move an individual TOWARDS other people

(eg. Need for affection, approval, dependable life partner, etc.)

2. Needs that move an individual AGAINST other people

(eg. Need for power, public recognition, achievement, etc.)

3. Needs that move an individual AWAY from other people

(eg. Need for perfection, independence, privacy, etc.)

People’s desire for these needs cause them to experience anxiety. The reason why anxiety is experienced differently from people to people is because every individual is unique and have varying levels of needs.

This type of anxiety can be expressed differently, but are often similar based on which category their needs fall under. For example:

1. When a person has a high need for affection, they may come off as clingy or needy. They fear hostility and abandonment, and they will be more content with others to support them.

2. When a person has a high need for power, they may come off as unkind, selfish, bossy, and uncaring. They normally have a manipulative behaviour and their narcissistic nature prevails.

3. When a person has a high need for independence, they may feel empty and lonely due to their decision to isolate themselves. They undermine their own skills and talent. However, they ironically try to appear as an independent lone wolf among others.


This theory was discovered by Karen Horney (1885-1952), one of the first psychologists to go against the mainstream psychology beliefs of the time. She also focused on women psychology, which was disregarded back then. To quote from Paul Kleinman’s book PSYCH101, “Horney was also a firm believer that the individual had the ability to be his or her own therapist, and emphasised the significance of self-help and self-analysis.”

#psychology #anxiety #neuroses #behavior

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