HomePlatoPlotinusSolomonAldous HuxleyAlan WattsCarl JungRalph W. EmersonR. Waxman

Review of Self-Analysis (Horney, 1945) 

Robert Waxman

In Self-Analysis (1945) by Karen Horney, the author believes that people can treat themselves with, or sometimes without, a therapist. Progress can be made in-between sessions, or whenever the individual is ready. Horney is more concerned with the success of the process than its structure. She says many people are suffering from the psychological effects of living according to false ideas, which manifest as ‘neurotic trends’. She wants her readers to understand that true beliefs are found within oneself, and in certain cases, self-analysis is a helpful tool for discovering the truth about one’s self. Throughout the book, she mentions a number of neurotic trends that should be identified, understood, and removed. She explains how a person can observe his own behavior, and make positive changes to his personality. Once the person begins removing these neurotic trends, his life will change for the better.

Horney’s form of psychotherapy seeks to change the behavior of the personality by understanding the patients’ motives. If his motives are in conflict with his neurotic trends, the patient is suffering and will struggle to overcome his resistances. During therapy, Horney recommends the use of free association, rather than intellectual thinking. This way the person can gain an understanding of his neurotic trends. The patient writes down his reactions to free-association, and uses these responses as a psychological tool for clarifying and overcoming resistances. However, Horney says the person who is unfamiliar with psychoanalysis, will probably not gain any benefits from free-association. Therefore, she offers the reader her own theories of psychoanalysis, and suggests that anyone using self-analysis should see a therapist occasionally.

Horney says, Freud’s goal in psychoanalysis can be summarized by the phrase: “to gain freedom from” (1945, p. 21). She says this outlook is negative, whereas hers is positive: “by rendering a person free from inner bondages, make him free for the development of his best potentialities” (pp. 21- 22). Goals for the patient should be positive, with incentives for him to grow and fulfill his potential. Freud posits, when a patient is trying to achieve a personal goal, his incentive stems from narcissism. Freud also says the person desiring to reach a goal needs to glorify himself. Horney disagrees with Freud and says narcissism is nurtured by impulses coming from the false-self. The real-self wants freedom of expression and the ability to fulfill its potential.

The individual can observe himself better than anyone else. If he wants to understand the reasons for his problems, he must overcome resistances. The therapist only sees a patient for one hour a day, whereas the person is observing himself constantly. The therapist is trained to treat a patient using various psychological techniques, but the individual has much more time to monitor his own thoughts and behavior. This is one of the most compelling reasons for the use of self-analysis. The individual does not need to be trained to observe himself. He knows what he is thinking, saying and doing. He just needs to be honest with himself, and not allow his emotions to blind him to unconscious forces (Horney, 1945, p. 27). Horney reports that therapists do not have any more success using self-analysis than does an individual. Therefore, no special psychological knowledge is required to observe and analyze one’s own behavior. Theoretically, this makes sense, but there are many people wrapped-up in their emotional problems who cannot observe themselves objectively. These individuals need the help of a trained therapist. Horney admits that her patients’ positive experiences with self-analysis do not constitute proof of its effectiveness. Those patients using self-analysis are already familiar with psychoanalysis, and understand the need for complete honesty during the process.

Horney says, self-analysis should be used “between long intervals that occur in analysis: holidays, absence from the city, for professional and personal reasons, and various other interruptions” (Horney, 1945, p. 28). Therefore, based on the premise that self-analysis is feasible, Horney wants to know if it is desirable (p. 28). She cites her critics who say self-analysis is dangerous because it is without guidance. Horney counters by saying the patient’s philosophy of life determines whether or not self-analysis works. For the person recognizing the self as one of the most important aspects of life, the search for inner truth is paramount (p. 30). However, first it is necessary to observe oneself, and identify neurotic trends that are part of the personality. There are many types of neurotic trends, and most people have more than one. These trends can overwhelm the basic character of the personality and the real-self. However, all neurotic trends are formed for a reason, and during treatment each one must be identified.

Horney lists ten types of neurotic trends, which are needs for: 1) affection, 2) a partner, 3) restricting the scope of life, 4) power, control and power of will, 5) exploiting others, 6) prestige, 7) admiration, 8) personal achievement and ambition, 9) self-sufficiency and; 10) perfection and superiority (1945, pp. 55-60). These trends are termed neurotic, because they do not represent human values or what the person really wants. Neurotic trends interfere in all aspects of life, and allow the person to delude himself into thinking all is well.

Once a neurotic trend is identified, the reasons for its creation are understood, and the patient begins confronting his unhealthy behavior. Horney recommends beginning with the milder trends and working gradually toward resolving more serious ones. She discusses three steps for treating neurotic trends: 1) recognize the trend, 2) discover how it has manifested itself and, 3) understand its function. She says, each case is different and will resolve itself in its own way. However, the technique of free-association is used in all cases.

Neurotic trends have a compulsive nature that manifest in two ways (Horney, 1945, p. 41). First, the person becomes obsessed with something (or someone) without regard for the reality of the situation; and second, he feels anxiety resulting from the frustrations of the situation. Neurotic trends stem from: childhood experiences, relationships with parents, and the quality of the family environment while growing-up. If the child does not develop self-respect, he becomes “insecure, apprehensive, isolated and resentful” (p. 44). He develops ways of coping with these feelings and learns how to manipulate others. The child chooses different behaviors to feel better about himself, and becomes either dominate or submissive. Both of these behaviors cause the child to develop neurotic trends.

Horney tells the story of Claire, who is being treated with psychoanalysis, but also uses self-analysis to resolve her psychological problems. This narrative helps the reader identify with a person who is a prototype for the effective use of self-analysis. As we become more involved in Claire’s problems, we can see the common sense approach Horney is using for self-analysis. Claire’s story offers the reader an explanation about how self-analysis works, and how a person can achieve favorable results. Claire’s story also shows that Horney’s approach to psychoanalysis is not the same as the dogmatic approach created by Freud. Horney wants to restore psychological balance to the personality, but she is much more flexible and open-minded than Freud. She is more concerned with achieving results than adhering to a specific structure.

The concept of ‘insight’ is central to the effective use of self-analysis. The individual’s insight puts him in touch with his true feelings. However, the process of discovering insights is painful. The individual feels threatened by acknowledging his compulsions, and becomes discouraged by the prospect of needing analysis. However, if a person does not relinquish the power of his compulsive behaviors, he will continue suffering and not make any progress (Horney, 1945, p. 114). Insights also produce fear and anxiety as the person realizes he must change his behavior. Fortunately, these negative reactions do not last long, and soon, the person will experience relief (p. 116).

Resistances act as obstacles for achieving equilibrium in the personality. Every insight will be challenged by the intellect which wants to maintain the status quo. When neurotic trends are challenged, the reaction may generate fear and defensive responses from the individual. He is trying to protect the defense mechanisms that have kept him safe. The individual may not be strong enough to overcome these resistances, which supports Freud’s contention that the person is helpless in this situation. Freud believes, only a trained therapist can help the patient overcome these intense inner struggles. However, Horney contends that the individual has not been given a chance to overcome these resistances outside of psychoanalysis. Therefore, she does not agree with Freud, and says there is a possibility for overcoming resistances using self-analysis.

There are three ways resistances arise when working with a therapist: 1) an open fight against recognizing the identified problem; 2) expressing defensive emotional reactions and; 3) using defensive or evasive maneuvers (Horney, 1945, p. 274). In self-analysis, these resistances express themselves in the same three ways (p. 275). The resistances occur because they are perceived as threats to the personality. The patient will try diverting attention away from therapist’s attempt to discover neurotic trends, and re-direct the conversation to the emotional nature of the therapist-patient relationship. The patient will try blaming the therapist for his lack of progress, and try shifting the responsibility of treatment over to the therapist. These emotional confrontations can continue for a long time. In order for the process to move forward, the patient must stop his evasive behavior and start being honest with the therapist.

Identifying resistances is very important, because if they remain undetected, there is nothing anyone can do to treat them. Horney calls these overlooked resistances – “blind spots” (Horney, 1945, p. 280). These blind spots are active when the person is not ready to cope with certain feelings. In most cases, preliminary analysis is needed before a blind-spot can be detected and treated. Blind-spots are part of a “blockage” process that causes scattering of thoughts, faulty reasoning, and loss of sequential thinking (p. 281). To find solutions, the person should not ‘beat himself up’ for having resistances, or blame himself for having neurotic trends. Horney recommends respecting, but not approving of, his resistances. He should acknowledge them as part of the human process of growth (p. 285). In addition, having compassion and understanding toward oneself plays an important part in overcoming resistances.

There are limitations of self-analysis. Horney acknowledges that feelings of despair and hopelessness cause serious limitations for self-analysis (Horney, 1945, p. 286). Half-hearted attempts also impede any progress that can be made. Some individuals hold onto feelings of futility because they have lost all hope for living a meaningful life (p. 287). These types of feelings hide behind feelings of boredom or low expectations. Many people pretend to enjoy life, but are really feeling hopeless. They have lost their enthusiasm for pursuing their genuine interests and ambitions.

Another limitation to self-analysis is the case of the neurotic trend becoming ‘successful’ (Horney, 1945, p. 288). If the neurotic trend is expressing itself, and the person thinks he is happy with the end result, there is little need for him to question his behavior. He is feeling good about himself and accomplishing his goals. However, Horney contends that no matter how successful the neurotic trend is, it is still causing harm to the individual. Eventually, he will not feel good about himself, and the ‘successful’ goals he thinks he has achieved, will set him back further psychologically.

Destructive tendencies also limit the use of self-analysis. Horney says, this does not necessarily mean suicide or destruction of the self, but rather, a part of the personality feels hostility, contempt and negativity toward others (Horney, 1945, p. 289). According to Horney, destructive tendencies are part of every severe neurosis (p. 289).

In every neurosis, the “aliveness” of the real-self is decreased (Horney, 1945, p. 291). Horney cites examples of ‘aliveness’ as: self-regard, dignity, initiative, taking responsibility, and other factors contributing to the development of the self (p. 291). She says there is a good possibility the individual can regain and develop his real-self, unless it has been severely damaged. This type of individual has lost all direction and does not understand his reasons for existing. He is not a good candidate for self-analysis.

Another limitation for self-analysis is the case of a person having strong convictions. He believes everything in his world is perfect, and does not see the need to change anything. His neurotic trends are hiding behind his definite ideas about how to live the perfect life. Consequently, no progress can be made with this person. His self-righteousness, arrogance, and pride are prohibiting him from engaging in self-analysis (or psychoanalysis).

Horney explains that none of these limitations “are prohibitive in an absolute sense” (Horney, 1945, p. 292). The same limitations are also encountered in psychoanalysis. However, there is a better chance for self-analysis to work if the person has a positive attitude, and the ‘will’ to overcome his neurotic trends. But if a person is skeptical, negative, and cynical; he probably has no interest in trying self-analysis.

The question concerning the feasibility of self-analysis is answered by Horney throughout the book. She says self-analysis is not a miracle cure, but rather a process to be used in conjunction with psychoanalysis. After completing therapy, a person can continue using self-analysis for achieving ongoing beneficial results. For those without experience in psychoanalysis, Horney is a bit more cautious. She says that severe neurosis should be treated by a trained therapist. However, she also says, most cases of neurosis are not severe, and most of these people are not seeking treatment. These are the people who may benefit the most from self-analysis.


Davis, K. (1946, May). Self-analysis. The american journal of sociology, 51(6), 533-540.

Horney, K. (1945). Self-analysis. New York: W.W. Horton & Company.