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Basic Anxiety



Karen Horney identifies anxiety as the foundation of, or the predisposition for (Cooper, 114), neurotic behavior.

"To approach the problem genetically, we must go back to what I have called basic anxiety, meaning by this the feeling a child has of being isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world. A wide range of adverse factors in the environment can produce this insecurity in a child: direct or indirect domination, indifference, erratic behavior, lack of respect for the child's individual needs, lack of real guidance, disparaging attitudes, too much admiration or the absence of it, lack of reliable warmth, having to take sides in parental disagreements, too much or too little responsibility, over-protection, isolation from other children, injustice, discrimination, unkept promises, hostile atmosphere, and so on and so on" (OIC, 41).

According to Horney, these conditions lead to the formation of lasting "character trends":

"Harassed by these disturbing conditions, the child gropes for ways to keep going, ways to cope with this menacing world. Despite his own weakness and fears he unconsciously shapes his tactics to meet the particular forces operating in his environment. In doing so, he develops not only ad hoc strategies but lasting character trends which become part of his personality. I have called these "neurotic trends."

But Terry Cooper (114) points out: "In her earlier work, Horney refers to anxiety as primarily an interpersonal problem. . . . In her later work, however, she is more interested in intrapsychic anxiety. In other words, she develops a greater concern for the anxiety resulting from one's relationship to oneself." Horney's idea of intrapsychic anxiety is closer to Reinhold Niebuhr's idea of inevitable existential anxiety.




Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Karen Horney (1945). Our Inner Conflicts. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.




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