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Idealized Self


The idealized self is an idol of the imagination.

The idealized self is an image of what we should be, must be or ought to be, in order to be acceptable (Cooper, pg. 130).

The idealized image is chiefly a glorification of the needs that have developed (Horney).

Karen Horney's central concept of the idealized self (see Ewen) seems to have originated in Sigmund Freud's concept of the ego-ideal.

The idealized self is analogous to Thomas Merton's false self.


In the chapter "Idealized Image and the Pride System" in Karen Horney : A Psychoanalyst`s Search for Self-Understanding, Bernard Paris (pp. 201-202), Karen Horney's biographer and appreciative critic, explains Horney's central concept of the "idealized self."


"In Neurosis and Human Growth Horney posits a developmental sequence that leads from interpersonal to intrapsychic strategies of defense. Children try to cope with feelings of weakness, inadequacy, and isolation by developing interpersonal strategies. They then must deal with the conflicts between these strategies by making one of them predominant and suppressing the others. The coherence thus achieved is too loose, and the children need "a firmer and more comprehensive integration" (20). The original defenses, moreover, do not fully satisfy their psychological needs and exacerbate their sense of weakness by alienating children from their real selves. As a further defense children or adolescents develop an idealized image of themselves, which is "a kind of artistic creation in which opposites appear reconciled" (OIC, 104).

"The idealized image gives individuals "a feeling of identity" that compensates for their self-alienation and inner division and enables them to achieve "a feeling of power and significance." With the help of imagination they endow themselves with exalted faculties. The individual becomes "a hero, a genius, a supreme lover, a saint, a god." Horney calls self-idealization "a comprehensive neurotic solution." It promises to satisfy all needs, to rid people of their "painful and unbearable feelings," and to provide "an ultimately mysterious fulfillment" of themselves and their lives. In the course of neurotic development, the idealized image assumes more and more reality. It becomes the individual's "idealized self," representing to him "what he 'really' is, or potentially is--what he could be, and should be" (NHG, 21-24)."


"The general goal of Horneyian therapy is to help patients gradually grow in the direction of self-realization. More specifically, the aim is to have patients give up the idealized self-image, relinquish the neurotic search for glory, and change self-hatred to acceptance of the real self" (Feist, 259).



The Idealized Self and Grace




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

Jess Feist (1994, c.1985). Theories of Personality. 3rd. ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.

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

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

Bernard J. Paris (1994). Karen Horney : A Psychoanalyst`s Search for Self-Understanding . New Haven, CT: Yale UP.




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