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Tyrannical Shoulds

In Neurosis and Human Growth Karen Horney referred to the comprehensive drive to actualize the "ideal self" as the neurotic "search for glory." Part of the attempt to actualize the idealized self is the erection of a system of "shoulds."

Jess Feist (pg. 254) locates this concept in Horney's thought:

"In addition to self-idealization, the neurotic search for glory includes three other elements: the need for perfection, neurotic ambition, and the drive toward a vindictive triumph.

"The need for perfection refers to the drive to mold the whole personality into the idealized self. Neurotics are not content to merely make a few alterations; nothing short of complete perfection is acceptable. They try to achieve perfection by erecting a complex set of "shoulds" and "should nots." Horney (1950) referred to this as the tyranny of the should. Striving toward an imaginary picture of perfection, a neurotic "unconsciously tells himself: 'Forget about the disgraceful creature you actually are; this is how you 'should be'" (Horney, 1950, p. 64)."

The International Karen Horney Society is an excellent source of knowledge of Horney's theory. Concerning "shoulds," Bernard J. Paris says:

"The shoulds are the basis of our bargain with fate. No matter what the solution, our bargain is that our claims will be honored if we live up to our shoulds. We seek magically to control external reality by obeying our inner dictates. We do not see our claims as unreasonable, of course, but only as what we have a right to expect, given our grandiose conception of ourselves, and we will feel that life is unfair if our expectations are frustrated. Our sense of justice is determined by our predominant solution and the bargain associated with it" (Paris, part 3).

"Shoulds" and "Claims" in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Bernard J. Paris. "Horney & Humanistic Psychoanalysis: Major Concepts: Horney's Mature Theory." International Karen Horney Society.

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

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

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