Our Inner Conflicts

Drew gave me a copy of Karen Horney’s _Our Inner Conflicts_ for my birthday, perhaps for obvious reasons… and one thing I have to say is that I wonder why her name is pronounced “Horn-eye” just as I wonder why the new speaker of the house is “Bay-ner”… I mean come on, these are silly victorianisms; they make one think even harder (pun intended) of the salaciousness of the more logical pronunciations.

In any case, Horney posits three types of neurotic responses; compliance (moving toward others), aggression (moving against others), and detachment (moving away from others). In a neurotic person, one of these modes may be dominant, and others repressed. That repression brings about conflicts.

As with any psych book, reading it I am trying to figure out hmm well which one am I? I am having a hard time with my self-diagnosis. I can figure out pretty easily that Guy A is a compliant type with repressed aggression, that Guy B is a detached type also with repressed aggression, and that Guy C is almost a case study of aggression with some repressed compliance, but it’s a bit harder to diagnose my own neurosis according to her taxonomy (why is it always, I wonder, // three// categories?). We don’t really see our own issues clearly, do we. I imagine that I am also a combo of compliant and aggressive, but in a different ratio than Guy A, and with a quite different presentation. Drew? Nick? Kim? Kim? What do you think?

One notion of Horney’s that I find most fascinating and also most depressing is that we neurotics carry within us an image of our idealized selves that is illusory but based in reality. This depresses me because that means we have a world full of people walking around thinking we are really hot stuff but that’s just a kind of mirage/ coping mechanism and doesn’t really reflect how we really are.

This reminds me of my appt yesterday with my bodyworker. I told her that I’d been feeling a sense of surreality and disconnection, and that I wasn’t at all sure who I was (am) anymore. She asked me when I feel “a sense of connection to my true self” and it’s a good thing I didn’t stop to parse that, because how odd, right, that “I” might be something other than “myself” (let’s just put Rimbaud aside for a moment, shall we?), and how odd also that a “true” self might be something we can be “connected to”, or not. I didn’t think too hard about it, but I did find it hard to answer. Eventually I said

–when I’m performing
–when I’m in connection with others
–when I’m making something

But notice: all of these are about engagement with something other than myself. It follows that whatever I’m experiencing as “true self” is not an independently existing phenomenon, but a relational “being” which therefore isn’t rooted in essential “truth.”

Also it follows that, if this is so, a breakup of a love relationship is about the most uprooting and destabilizing things that can possibly happen to someone like me who conceives of “self” in this relational way. You could tell me a thousand times that the jewel is in the center of the lotus, but I would object that the stems and leaves and roots are all under the murky pond, well-connected to other blossoms in a network of interdependent life, and without that, what is a jewel good for? OK, well, still, shit happens. We are cut, we re-graft, we grow new roots and new connections… but the limbo period…is almost indescribably confusing… and it hurts… like… hell!!!!!!!! (eight exclamation points)

One thought on “Our Inner Conflicts

  1. Love this post! That book, as well as Horney's next book Neurosis and Human Growth, and my wrestling with myself while reading them over and over, are a big reason I'm no longer on meds. I still struggle with neurotic issues, but that unsung lady genius has been with me for years now!

    I'm with you on how depressing it is to think everybody is running around with idealized image of themselves that is rooted in fantasy pride rather than reality. And when we are in touch with the reality of ourselves (which happens, as you mention, when we are being relational), ever notice that we completely lose sight of the idealized image and its toxic pride-feelings, even as we have a much clearer grasp of our own strengths and weaknesses as they apply to the creative situation?

    As for the pronunciation, since she was German Horn-eye is correct (you will find that any “ei” or “ey” in German is pronounced “eye”). But the way we pronounce Boehner I think is wrong. My guess is it should be something like “Bunner”.


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