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I’ve been going back to my college days and reading about the “self”. As a undergraduate psychology student I was fascinated with the idea of personality and self definitions.  What was the self? Did it really exist? Was there only one “true” personality type or did we each posses many? Did personality change with time and circumstances or was there one true definitive self.


I’ve been reading things from Karen Horney, who back in the 40s and 50s along with Freud, Jung and the others, were interested in childhood influences on personality disorders, like the dissociate disorders I was writing about last week. Given the era, they called them “neurosis” and the people suffering from them “neurotic”  which seems a bit judgmental by today’s use of language. However, the descriptions of the mental states and coping mechanisms does seem to capture the fractures in personality and psyche that can occur with childhood trauma.


I’m posting these notes here more as a placeholder for me than anything else. If you’re like me and curious about such things, you might find it interesting.


People who become neurotic basically grow up in environments that are not safe. The dependence we have as infants creates a basic anxiety in all of us. If we are growing up in a family that does not provide a safe place for us, we turn away from ourselves, develop a strategy for safety that makes us more vulnerable than ever.


Some things that cause neurosis:

·         Manipulative parents

·         Indifferent parents, and parents who offer no real guidance or direction

·         Parents who are harshly critical of the child as a person, their value and worth

·         Parents who force kids to take sides between them

·         Parents who make promises and don’t keep them, contributes to feeling that you can't count on people

·         2 poles --either putting the child on a pedestal or not paying attention and giving recognition when the child does something good.


An environment which contains these elements translates to kids, "This isn't safe." They start to look for ways to be safe and this is the beginning of neurosis.


A child who does not feel safe starts to develop a strategy. (In healthy development, people use parts of all these. In unhealthy experience, they exhibit one very dominate strategy and fixate on it throughout their life).


1.       MOVING TOWARD. Reaching out, joining with, coming together, cooperating, meeting, giving, being affectionate, compassionate etc. We all need this, but if it's excessive, it becomes a COMPLIANT STYLE so we can't not move toward in any real way. If we’re moving toward inorder to stop the abuse or neglect, to be compliant (versus compassionate)  to the needs of others. Today it's called "codependence." This is neurotic because if someone is being nasty toward you, moving toward them is not the order of the day. In fact, it’s self-defeating, and probably reinforces their behavior. Moving toward has a bit of a bad rap now because of all the codependency stuff in the air, but basically it’s rather healthy if exhibited by a person who is seeking a connection, intimacy from someone capable and willing to give it.

2.       MOVING AGAINST. This is an AGGRESSIVE STYLE. In a non-neurotic form, it's assertiveness and clear boundaries. An ability to differ, argue, state your case and dare to be different. In its neurotic extreme, the person characterized by this style has boxing gloves on all the time. They're good blamers. Motto: Strike before being struck. If this is all you do, you're a pain to be around. Aggressiveness is also inappropriate when you're scared of intimacy and attack in order to fend it off, to get away from it.

3.       MOVING AWAY or the DETACHED STYLE. Ability to move away, be contained in yourself, befriend yourself, enjoy solitude, to not be in relationship. Like moving the other strategies, this is an important ability. But when extreme, detached people are gone, period. They don't feel their bodies or their emotions. They fear physical and emotional closeness. It causes them to disappear. Sex is very separated from relationship. May be super-intellectuals living in their heads, or feel as if they "on a spiritual path" by renouncing wants and needs, but not dealing with their anger. Detached people can seem mild-manners, “the nice guy”, albeit rather aloft. They don't choose on their own behalf, they let others or "the universe” vote for them.


A wholehearted person has access to all three of these modes. The normal person has access to all these modes when appropriate.

Many neurotics have a dominant style (one of those above) and in a pinch they move into a secondary style. Like compliance serving the purposes of detachment.



1.       Compliant:  early years often are spent "under the shadow of someone." Example-- in the family you were only able to get attention by being submissive, agreeing, being “good” and subordinating your true and whole self.

2.       Aggressive:  early environment is often characterized by gross neglect, abuse, brutality, or hypercritical behavior.

3.       Detached child: early environment characterized by cramping, stifling influences that were so subtle or so powerful that rebellion and assertiveness doesn't work. The detached child finally just withdraws or opts out.


The good news from Horney is that people NEVER LOSE TOUCH WITH THE TRUE SELF, no matter how weird they got as kids. Another way to view neurosis is as an attempt at growth in very difficult circumstances. But unfortunately, WHEN OUR ENERGY IS WRAPPED UP IN PROTECTION AND IMAGE, IT'S NOT AVAILABLE FOR GROWTH. The protection is never enough. So we develop other protections, like developing huge blind spots that prevent us from seeing what we're doing. And the tendency to see conflicts as "out there" rather than "in here".  The Detached type for example bemoan all the aggressive, feeling-driven people out there as the reason for the interpersonal problems they are experiencing.


LATER STAGES OF NEUROSIS, can be characterized by:


·         EXCESSIVE SELF-CONTROL (because I can't afford to feel my real feelings). Neurosis is a central lie, and then I have to do a whole lot of stuff to protect the illusion.

·          A lot of CYNICISM, especially seen in detached and aggressive types. They often feel like they can’t make a difference, that other people have more power and control and shouldn’t be trusted with it.

·         FEAR-- of going crazy, of being seen for the louse I really am, of being found out, etc. Because part of the person knows their image isn't really who they are and so they experience fear in situations that might expose them without their defense mechanisms.

·         FEAR OF CHANGE. (If I move one more brick out of place, the whole edifice could crumble).

·         USING OTHERS and SADISTIC trends.  Living at the expense of other people. A distorted kind of trying to be OK. So hopeless about their own lives that they turn this anger and abuse outward against others. Compliant types can insinuate their way into your life and kill you with kindness. Their ability to convince you that they can't live without you which is a  kind of sadism.


Originally posted on patty.vox.com