Posted by Dr. Pradnya Parasher on 21 July, 2021

The Psychoanalytic Tradition:  Freud, Jung, Horney

Learning Corner

Say psychology and a closely associated word for most is Sigmund Freud. Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory that has been the starting point for almost all major personality theories. Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud, developed his analytic psychology at the same time. They came together for a period of time but soon parted ways as their perspectives began to diverge. Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst who remained loyal to Freud’s framework, was the first psychologist to talk about the psychology of women. For a quick tutorial on the main ideas and contributions of these three immensely influential psychologists, read on.

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

According to Freud, Personality develops as a product of the conflict between our instincts (sex and aggression) and society. Parents represent societal control during childhood, hence childhood, for Freud, is a period of conflict and frustration. This initial conflict is also reflected in later relationships with people in authority. Freud would trace all adulthood issues to childhood development.

Freud defined eros and thanatos – sex and aggression – as the two primary motives of life.  Sexual instinct, or libido, brings people together and aggression drives people apart. Both these instincts are unconscious and controlling them is essential for survival of individual and society.

Freud proposed that three psychic structures evolve to control these instincts – Id, Ego, and Superego.  Id seeks gratification of the primary instincts. Ego checks to see how the needs can be gratified in the context of external reality. Superego, which is the voice of conscience, enables gratification of instincts in a socially acceptable manner.

Freud developed a comprehensive theory of psychosexual development consisting of 5 stages – oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Oral, anal and phallic stages are in the first five years of life. After that, the child enters a period of latency and at adolescence, enters the genital stage. Too much gratification or frustration at any of these stages leads to what Freud calls “fixation”.

Freud described “Orally aggressive” people as sharp and caustic in speech, and “orally dependent” people as self-doubting. He linked oral fixation to early or late weaning by a mother. Freud described “anal retentive” people as neat, tidy, detail oriented, and “anal expulsive” people as careless and untidy. He linked the emergence of these fixations to whether toilet training was strict or laissez-faire. Research has not supported the connection between child rearing practices and emergence of these characteristics. However, what has held up is that children have to learn to control impulses and learning self-control impacts how they deal with problems later on in life.

Freud was the first to make the unconscious the center of his theory. All id instincts, ego activities, thoughts, desires and memories that get repressed when the superego develops reside in the unconscious. The superego itself is also unconscious. Unconscious manifests itself in dreams, errors (including slips of tongue), creativity and hysterical symptoms. Self-knowledge can thus only be accessed through analysis of these manifestations of the unconscious, which is the goal of psychoanalysis.  Why bother with self-knowledge? One reason is that the superego makes people self-critical guilt-ridden, anxious and unhappy. So understanding the superego, accepting the primary instincts, allows a person to get past the repression. This is psychological maturity.

Another important concept of psychoanalytic theory is the Oedipal complex. Freud proposed that children are attracted (sexually) to the parent of the other sex. Boys experience “castration anxiety” and girls have “penis envy”. The attraction and the anxieties are resolved by the child ultimately identifying with the parent of the same sex and adopting their ways of thinking and being.  And repressing these “inappropriate” desires into the unconscious. This is also the process that leads to the development of the superego, the internal voice of conscience.

Freud was keenly interested in the dynamics of leadership and personality of leaders. He argued that there are two kinds of people – those who follow and those who lead. The first kind is most of us. The second kind are rare, and tend to be arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, impulsive, and interested in others only as much as they are willing to serve them. Yet, they have the capacity to captivate and fascinate normal people because Freud believed that we all have an unconscious need to be dominated and controlled. At the same time, due to the Oedipal complex, people have ambivalent feelings towards the leaders – feelings of both affection and hostility.

Freud also developed a psychoanalytically driven view of religion, politics, society and culture. He maintained that democracies are inherently unstable because people have an unconscious need to be dominated and controlled and are looking for that “primal father-figure”, a left-over from human evolutionary history where tribal leaders according to Freud were authoritarian father-figures. Rise of leaders with autocratic leanings begins to give some credence to Freud’s thinking.

Freud maintained that we live with self-deception, that these deceptions are self-serving, and those that are least self-deceived will do better in life. While not everyone will agree with the notion of self-serving deception, almost all leadership development programs now have an element of self-awareness and self-reflection.

While Freud’s theory may not be considered scientifically valid, the language of psychoanalysis, including words like repression, projection, defense mechanism, id-ego-superego and concepts like “Freudian slips” are commonly used and understood. Love him or hate him, Freud has had an immense impact on the study of personality.

Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

Jung is most known for his work on Personality Types (made popular by the MBTI), the collective unconscious and archetypes (including persona, shadow, and self). A contemporary of Freud, Jung disagreed with many aspects of Freud’s theory.

Jung did not believe that dream content was intentionally disguised. He did not believe in the universality of the Oedipal complex. He did not believe that the sexual instinct was that important or that childhood was a period of conflict. In fact, Jung didn’t think childhood was such an important phase of development. According to Jungian psychology, real personality development begins only at age 40, when the need for meaning and individuation becomes more important.

Jung also disagreed with Freud that the unconscious needs to be controlled. Psychological health, according to Jung, was integration of the unconscious into daily life. Such integration, a process he called individuation, leads to the discovery of a person’s “truest nature”. Jung believed that the need for meaning in life is the fundamental human motive. People achieve meaning by exploring the unconscious and discovering their true nature.

Lying below the personal unconscious is what Jung called the collective unconscious – a layer of genetically inherited memories and response tendencies that are universal and belong to all people across all cultures. Jung labeled these universals “archetypes”.  

The Persona is one such archetype. This is the mask we adopt to disguise how we really feel, to live in society. The Self on the other hand is an archetype that represents psychological maturity, where all aspects of personality are integrated. Just below the Persona, Jung believed, lies the Shadow – that which we most dislike, hate and despise in others. Anima/Animus are two other archetypes that loosely correspond with the suppressed elements of femininity or masculinity present in people of the opposite gender.

Jung is most known for his work on Personality Types. He proposed that people perceive and think about the world in different ways and can be sorted into types based on these differences. Extraversion and Introversion are unconscious “attitudes” that refer to whether a person habitually directs attention to the external or internal world. Sensing and Intuiting are “functions” that are concerned with how people take in information. Sensing folks pay more attention to data and details. Intuiting individuals search for patterns and connections. Thinking and Feeling are two more functions that indicate how a person evaluates information. Thinking types will bring an objective approach whereas the feeling types will interpret situations in a unique and subjective way. These attitudes and functions combine to create types.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), one of the most popular personality measures, assesses people on the basis of Jungian personality types. The Rorschach inkblot test is often used by psychologists interested in studying the unconscious. The set of inkblots are deliberately lacking in meaning. The meaning attributed to the inkblot is a reflection of the individual and thus gives insights into an individual’s personality.

Although Jungian analytic psychology never gained as much popularity or significance as psychoanalysis, some of his concepts like self-realization, extraversion-introversion, and psychological types are part of mainstream psychology.

Karen Horney (1885 – 1952)

Trained in orthodox psychoanalysis, Horney felt that Freud’s theories did not do justice to the psychology of women. She incorporated emerging views from sociology that men and women experience life differently. Since male culture dominates, women’s experiences are often ignored or devalued. It is therefore harder for women to live a life of their own than men.

Horney proposed that psychology of women is different from the psychology of men. Research is often conducted using male samples and interpreted by men and does not adequately represent the women’s experience. In saying this, Horney anticipated the modern feminist view that psychologists (and psychology) may not fully understand how the experience of being female influences personality development.

According to Horney, each person has a unique set of values, goals and aspirations. Healthy development rests on the ability to realize them. Any single way of living is as valuable as any other. This idea anticipated modern interest in diversity and respect for individual differences.

Horney proposed that people are motivated by two unconscious needs – need for affection, acceptance and respect from people they interact with; and need for order and predictability in their relationships. She called it “safety and satisfaction”. Over time, these needs turn into need for social recognition, power and so on. Earliest expression of this need is with parents and early experience of how well these needs are satisfied influences personality development. Horney believed that no parents are perfect, and all children therefore experience some degree of anxiety and hostility.

Two forces thus drive personality development according to Horney. First is the quality of relationship with parents and second is society. Most cultures promote getting along with others and at the same time, value competition and individual achievement.  Both “getting along” and “getting ahead” require social interaction. Children learn at an early age to conform, rebel, or withdraw to maintain positive and predictable social relationships. The style a person uses more often becomes the foundation of their personality.

Horney distinguished between real self and ideal self.  Ideal self creates the “tyranny of shoulds” that makes people self-critical, anxious, and feel guilt. Horney  believed that the unconscious contains a person’s strategies for overcoming feelings of inferiority. Unconscious also contains one’s real self – real values, interests, goals, wishes and aspirations. There is a conflict between the real self and the idea self, which is also buried in the unconscious. Inability to express the real self, due to inadequate parental relations or societal pressures, leads to anxiety. People adopt one of three interpersonal coping strategies (similar to the childhood behaviors of conformity, rebellion or withdrawal).

Moving Towards people (compliance) – when this strategy is adopted, individuals work hard to meet the needs of others. They are driven by a strong need to be accepted and appreciated.

Moving Against people (aggression) – individuals who adopt this strategy see life as a struggle, a constant battle against others. They seek success and power, and are competitive, shrewd, energetic, but with an underlying anxiety.

Moving Away from people (withdrawal) – everyone needs some time alone.  Those who withdraw from others never let anyone come too close to them or get to know them well. They get along with others in a superficial way, and conform to social norms to avoid trouble, but inwardly reject them. Above all, they seek independence and self-sufficiency. Underneath they want to be cared for, but don’t believe anyone will or can care for them.

Of all the three coping strategies, Horney believed this one to be most maladaptive as the goals are negative – not to be controlled, not to need anybody, not to let anyone influence you – a general tendency to suppress all feelings. The other two have positive goals – to either win love and affection or gain success.

Horney expanded the psychoanalytic perspective by recognizing the role of society and culture in personality development. Psychologists today recognize the importance of early socializing influences of parents on personality development.

Horney’s view that women see and experience the world differently from men is reflected in modern feminist scholarship. Horney also believed that the mother-child relationship is more important than the relationship with the father.

Most importantly, Horney’s typology of interpersonal coping strategies – moving towards, against and away from people – was a precursor of modern study of personality disorders. It is also the theoretical underpinning of the Hogan Development Survey, the HDS, which assesses potential maladaptive behaviors that leaders may show when under stress. These behaviors are coping mechanisms, as proposed by Horney, and thus, strength up to a level. Unconscious overuse of these strategies leads to potential derailment risks for a leader.


There are other psycholoanalysts and psychologists like Alfred Adler and Eric Fromm who also expanded the psychoanalytic perspective in important ways. Freud, Jung and Horney however, tower amongst them all for the widespread incorporation of their ideas into mainstream psychology today.


Excerpted from ‘Personality Theories and Applications’ by Hogan and Smither.