If It Were Not For Reality

Anna O, 1882. Real name Bertha Pappenheim, an Austrian-Jewish feminist. Her treatment by Dr Joseph Breuer for presumed "hysteria" marked the beginning of modern psychoanalysis.

When Gary Larson retired in 1995, the world became a poorer place. Everyone has their favourite cartoon. Mine is the look-alike Freudian psychiatrist carefully writing in his imposing notebook while a clearly disturbed patient on the couch talks and talks and talks. If you look carefully at the psychiatrist’s notebook, he has written “Just Plain Mad”.  Psychiatrists do get a bad rap. You “have to be crazy to become one” or “you get crazy after you become one”,  but highly skilled and empathetic psychiatrists play essential roles in most communities.

Karen Horney, 1885-1952, neo-Freudian psychoanalyst. Her small book Neurosis and Human Growth is still in print and widely available. It is a wonderful introduction to personality and neurosis.

There is a psychiatrist I admire greatly. Karen Horney, who died in 1952 at the age of 67, was an outstanding psychoanalyst. In some people’s eyes, a psychoanalyst is even more arcane that a plain old psychiatrist. She was a “Neo-Freudian”,  a rather gentle term which actually meant that she dramatically split from the pessimistic libido theory of Freud to an optimistic social and cultural theory. Say what? Well, the theory is not so important. The great contribution of psychoanalysts was documenting the thoughts and experiences of tens of thousands of people.

Horney specialized in personality and neurosis. She classified personality, in life, and especially at the workplace. Her main legacy is a small book called Neurosis and Human Growth. Reading it makes you understand your family, friends, and, especially, your workmates. You may even understand yourself better, although that’s a very hard task. The book is wordy, but beautifully written. It’s about our fight with reality, with our true self, or as one of Horney’s patients puts it: “If it were not for reality, I would be perfectly all right”

I thought I was sane until I read this book. Now I’m less sure, but I know that everyone reading the book would feel the same. It’s reassuring. I think. Maybe I should run this past my analyst…

Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry