Thinking a Thought

It was a cold and wet day in Writing 1. 

We were discussing Karen Horney’s “Our Inner Conflicts.”  In the book she tries to define three basic neurotic strategies for dealing with deep, deep, deep inner conflict: the moving towards, the moving against, and the moving away.  The first seeks love, tends to avoid conflict, to be self sacrificing (all towards the unconscious goal of “safety); the second sees life as a jungle of all against all and tends to be aggressive and controlling (all towards the unconscious goal of “safety); the moving away moves away from conflict in the name of the of independence, seeking not to be dependent on any one or anything (all towards the unconscious goal of “safety”).

I asked students—understanding of course that in reality life is a lot more complex than any three types—to pick which type they tended more towards, or pretend to pick one in any case.  Describe the type using Horney’s theory and then provide examples from their own lives that illustrate or elaborate upon the type.

About half the class was present on that cold and wet day, so I made them sit in a circle and asked each student present to say what type they thought they were and then discuss their example.  I was half listening—because I sort of try also to listen around the edges of what they are saying—and one guy said he was the moving toward type (seeking to please others and win their approval) but then (maybe I missed something) he went on about how people are such jerks and so stupid.  So I said, I was lost and that he sounded more like the Moving Against type who sees himself as super strong and everybody else as weak or possible stupid.

Later another student read a quotation from her paper.  I am not sure if it was this one but something like it:

            …he (the moving towards type) persuades himself that he likes everybody, that they are all nice and trustworthy, a fallacy that not only makes for heartbreaking disappointments but also adds to his general insecurity.

Bingo, I said, and tapped the student on the arm (he was sitting right next to me) who had said people were jerks.  So this is what you meant; since as a moving towards type you want to see others as nice like yourself, you frequently find yourself pissed off at people when it turns out they are not nice. As a moving towards you project your own values on others; you idealize them and when the veil slips away and you see the warts you see them as jerks, etc, not perhaps because they really are jerks but because they were not quite the people you thought they were.

Bingo!  I said.  There’s a whole paper there.  Abstractions and examples make it possible for the teacher, who doesn’t understand much, to understand something.  It’s like a process.


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