Neo-Freudians is the term sometimes used to collectively describe the students and followers of Sigmund Freud who subsequently broke ranks with him and produced their own variations on psychoanalysis instead. The member of this group who is best known and most highly regarded by the general public is Carl Jung, but others have also had a lasting impact on psychology.
Alfred Adler (1870–1937) agreed with Freud that childhood experiences are important, but he focused his attention on social, rather than sexual, tensions as a source of personality development. Adler believed that such things as birth order and parents’ child-rearing practices could produce childhood feelings of inferiority, and this inferiority complex led to behaviors characterized by a striving for superiority and power. Adler was especially critical of Freud’s concept of penis envy, arguing that what shapes a woman’s character is not an unconscious desire to obtain a penis, but rather the envy of the social advantages that accompany being male.
Karen Horney (1885–1952), who although German-born spent her career in the United States, also parted ways with Freud over his excessive emphasis on sexuality as the source of all problems. While practicing in Chicago during the Great Depression, she realized that the people who were coming to see her had problems associated with their present status, not deep-seated traumas rooted in early childhood. Her clients had no use for discussions of Oedipal feelings for their mothers; they were far more concerned about the fact that they’d lost their savings and couldn’t feed their families. Horney also felt that Freud’s theory was too narrowly deterministic, whereas she saw many different possible paths that the mother-child relationship could take other than the Oedipal conﬂict. Like Adler, she also found penis envy unconvincing, and she went so far as to argue that a reversal of the pattern occurs in men, who envy women’s ability to create life within them.
Otto Rank (1884–1939) remained a close associate and follower of Freud for much of his professional life, but like the others, he too eventually diverged enough from Freudian orthodoxy that his relationship with Freud came to an end. Unlike the others, Rank did not fault Freud for his focus on sexuality, but his own thinking on the matter eventually struck even Freud as unlikely. Rank saw birth trauma as the chief source of anxiety and interpreted the male sexual urge as primarily a desire to return to the peace and safety of the womb.
Like Freud, the neo-Freudians have contributed enduring concepts and vocabulary (inferiority complex, birth trauma, and return to the womb, for example) to Western culture. Also like Freud, their impact on current psychology is rather limited, due to the untestable, and therefore unscientiﬁc, nature of their ideas.
- Adler, A. Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Perennial, 1964;
- Paris, B. J. Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst’s Search for Self-Understanding. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.