The Struggle of Self-Realization

“Embracing human frailty, fallibility, and heartbreaking aloneness is crucial for any person seeking to attain self-actualization and self-realization.” death

Ordinary human existence is a finite experience marked by episodes of pleasure, but these moments of satisfaction are punctuated by periods of pain and change. It is not possible to reach fulfillment from a life within these boundaries, as an attachment to a changing world represents a connection that is tied to non-permanence. In cases of this tie to an erratic, unpredictable reality, we are undercut by the flux of the world, and ultimately made vulnerable by this change, and we cannot experience ultimate fulfillment.

In Horney’s view, the key difference between neurosis and healthy growth is the difference between compulsive actions fueled by anxiety and spontaneous actions fueled by one’s full range of emotions. If a person grows up able to maintain his or her spontaneity, that person grows up by a process which Horney calls self-realization. Horney describes self-realization as the development of a person’s given potentialities and compares it with the process of an acorn growing, given fertile soil, into a tree.

The principal subject of the book, however, is what happens when a person’s spontaneity is crushed in early life. The person will slowly lose touch with that spontaneity or “real self“, and develop, instead, a reactive self which is constructed to respond to dangers of various kinds. If a child’s early environment is such that the child grows up seeing the world as basically hostile, compulsive actions will predominate and the child will grow up devoted to allaying anxiety. This development and its consequences for the adult personality are what Horney calls neurosis.

Neurosis Is a relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality. Neurosis may be defined simply as a “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.”[1] neurosis should not be mistaken for psychosis, which refers to a loss of touch with reality. Neither should it be mistaken for neuroticism, which is a fundamental personality trait.

Symptoms may include anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.[1]

But with such beliefs in an autonomous striving towards self-realization we do not need the hard steel prison bars with which to shackle our immoral judgments and spontaneity from, nor the constant judgment by loved ones to become a perfectionist. There is no doubt that such disciplinary actions can and do succeed in suppressing undesirable factors that come up in our life but there is also no doubt they are injurious to our personal growth and wellbeing to succeed as human beings. We do not need to be shackled or confined for such acts but rather aided in finding the emotional support needed to seek a better outcome in life and the possibility of dealing with such destructive forces within ourselves more appropriately. And to see the possibility of outgrowing them is a measure of success that cannot be rewarded but rather humbly and graciously appreciated in all forms of acceptance. The way towards the goal is an ever-increasing awareness and understanding of ourselves, our problems and our addictions. for self-knowledge then is not an aim itself but a means of liberating the forces of the anomaly that grows inside of us and inhibits us from leading productive lives in society.

As human beings we struggle with attempts to overcome the obstructions that come from our unawareness. Unawareness means unreality, untruth. Untruth produces suffering. This might also be expressed as the struggle between spirit and matter. Matter is a result of unawareness, unreality, untruth. Humanity has attempted mastery over matter in many ways, but in the final analysis it must always mean mastery over untruth in you, personally. Only when you become aware of your own untruth can you finally overcome it.

Only as you discover your own unreality, wrong conclusions, pseudo-solutions, evasions, will you reach the core of your being. Slowly but surely you will begin to act and react from your core, rather than from the erroneous and distorted superimpositions. Only when you act and react from the core of your very individuality will you reach and affect the core of others, regardless of whether they themselves work on such a path. This follows the law of affinity, the attraction of similar and repulsion of dissimilar substances. The law of affinity and  law of attraction respond to all thoughts, whether these thoughts are in response to something ‘real’ that is currently occurring in our reality, or to something we are imagining. Instead of focusing on a current reality that is distasteful or disappointing and thinking thoughts related to it, remove your focus from the situation at hand and instead “Imagine” your reality as you would like it to be. In doing so, you will manifest your purest and healthiest desires.

‘Excellence is an art form won by training and habitually. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit’ –Aristotle


  1. B boerie, c. George (2002). “a bio-social theory of neurosis”. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  2. ‘Neurosis and human growth’ by Karen Horney