Karen Horney defines a basic anxiety as insidiously increasing, all pervading feeling of being lonely and helpless in a hostile world” (Horney, 1937, p. 89). When a child experiences basic anxiety they can develop self defense mechanisms. These self defense mechanisms can become very common throughout the child’s life. So common in fact, that they become a permanent part of one’s personality and become a neurotic need.
Horney developed a list of ten neurotic needs that could be categorized into three neurotic trends: moving towards other people (the complaint personality), moving against other people (the aggressive personality) and movement away from other people (the detached personality) (Shultz & Shultz, 2013, p. 164). An apparent connection can be drawn between Horney’s neurotic trends and Timothy Keller’s chapter “The Seduction of Success” in his book Counterfeit Gods. According to Keller, “a sign you may have made success an idol is the sense of false security it brings” (Keller, 2009, p. 5).
Persons with the neurotic trends exemplify Keller’s false security through the seduction of success and how it has become a prevalent idol in today’s world. Moving towards other people (the compliant personality), is a very common personality type. So much so that according to Horney “it is so easily recognizable by the trained observer that it may be considered one of the surest indicators for an existing anxiety and its approximate intensity” (Horney, 1937, p. 105). It is also easily recognizable in relation to the seduction of success.
Persons with the compliant personality type have a deep urge for approval, love and affection of others. They also have traits that are desirable by others; they tend to be very kind, understanding and affectionate towards individuals. This is because they have a great need to feel loved. All of these traits ultimately lead to a false sense of security, a person with the compliant personality judges their success by how others view them. The false sense of security that comes from the affection of others can damage ones relationship with God.
By measuring success through others opinions and not through ones relationship with God an idol is created in the heart. The compliant personality develops into placing your successful relationship with others, over your relationship with God. The false sense of security from affection from others leads one to hope for a sense of safety and security that only God can ultimately provide. Once affection and approval from others becomes a definitive measure of success, one can feel as if they have no idea who they are and can feel completely lost.
A person who has a compliant personality needs to feel loved, wanted and protected in order to have any sense of an identity. One problem is that human beings are sinful and a person with the complaint personality will never be able to feel completely loved. As Paul wrote , “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8, New International Version).
By sending down His own Son to die for us, God demonstrated the ultimate sign of unconditional love. This unconditional love cannot be shown by anyone but God. Human beings will always fall short, for this reason it is detrimental to make an idol out of the approval of others. Valuing self worth based on others opinions will only let one down because no one is perfect. Only by placing value on God and His unconditional love, can one truly feel self worth. Moving against people (the aggressive personality) can also demonstrate the idolatry of success.
People with the aggressive personality see everyone as hostile and view the world as a game that they can play to win where power and supremacy are merits. They often act tough and show no fear, they try to surpass others and see people as a means to an end. A person with the aggressive personality only see’s others as a means to a beneficial end goal. The neurotic needs of the aggressive personality are: power, exploitation, prestige, admiration, achievement. It is important to differentiate between the feeling of power in a normal person and a neurotic person. The feeling of power, for example, may in a normal person be born of the realization of his own strength or superiority. The neurotic striving for power; however, is born out of anxiety, hatred and feelings of inferiority.
To put it categorically, the normal striving for power is born of strength, the neurotic of weakness” (Horney, 1937, p. 163). Personal success and achievement can lead us to believe that we ourselves are god. As Keller writes “To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means that no one is like you. You are supreme” (Keller, 2013. . 75). A person with the aggressive personality strives to be at the top of the game, they feel accomplished knowing that they are the best, which leads to success as an idol. A fair sign that success has become an idol for an individual with an aggressive personality is that they cannot maintain their self confidence unless they feel as if they are at the top of their chosen practise. By pouring out everything into their profession, people with aggressive personality gain some self worth (Shultz & Shultz, 2013, p. 166). They often appear to be very confident individuals.
However, the sense of confidence is driven from anxiety. Success becomes the only focus in their lives; thus, becoming an idol in their hearts. Keller and Horney are both quick to point out that culture plays a significant factor for aggressive personality and the seduction of success. Today’s culture promotes achievement which makes individuals very susceptible to making success a counterfeit god. Society places worth on dignity and honour, pushing individuals to make a name for them and to create their own self worth. As Keller writes “It is no longer enough to be a citizen or family member.
You must, win, be on the top, to show that you are one of the best” (Keller, 2013, p. 78). Horney’s writings support Keller’s claims about culture and its increased pressure for power and prestige. “A cultural factor is involved. Neurotics in our culture choose this way results from the fact that in our social structure, power, prestige and possession can give a greater feeling of security” (Horney, 1937,p. 163). Striving for power and prestige leads to a feeling of greater security; however, it is just a feeling and is not true security. In this way the aggressive personality can lead hearts into idolatry.
When success is based on money and power it can quickly become an idol. One can feel like they have no self worth unless they are at “the top of the game”. Persons with the aggressive personality are especially susceptible to falling into the idolatry of success. Society pushes the idea that prestige and power is the way to personal fulfillment. This encourages a person with an aggressive personality type to continue to use others in order to gain prestige and power- creating counterfeit gods. Proverbs 3:6 calls us to “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. this verse teaches that we need to acknowledge God for everything. The Bible does not teach that believing in God will immediately make all of one’s endeavours successful; however, it does call us to acknowledge Him in all we do. By acknowledging God in everything, it is easier to prevent success from becoming an idol. Horney’s third and final personality type is moving away from people (detached personality). A person with a described detached personality tries to avoid relationship with others at all cost. They do not want to love or hurt others in anyway.
The ultimate goal of a person with a detached personality is self sufficiency. They do not want to rely or owe others anything. Long term commitments are avoided and time alone is valued. Similarly to persons with the aggressive personality, people with the detached personality want to feel superior. However, they feel as if they should feel superior with little to no effort- people should realize how superior they are. In this way the success of self sufficiency becomes an idol. The detached personality ultimately leads to idolatry. By becoming self sufficient, you do not need family, friends or God.
Relationships are not necessary for your happiness. This is how success becomes an idol. The bible calls us to have relationship with others. Hebrews 10: 24-25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. Human beings need relationships with others- especially Christians. By detaching from others a person eventually puts there self sufficiency in front of God.
We are called to have a relationship with others, and most importantly God. If God is not the center of your life than something else is. Idolatry is a colossal issue in today’s society, especially the idol of success. Many people do not believe they have idols as they “do not bow down to other gods”. Idols are deep in our hearts and hinder our relationships with Christ. The Idol of success is prevalent in today’s society-a society that promotes power, money and prestige. As a business major, it can be easy to fall into the idolatry of success. The end goal of business is of course, to make a profit.
Without profit a business is not successful, it can be tempting to weigh self worth on success. If a neurotic individual has one of Horney’s personality types they are especially susceptible to falling into the idolatry of success. The connections between Horney’s personality types and Keller’s seduction of success are apparent. The most difficult part is removing idolatry from ones heart. Keller writes that “the idol of success cannot be simply expelled, but must be replaced” (Keller, 2013, p. 93). Only by replacing the idols in our hearts with God can we truly live our lives in peace and harmony.