In any normal society, there is a given code on how people within eh society are supposed to behave. People who deviate from this code are often termed as retards or people with mental disorders. Mental health is, therefore, of great importance for an individual to function normally in a given society. However, psychologists have tried over the years to come up with an explanation of how these mental disorders come about. Based on arguments by Fromm, Horney, and Eriksson, it is evident that the mental disorders are greatly defined by the ‘inability of an individual to act in accordance to the society’s standards.’ These three psychologists went ahead to give reasons for their arguments. In this paper, I will compare the three psychologists’ arguments. I am inclined to the position that Erich Fromm had the most convincing explanation as to how people develop mental illnesses.
In order to assert this position, there is a need to look at the arguments by each of these psychologists. First of all, there is Karen Horney, a German psycho-analyst. She was famed for her works which greatly criticized Freud’s theory, including the Oedipus complex. In explaining how people develop various behaviors, she came up with the theory of necrotic needs. According to Cherry (2013), Horney argued that the differences that arise between individuals tend to spring from parental indifference. This is the reason as to why people tend to develop necrosis.
Based on Horney’s work, it is possible to come up with a conclusion as to how mental illness comes along. There are three different ways through which an individual can react towards parental indifference in their lives. First of all, the individuals can develop an attitude based on the move-towards strategy. In this case, individuals tend to be satisfied with the little they have. They make no demands. Their lives are restricted to the narrow borders in their lives. Secondly, the individuals can be aggressive and forceful. In this case the individuals tend to have a sense of indifference and anger. As such, they can be hostile towards others. The last coping strategy is the moving-away strategy. In this case, individuals tend to be self-reliant and independent. Such individuals tend to resign to fate. They are quite detached and adopt a life of solitude. Such individuals can find it hard to function in the society. Such individuals tend to exert no feelings towards others, whether love or hate. This makes them quite anti-social. From this perspective, Cherry (2013) observes that individuals can develop mental illness in that they cannot function well in the society.
Horney’s ideas are very closely related to Erikson’s perspective. Just like Horney, Erikson argued that human’s psycho-social development comes in stages. According to Vogel-Scibilia et al (2009), there are eight stages of psychosocial development as formulated by Erikson. These stages are the oral, anal, phallic, latency, puberty, geniality, and the last two stages that have no specific name. Through all this stages, Erikson observes that there are some psychological developments that take place. As such, for a human to function normally, it is mandatory that one goes successfully through all the stages.
Vogel-Scibilia et al (2009) indicates that transition through all these stages is not abrupt. However, as Erikson indicates, there has to be a transition phase in which some of the phases overlap. In case an individual fails to successfully go through the transition phase, there is a tendency to develop an inclination to one of the opposing forces. Erikson defines this situation as either being dystonic or syntonic. This causes the individual to develop a behavioral tendency, or even a mental illness. This depends with the severity of the individual’s failure to transit from one stage to the next.
There is also Erich Fromm’s perspective as to how people develop mental illnesses. This can be picked from his book entitled ‘The Sane Society.’ It is from the argument in the book that Fromm’s perspective on the causes of mental illness can be picked. Anagauchita (2002) further expounds on what implications Fromm’s argument had. Anagauchito (2002) argues that in relation to mental illness, Fromm had three main arguments. This is as seen in his paper entitled ‘The Humanist Concept of Mental Health’ which was written in 1961. He argues that mental health can be looked at from the negative perspective. That is, it is defined as the absence of illness. Secondly, there is the societal perspective. From this point, Fromm argued that a society has its own constructions. There is a way in which things are supposed to be done in the society. This stands regardless of the nature of the society; whether primitive, the classical societies, or even the modern western society. There is a way in which issues are handled within the society. Anyone who deviates from this norm of the society is considered to be sick. This is regardless of whether the individuals deviating from the societal norm is on the right track.
It is from this perspective that Fromm went on to look at the third perspective. This is the perspective of mental health or normalcy from the individual’s point of view. It is when looking at this perspective that Fromm argued that the sanity of an individual should not be judged from the societal constructions or from what is seen as normal by the majority. It is from this that he coined the term, “the fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues” (Anagauchita, 2002). He, therefore, argued that the mental condition of an individual should not be judged from the perspective of the society. The society is not the standard. Rather, there should be a set standard for measuring mental health.
Based on this discussion, it is evident that Erikson and Horney had a similar perspective with regard to mental health. However, they had different ways of bringing it out. They both approached it from the developmental point of view. Fromm, on the other hand, approached the issue from the perspective of society vs. the individual. He argued that the society cannot act as the standard for mental health. Rather, there should be set medical standards to define sanity. This method seems to have taken pre-eminence over the others. It is no wonder that there are standards for assessing one’s sanity in the modern society. Parameters such as DSM IV among others are used. This serves as evidence that Fromm’s argument about the source of mental illness is the preferable of the three.
Anagauchita. (2002). The Concept of Mental Health – Erich Fromm. The Literary Estate of Erich Fromm, 2002.
Cherry, K. (2013). The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney. Journal of the Psychological Society, Vol. 34(5), pp. 107-112.
Vogel-Scibilia, S.E. et al. (2009). The Recovery Process Utilizing Erikson’s Stages of Human Development. Community Mental Health Journal, Vol. 45(6), pp. 405-414.