The Neuroses of New York

75 Years Ago, Karen Horney (a New Yorker) Named 10 Forms of Nuttiness; Time for an Update!

But isn’t it interesting how that desire for control so often falters when it comes to controlling our own impulses? We drink too much, smoke too much—even when we’re taxed to a fare-the-well and exiled down the block to do it—go home with the wrong people, and Tweet photos of our private parts indiscriminately. It’s all come to be expected. Even Eliot Spitzer, our former governor, clawed his way back from “client 9” ignominy, with a show on CNN. It didn’t survive, but you can be sure he’s plotting his next assault on the gates of power. He’s a New Yorker, after all.

nyc neuroses spotmoneypower The Neuroses of New York5. The Neurotic Need to Exploit Others

Many of the one percenters that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are railing against live in our fair city. (Some of us may even be among them!) And let’s face it, a bit of that lucre may indeed have come—inadvertently, through no fault of our own, nor as the result of any illegal acts—at the expense of our fellow citizens. Things happen.

Remember how Wall Street reaped unheard of gains by exploiting the loose regulation of derivatives after the Glass Steagall act fell in the 1990’s? Then there were all those zero-percent-down mortgages bundled, via derivatives, into products that were sold to pension funds and other investment groups that were only supposed to be sinking the people’s hard earned money into triple-A assets?

Seemed like good business, right? Especially when the government stepped in and bailed out the banks. (Muwahaha…) Turns out it was also a symptom of a mental disorder.

6. The Neurotic Need for Social Recognition or Prestige

Paris Hilton started it. The girl had money, she had looks (hey, quit that). But she wanted something more. And she got it, big time.

Then came the stampede. Before long, we even had actual, albeit mid-level socialites—like Tinsley Mortimer, married to oil heir Topper Mortimer, Olivia Palermo and (ahem) Devorah Rose—people for whom the endless cage match for social prominence was already a way of life, doubling down for a shot at a larger audience. It’s not like they needed the money either. They needed the attention.

Lately, the fight for the spotlight has become fierce. Kelly Killoren Bensimmon, Jill Zarin, Alex McCord and Cindy Barshop were unceremoniously dumped from the “Real Housewives of New York” cast for fresher, more interesting housewives: zany Carol Radziwill, Heather Thompson, and Aviva Dresher, all of whom were hired, sources tell The Observer, long before the “regulars” were fired. Worse, the switcheroo was leaked to the press just days after Bravo head Andy Cohen, a study of narcissism in his own right, had told the lades they were “safe.” Ouch.

So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t yet dropped off your dry cleaning while a knot of dudes in cargo shorts walks backwards with a camera in front of you, you may not be an authentic New Yorker at all.

7. The Neurotic Need for Personal Admiration

Several months ago The Observer was at a dinner with our friend, a TV producer, her husband, and a “TV personality”—you know, a talking-head type from cable news. The TV personality was trying to impress the producer into giving him a show and, after one particularly long, somewhat masturbatory speech, added, “I mean, I know my 30,000 twitter followers want to know what I have to say!”

“I try to stay far away from those people,” laughed Caroline Waxler, a new media specialist. “Or the ‘humble braggers’—where people allegedly are self-deprecating but really want you to know how awesome they are. Like, ‘I’m going to be on the Today show this morning. Clearly they got me confused with someone else—hahah.’ So annoying.”

Staying away from those people is getting harder every day. We are those people!

Ah, technology.

The sad fact of the matter is, Twitter, instead of satiating our need for personal admiration, has actually multiplied it beyond comprehension. Remember when you first heard about Twitter? “Why would anyone care if someone got a latte or a frappe? It’s ridiculous!” A few months later, you’re tweeting like a retarded plover.

By the way, if you want to follow me, it’s @pfro.

8. The Neurotic Ambition for Personal Achievement (and by “Personal” We Mean Our Children)

In New York, the battles to get into private—and even some public—schools are as Machiavellian as Bobby Fischer’s Poison Pawn Variation. And no one takes it more personally than the parents when little Victoria and Declan don’t get in to the school of choice.

“I felt like such a…social outcast,” said one Upper East Side parent when his four-year-old daughter failed to land a spot in the primo nursery schools he had his eye on (annual tuition: around $30,000). “I was devastated—it was just so humiliating. She’ll never make it into Harvard now.”

He might actually be lucky.


  1. The will to, or need for, approval, companionship, control, power, exploitation, recognition, and admiration is not exclusive to New Yorkers. 
    “New York is mental illness, drug addiction and eating disorders served on a silver platter.” LOL. Well, at least it’s a SILVER platter.


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  3. Paula Cather says:

    If people from North Dakota are so delightful and people from New York are such a-holes, then why are there so few people in North Daokota and so many in New York? It would only make sense that people would gravitate to places where the nice people are. Unless people secretly like being around a-holes.

    I think it more likely reflects the fact that North Dakota is sparsely populated and so they have less chance to get on each other’s nerves. It’s also much less culturally diverse, which produces less friction because people are more like each other and more likely to get along.  New York is wall to wall people from all over the world. It’s challenging to live in a climate like that. I’d like to see how long someone from Fargo, ND could remain “nice” after transplanting to New York.  

  4. Suzinne751 says:

    Count me in – unfriendly, neurotic, New Yawk!

  5. Helen Epstein says:

    Karen Horney’s ideas grew out of her own experience, like those of so many psychologists.
    Read the wonderful biography by Susan Quinn, A Mind of Her Own that is now on Kindle. 

  6. Bojwolb says:

    Seeing how unfriendly & rude New Yorkers & people from the Northeast generally are, it makes me really really happy that those terrorists chose to do their whole 9/11 thingy where they did.

    The next time the Westboro Baptist Church goes to NYC to admonish New Yorkers about 9/11, I’ll be there right beside them.

  7. Bojwolb says:

    You know, there are 2 Sodoms here in the U.S. One of them is Los Angeles in the west and the other one is New York City in the east. Hopefully, God will send more terrorists to attack both of those places.