Karen T. Horney first used the term basic conflict to describe the internal conflict that is created by a person’s incompatibility between their interpersonal strategies (neurotic trends) and their intense strivings (neurotic needs) that get repressed by the fixed engagement in these strategies. Horney identified 3 main fundamental styles of relating to others, named neurotic trends, that people use in an attempt to solve basic conflict: moving towards people (compliance, dependency, neediness), moving against people (aggression, power, control), and moving away from people (detachment, disengagement). Each trend encompasses a set of attitudes, beliefs, and needs that are consistent with the strategy used.
For example, the strategy to move toward people is related to the need for affection and approval, while the strategy to move away is related to the need for independence. Healthy people solve their basic conflict by using all three neurotic trends, adapting their attitude to the circumstances, whereas neurotics compulsively adopt only one of these trends. When only one of these strategies is rigidly used, the beliefs and needs associated with the other trends are unconsciously repressed and don’t get to be satisfied, which leads to the experience of strong strivings that are incompatible with the individual’s view of self and therefore create basic conflict.