Everyone has heard of the Oedipus complex. In this article, we will explore in further detail this controversial, yet enduring concept introduced by Sigmund Freud.
The Oedipus complex or Oedipal complex is a term used by Freud in the theory of psychosexual stages of development. It describes a situation in which a boy feels jealousy towards his father and desire for his mother. In its essence, the complex is about the feeling of competition between father and son for the attention and presence of the mother. A boy feels as though his father is a rival for the affections of his mom.
Freud’s theory refers to the sexual desire a child has for the parent of the opposite gender, especially the erotic attention boys have for their mother.
According to the famous philosopher, the Oedipus complex has an important role during the stages of psychosexual development and the phallic stage in particular. He believed that to develop a mature sexual identity a boy has to complete this stage with identifying with the parent from the same sex.
What is the Oedipus Complex?
Above we shared a definition of the concept, but there is more to it which needs to be explained. Below we have listed some key things to know about the Oedipus complex.
– A boy wants to replace his father and possess his mother. The other male is a rival in the child’s eyes.
– The Oedipal complex can be noticed during the phallic stage which is between the ages 3-5.
– The phallic period is an important stage in the process of forming a sexual identity.
– The analog of this concept with girls is known as the Electra complex, where a girl feels jealousy towards her mother and desire for her father.
– The first time Freud proposed the concept was in 1899 in the book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams.’ The term Oedipus complex was not formally used until 1910.
– The term comes from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.
How to Resolve the Oedipus Complex?
To develop as an adult with an own identity, a child must identify with the parent from the same sex. This condition is needed to resolve the conflict connected to the Oedipus complex.
According to Freud, although a child may want to eliminate the father, the realistic ego knows that the parent is much stronger. It is important that at the stage when the child learns more about the differences between men and women, he can identify with his father. This is the point when the superego is formed. It is an inner moral authority which reflects the father figure.
The Sexual Awakening
There is a moment in which every child realizes that their mom and dad are different. This is the time when they also realize they are like one of them more than the other. This is when the child acquires gender.
As already mentioned, a child may have erotic feelings towards the parent of the opposite sex. These are primitive physical sensations which are focused on the parent from the opposite gender. The primitive desire may trigger jealousy and anger which motivate the child to want to exclude the parent from the same sex.
A critical point in child’s development is when they realize the mother has affections for other people too. The primitive jealousy is not only seen in children but also in parents. This happens when they are competing with the child for the affection of the other parent or with each other for the affection of the child.
Of course, not all opposition in children is sexually based. Some of them struggle to find their identity and rebel against the control of their parents.
The Transitioning Process
A critical point in the transition from the Oedipal stage on is realizing that the mother desires more than just the child, which loosens the ties of dependence, intimacy, and vulnerability. The child becomes more independent.
The mother becomes a separate object and she is not part of the ideal self anymore, but she can now become a subject of love. Boys then turn to their mothers as a separate individual.
The signs of this separation may come as a sense of mastery over women, and this is the source of male denigration of women.
Women are now a reminder of lost and forbidden unity, so they become desired and feared. Boys start using mastery to cover up the feelings of loss. Women create a tension in boys because of something lost, dangerous and forbidden.
It takes time for any boy to become independent from their mother, although they are already separated. This is because he needs to develop a working relationship which is based on the tension of love and difference he feels. The relationship develops with the building of a healthy distance. Acts of love and comforting are available but are required only occasionally.
What happens to the girls at this stage?
Most research and discussions about the complex Oedipal focus on boys who are seen to have a harder time building individual independence from their mother.
However, Carl Jung identified this complex in girls too, and he named in the Electra complex. It is not a direct mirror image of the Oedipal complex, the starting point here is a female to female connection.
Girls move emotionally closer to their fathers and start being jealous of their mother. The father figure is a symbol of attractive power. The girl forms a dangerous relationship with her father where she envies the other female in the triangle – the mother.
As with boys, girls can build healthy father-daughter relationships with an appropriate distance after this stage of their development is completed.
Both girls and boys, need to find their independence through separation from their mother. For girls, this is a matter of creating their own, separate femininity. The separation of a girl from their mother is not as strong as the separation of a boy. Girls can sustain a close relationship with the other female in the family. Maybe this is why relationships with other people, in general, are more important for the females than for the males.
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