Oedipal complex

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What Is the Oedipal Complex?

Published March 14, 2013 by teacher dahl

The Oedipal Complex is a psychology theory developed by Sigmund Freud explaining male behavior. Watch this About.com video to learn more about the Oedipal Complex, its original meaning, and how it is understood by psychoanalysts today.

Sigmund Freud Formulated the Oedipal Complex

If you were to ask most people what one idea about psychoanalysis is most familiar to them, it would be the Oedipal Complex.  It’s a very colorful idea.

This idea was first advanced by Freud, back in the early 1900s.  Obviously, it came from the play by Sophocles.  But, it was something Freud noticed in his patients, particularly male patients.  Freud had much more of a familiarity with men and their difficulties than he did with women.  But that’s another subject.

The Story of Oedipus

The fundamental idea, as Freud saw it, was that a little boy has interest in the mother, an intimate interest in the mother, and wants the mother’s exclusive attention, wants to possess the mother.  Freud also saw the little boy as literally having a sexual interest in the mother and that the little boy is fearful of the fact that the father isn’t going to allow this to happen.  And Freud’s view was that a little boy then fears he is going to be castrated at the hands of his father.  And one of the elements of the Oedipus Complex is castration anxiety, which Freud saw as an element in difficult adult neurotic behaviors.

The Female Version of the Oedipal Complex

Freud understood women less well.  And his understanding of the Oedipal Complex in women was less full and less rich.  He also saw women as being primarily interested in mother and wanting mother exclusively to themselves and not wanting to deal with father, having a fear of the presence of father.  With the little girl, the anxiety was that she did not have a penis, and therefore was not able to satisfy mother in the way father could.  And that is the familiar idea of penis envy.

Freud’s colleague, Jung, rephrased this in terms of an Electra Complex, and focused more on the girl’s interest in the father and rivalry with the mother.

Over the decades, the understanding and use of the Oedipal Complex in psychoanalytic work has really broadened a great deal.  Most psychoanalysts today wouldn’t literally accept the idea of a sexual interest but view the Oedipal Complex much more metaphorically.

source: About .com Psychology

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