Oedipus complex

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The Oedipus complex, in psychoanalytic theory, is a group of largely unconscious (dynamically repressed) ideas and feelings which centre around the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex and eliminate the parent of the same sex.[1][2] According to classical theory, the complex appears during the so-called 'oedipal phase' of libidinal and ego development; i.e. between the ages of three and five, though oedipal manifestations may be detected earlier.[3][4]

The complex is named after the Greek mythical character Oedipus, who (albeit unknowingly) kills his father and marries his mother. According to Freud, the Oedipus complex is a universal phenomenon, built in phylogenetically, and is responsible for much unconscious guilt. Speaking of the mythical Oedipus, Freud put it in these terms:

His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours –- because the oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that this is so.[5]

Classical theory considers the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex to be developmentally desirable, the key to the development of gender roles and identity. Freud posited that boys and girls resolved the conflicts differently as a result of the male's castration anxiety (caused by oedipal rivalry with the father) and the female's penis envy. He also held that the unsuccessful resolution of the Oedipus complex could result in neurosis, paedophilia, and homosexuality.

Classical theory holds that 'resolution' of the Oedipus complex takes place through identification with the parent of the same sex and (partial) temporary renunciation of the parent of the opposite sex; the opposite-sex parent is then 're-discovered' as the growing individual's adult sexual object.

In classical theory, individuals who are fixated at the oedipal level are 'mother-fixated' or 'father-fixated', and reveal this by choosing sexual partners who are discernible surrogates for their parent(s).


[edit] Theory of the Oedipus complex

The classical paradigm in a (male) child's psychological coming-of-age is to first select the mother as the object of libidinal investment. This however is expected to arouse the father's anger, and the infant surmises that the most probable outcome of this would be castration. Although Freud devoted most of his early literature to the Oedipus complex in males, by 1931 he was arguing that females do experience an Oedipus complex, and that in the case of females, incestuous desires are initially homosexual desires towards the mothers. It is clear that in Freud's view, at least as we can tell from his later writings, the Oedipus complex was a far more complicated process in female than in male development.

The infant internalizes the rules pronounced by his father. This is how the super-ego comes into being. The father now becomes the figure of identification, as the child wants to keep his penis, but resigns from his attempts to take the mother, shifting his libidinal attention to new objects of desire.

[edit] Little Hans: a case study by Freud

"Little Hans" was a young boy who was the subject of an early but extensive study of castration anxiety and the Oedipus complex by Freud. Hans's neurosis took the shape of a phobia of horses (Equinophobia). Freud wrote a summary of his treatment of Little Hans, in 1909, in a paper entitled "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy."

[edit] The evolution of Freud's views

Most Freud scholars today agree that Freud's views on the Oedipus complex went through a number of stages of development. This is exemplified by the Simon and Blass (1991) publication, which documents six stages of development for Freud's thinking on this subject:

  • Stage 1. 1897–1909. Following the death of his father in 1896, and his later seeing Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Freud begins to use the term "Oedipus" but does not, at this stage, use the term "Oedipus complex".
  • Stage 2. 1909–1914. Freud refers to Oedipal wishes as being the "nuclear complex" of every neurosis, and later uses term "Oedipus complex" for the first time in 1910.
  • Stage 3. 1914–1918. Incestuous wishes in relation to the father as well as to the mother are now considered.
  • Stage 4. 1919–1926. Stage of complete Oedipus complex, in which considerations of identification and bisexuality become more evident in Freud's work. Freud now begins to use the term "complete Oedipus complex".
  • Stage 5. 1926–1931. Applies the Oedipal theory to religious and cultural themes.
  • Stage 6. 1931–1938. Gives more attention to the Oedipus complex in females.

[edit] The female Oedipus complex

Freud's writings on the Oedipus complex in females date primarily from his later writings, of the 1920s and 1930s. He believed that Oedipal wishes in females are initially expressions of homosexual desire for the mother. In 1925, he raised the question of how females later abandon this desire for their mother, and shift their sexual desires to their father (Appignanesisi & Forrester, 1992). Freud believed that this stems from their disappointment in discovery that they themselves lack a penis. It is noteworthy that, as Slipp (1993) points out, "Nowhere in the Standard Edition of Freud's Collected Works does Freud discuss matricide" (Slipp, 1993, p95). Freud's final comments on female sexuality occurred in his "New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis" in 1933 (Slipp, 1993) and deal with the different effects of penis envy and castration anxiety.

[edit] Disagreements and revisions

In classical theory, the super-ego (considered 'the heir to the Oedipus complex') comes into being as the infant internalizes the rules pronounced by his father. In contrast to this view, Otto Rank theorized in the early 1920s that the powerful mother was the source of the super-ego in normal development. This theory catapulted Rank out of the inner circle in 1925 and led to the development of modern object-relations therapy. (Rank coined the term "pre-Oedipal".)

While Freud regarded boys' and girls' and adults' relationships to the father (and the father's phallus) as central to their psychosexual development, Melanie Klein focused more on the early relationship with the mother. Her insistence that oedipal manifestations can even be seen during the first year of life was a feature of the so-called 'Controversial Discussions' which took place in the British Psychoanalytical Association between 1942 and 1944. In Klein's work the Oedipus complex is also 'de-throned' to some extent, its central role in development being usurped by her concept of the depressive position.[6][7]

While Freud held that both sexes initially experience desire for their mothers and aggression towards their fathers, Carl Jung argued that females experienced desire for their fathers and aggression towards their mothers. He referred to this idea as the Electra complex, after Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon. Electra wanted to kill her mother, who had helped plan the murder of her father. Thus, in orthodox Jungian thought, the term 'Oedipus complex' properly refers only to the experience of male children. The 'Electra complex' is not part of classical theory, and not usually accepted by those in the Freudian fold. In practice, the concept is rarely used, even by Jungians.

Modern analysts also differ in the extent to which they accept the classical view of the 'universality' of the Oedipus complex. Some speak cautiously of the complex's significance "at least in Western societies"[8] , while others consider its temporal and geographic universality to have been established by ethnologists[9]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Charles Rycroft: A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Edn, 1995)
  2. ^ Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. Ed Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
  3. ^ Charles Rycroft: A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Edn, 1995)
  4. ^ Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. Ed Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, chapter V, "The Material and Sources of Dreams", (D) Typical Dreams, New York: Avon Books, p. 296.
  6. ^ Charles Rycroft: A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Edn, 1995)
  7. ^ Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. Ed Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995
  8. ^ Hans Keller: 1975: 1984 Minus 9 (London, 1975)
  9. ^ Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel and Bela Grunberger: Freud or Reich?: Psychoanalysis and Illusion (London, 1986).

[edit] See also

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