Tapping into the Oedipus Complex: Have I ever been in love with my parents?
What if I told you that you were in love with your parents? You would think, “of course I am, they’re my parents!” But, what if I told you that you were so in love with the parent of the opposite sex, you would do anything to make them happy? Even if that means forming a rivalry with the parent of the same sex? You would think I’m being a bit extreme. However, there is a possibility that during childhood development, they have experienced such feelings. It is referred to as the Oedipus complex.
According to our favorite founding father of psychology – Sigmund Freud, this is a phenomena that happens during the phallic stages of development during the ages 3 to 5 in a child. This arousal is formed by the unconscious sexual desire for a parent of the opposite sex. By this stage, if the relationship between parents and child remain non-traumatic, met with love, with not one parent being overly stimulating or prohibitive the Oedipal stage is almost not one to worry about. If there was any occurrence of trauma in the child’s life, infantile neurosis develops.
“Infantile neurosis is a conflict that manifests itself early in childhood. Infantile neurosis is used to appoint a disorder that is characterized by neurotic pathology, or transference neurosis…” If not able to counteract, it can lead to adult mental issues in the long run.
Sigmund Freud introduced the Oedipus complex in his 1899 self-analysis: Interpretation of Dreams. Freud noted that some of the behavioral manifestations of the Oedipus complex are that a child (namely a boy) will be jealous and won’t want his father to kiss or hug his mother. It was the child’s duty to win over the affections of his mother. By having the father present, the father ruins the child’s chances to fulfill the mother’s needs.
Even though Freud mainly spoke on the behalf of boys on the Oedipus complex, the girls didn’t fall short on the concept either. Instead, for girls, this is called the Electra complex. Yet, it was not Sigmund Freud who coined this term. It was Carl Jung who did. As Sigmund Freud borrowed the term from the ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Jung took the term Electra complex from the ancient Greek myth of Electra and Agamemnon.
Freud believed that the Oedipus complex didn’t show any discrimination against genders. However, he did argue that both sexes experience the Oedipus complex differently. Freud also further elaborated on this concept by coming up with the idea of having “penis envy.” Penis envy occurs when a girl discovers she was born without a penis, which ends up resulting in resentment towards the mother. The reason this resentment forms is because the girl feels that her mother bought her into this world not properly equipped. The idea was quickly criticized by psychoanalyst Karen Horney. Horney refuted Freud’s penis envy statement by saying men experienced womb envy. Men then come up with feelings of resentment because they have the inability to bare children.
Can the Oedipus Complex Be Resolved?
The Oedipus Complex isn’t a disorder. You wouldn’t treat this as if it were an actual mental illness. However, the Oedipus complex occurs during Freud’s psychosexual development. These developments are important, because this is what determines if a child will grow up to have a healthy adult personality.
The best way this can be resolved is if the child (boy or girl) can learn to identify with the parent he/she has a rivalry with. The id, ego, and superego also come into play. Speaking for the boy, Freud suggests that the id wants to get rid of the father, but the ego is aware that the father figure is stronger. The child then uses the defense mechanism of identification. By this time, the child has developed castration anxiety. In order for this to not happen, the child switches his attitude to try and appease the father. To do this, the child will replicate all the behaviorisms and speech of the father. The super-ego has formed within the child’s psyche thus suppressing the desires of the id and ego. The super-ego holds the characteristics of the child’s father, and the Oedipus complex is soon completely repressed.
Outside influences also play a role in the repression of the Oedipus complex through societal norms, what is considered right/wrong, and religious teachings.
What if the Oedipus Complex isn’t Resolved?
There are times that particular psychosexual stages of development aren’t resolved, and that can lead to a child’s adult personality not being “healthy.” When the Oedipus complex remains unresolved the child (boy) will become mother-fixated, or child (girl) will become father-fixated. What you can expect to see later on in their adult life is that they will try and fulfill a romantic relationship with a partner that closely resembles their opposite sex parent.
To this day this concept is widely criticized. Many psychologists agree that the Oedipus complex is too tilted to one side, because we are unaware of what it’s really like inside of the household, and unaware of the family dynamics. Freud lets us know he is also aware of this, because when we look into his 1920s Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis, he writes: “I do not wish to assert that the Oedipus complex exhausts the relation of children to their parents: it can easily be far more complicated. The Oedipus complex can, moreover, be developed to a greater or lesser strength, it can even be reversed, but it is a regular and very important factor in a child’s mental life.”
Hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a question or comment :).
Britannica, (n.d.). Oedipus complex. Retrieved from
Encyclopedia.com, (n.d.). Infantile Neurosis. Retrieved from
Waude, A. (May 16th, 2016). 31 Psychological Defense Mechanisms Explained. Retrieved from https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defence-mechanisms-list
Verywell.com, (n.d.). What Is an Oedipus Complex? Retrieved from
Jessica is a New York City native who graduated from undergrad with her B.S in Psychology. While her focus is steadily on trauma, and how it manifests itself in different cultural and religious contexts, she enjoys writings articles about the brain, its functions, and other mental disorders. Jessica enjoys educating those on all things psychology, neuroscience, as well as sharing her experiences. Any questions you have, she encourages you to not withhold them! Start a conversation with her under her blog posts, she will be more than delighted to chat with you!