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Insider on How Freud Explain the Concept of Oedipus Complex

Inspired by Greek mythology, the Oedipus complex explores how children perceive their parents. A natural love for parents is expected. Parent-child bonds play a vital role in childhood development. Occasionally, affection can shift towards desire and possessiveness in some children. This shift characterizes the Oedipus complex in psychology. Most children undergo an “Oedipus phase” as part of their development. However, if fixation persists, it can impact a person into adulthood. Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex occurs during the Phallic stage of psychosexual development.

The Oedipus Complex:

 The Oedipus Complex, first introduced by Sigmund Freud, is a significant psychological concept. It revolves around a boy’s unconscious attachment to his mother and rivalry with his father. This attachment leads to pleasurable desires for the mother and envy towards the father. Consequently, the boy fantasizes about replacing his father and experiences castration anxiety, fearing punishment from his father. The resolution comes through the process of identifying with same-sex parents, where boys internalize their values and behaviors, ultimately forming their masculine gender identity. The father shifts from being a rival to a role model. Freud’s Little Hans case study serves as evidence for the Oedipus Complex, highlighting its relevance in understanding human development and relationships.

Freud (1909) offered the Little Hans case study as evidence of the Oedipus complex.

The Electra complex:

The Electra Complex, the female counterpart of the Oedipus complex, emerges in girls aged 3 to 6. Unconsciously, they become sexually attached to their fathers and increasingly hostile toward their mothers. Although often attributed to Freud, it was proposed by Freud’s protégé, (Jung & Kerenyi, 1963).

In the Electra complex, girls initially believe they have been castrated and blame their mothers, resulting in penis envy. To develop their superego and female sex roles, girls must identify with their mothers. However, the motivation for girls to give up their fathers as love objects and return to their mothers is less clear than for boys.

This difference makes girls’ identification with their mothers less complete, resulting in a weaker female superego and less developed separate, independent identities.

Oedipus Complex

The symptoms of Oedipus complex:

As per Freud, the symptoms of the Oedipus complex tend to differ among children. These symptoms often include behaviors like.

  • Possessiveness
  • Fixation
  • Hostility
  • Jealousy
  • Fantasy
  • over-attachment towards the opposite-sex parent.

It’s crucial to emphasize that experiencing conflicts with one’s parents doesn’t automatically signify the presence of an Oedipus complex.

Oedipus complex examples

Detecting the Oedipus complex isn’t always straightforward. Possessiveness or fixation doesn’t necessarily imply sexual behaviors.

Subtle signs in children can include pushing away the rival parent when the desired parent is touched, seeking attention from the desired parent, desiring to marry them, impersonating the rival parent, displaying hostility towards them, and becoming upset when the desired parent leaves, or the rival parent cares.

As an adult, it’s challenging to determine if you’ve fully processed the Oedipus phase in childhood. Signs in adulthood may involve an unexplainable dislike for the rival parent, preoccupation with the desired parent’s activities, wardrobe, or lifestyle, a strong sense of possessiveness or protectiveness toward the desired parent, and selecting romantic partners who resemble the desired parent.

Oedipus complex treatment options

Oedipus complex, a theory of childhood development rather than a clinical diagnosis, lacks formal treatments besides therapy. If you suspect extreme or inappropriate feelings towards a parent, consulting a therapist is a valuable initial step.

Additionally, various external influences, like mistreatment in childhood, cultural norms, or religious constraints, may affect parent-child relationships.

However, mere parent-child conflicts don’t imply the Oedipus complex. Parents are humans, and disagreements can stem from personality differences rather than developmental issues.

Critique on Freud’s Theory of Oedipus complex

limited empirical evidence

In critically examining Freud’s Oedipus complex, it’s crucial to acknowledge the limited empirical evidence supporting his claims. Specifically, his assertion concerning sex differences in mortality due to the female’s weaker superego lacks substantial backing.

For instance, when assessing children’s ability to resist temptation, girls, if anything, appear to outperform boys, as indicated by Hoffman (1975). Contrary to Freud’s belief that girls desire a penis, Horney (1924) and Thompson (1943) argue that they actually envy males’ superior social status.

Freud Overemphasized the role of sexual jealousy

Freud’s presumption of the universality of the Oedipus complex is challenged by Malinowski’s (1929) study of the Trobriand Islanders. In societies where the father is the mother’s lover but not the son’s disciplinarian (i.e., an avuncular society), the father-son relationship thrived, suggesting that Freud may have overemphasized the role of sexual jealousy. However, it’s important to note that this is just one study, and further examination of diverse societies, both Western and avuncular, is needed.

Freud exaggerated the influence of instincts

Furthermore, other psychodynamic theorists, such as Erikson (1950), contend that Freud exaggerated the influence of instincts, particularly the sexual instinct, in his account of personality development. Erikson sought to rectify this by describing stages of psychosocial development that consider social, cultural, and historical factors without disregarding biology.

Little Hans and concerns about the theory’s generalizability

Another significant critique of Freud’s Oedipal theory revolves around its heavy reliance on the case of Little Hans (1909). Freud had already introduced the Oedipal theory in 1905, and Little Hans was essentially presented as a ‘little Oedipus,’ raising concerns about the theory’s generalizability.

This case study was notably biased, with Hans’s father (a supporter of Freud’s theories) conducting most of the psychoanalysis and Freud viewing Hans as a confirmation of his Oedipal theory.

Beyond the criticism of the reliability and objectivity of case studies, other psychodynamic theorists have offered alternative interpretations of Hans’s horse phobia. Bowlby (1973), for instance, reinterpreted it in terms of attachment theory.

Nevertheless, Bee (2000) argues that attachment research aligns with the fundamental psychoanalytic hypothesis that the quality of a child’s earliest relationships influences later development.

Both Bowlby (1973) and Erikson (1963) view early relationships as prototypes for future relationships. The belief in the impact of early experiences is a significant aspect of Freud’s developmental theory.

Works Cited

Bowlby, John. Attachment and Loss. Vol. 2, Separation. Anger and Anxiety. London, Pimlico, 1973.

ESCALONA, S. “Childhood and Society. Erik H. Erikson. New York: Norton, 1950. 397 Pp. $4.00.” Science, vol. 113, no. 2931, 2 Mar. 1951, pp. 253–253,,

Sigmund Freud the Interpretation of Dreams Sigmund Freud (1900) the Interpretation of Dreams -Sigmund Freud.

“Stages of Psychosexual Development | Journal Psyche.”, 2009, Accessed 5 Nov. 2019.

“What Is Psychoanalysis? – the Oedipus Complex.” Freud Museum London,

Strachey J, et al. (1961). The dissolution of the Oedipus complex. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London, England: The Hogarth Press.

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