Once, the King of Thebes Lauis heard a prediction of an oracle who said that the king would be murdered by his son. Because of this very prediction, the king ordered to take his newborn son to the mountains and leave the baby to die there. But the boy survived and was named Oedipus. An adoptive father brought up Oedipus, and the boy knew nothing of his real parents.
In his youth, Oedipus came across Laius and arguing who of the two should let the other pass first the young man killed the older one. Then, he chanced to save Thebes from Sphinx. The mysterious animal pestered travellers with riddles and killed those who gave a wrong answer. Thus the animal cut Thebes off the outer world. When Oedipus saved Thebes from Sphinx, the grateful citizens offered the reign to Oedipus and married him to Tsarina Jocasta, Oedipus’ real mother. The end of the story was really sad as all characters died.
This Greek myth became the basis for Sophokles’ tragedy The Oedipus Rex. However, the whole of the world remembers the story of Oedipus basically thanks to the rich imagination of the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.
Freud used the notion of ‘Oedipus complex’ for the first time in his work The Interpretation of Dreams « in 1899; and the notion later became one of the cornerstones of the Freudian paradigm.»
Freud said that when mother gives so much sensual pleasure to her son by breastfeeding him, giving care and kindness to him she thus becomes the object of the boy’s libidinal attention. As a result, the boy feels jealous toward the father and may even wish the father’s death. But the fear of punishment (‘the castration complex’) replaces the desire to the sphere of unconscious. When a boy grows older he acquires gender through identification with the father, and next he extends his sexual desire from the mother onto other women. This is how the Oedipus complex is solved.
The female variant of the Oedipus complex is called ‘the Elektra complex’ by the name of another Greek mythology character who revenged herself upon her mother for killing the father. A question arises how does girls’ desire to the mother as a source of please disappear when they grow up? Where does girls’ desire to the father originate from? To answer the question Freud offered the term ‘envy to the phallus’. When a girl realizes the distinction between the genders, she begins to feel her own inferiority and blames her mother for taking the father together with his penis away from her. Later, the girl sees that other men also have penises and she shifts her sexual desire upon them. And this is how the Elektra complex is solved.
The classical psychoanalysis considers the Oedipus complex with children aged between 2.5-6 years a normal stage of development of a child’s individuality and sexuality. It is not at all a perversion or a sign of a mental disease.
Problems may arise when for some reason the Oedipus complex is not properly solved and when an adult child still has sexual desires toward his parent of the opposite sex or still has stormy conflicts with the parent of the same sex. This may happen in families with despotic parents or in those where a parent dies when a child is very little.
Eternal bachelors who report their every movement to mothers, whimsical maidens who reject all fiancés explaining that there is no one adequate among them, Hamlet and Karamazov brothers are the Oedipus complex victims according to psychoanalysis.
Contrary to the general belief, the Oedipus complex very seldom ends in direct incest or distinct incestuous impulses. Remember that Oedipus killed the father and married his mother being absolutely unaware of the fact that they were his parents. The same way, people having the Oedipus complex do not understand the sexual nature of their relations with the parents.
Freudian followers are inclined to interpret any action of a human as the result of some suppressed sexual complexes. And opponents to Freud’s teaching say that any publication saying about ‘unconsciousness’ is charlatanry. For some people it is unusual that psychoanalysis tells about things that are unthinkable in ‘a decent society’ as about something self-evident. It sounds incredible that babies may also have sexual desires or that a respectable man may be suspected of having parricidal plans!
Critics of psychoanalysis say that conclusions of the Freudian theory are spun out of thin air and cannot be proved empirically. They add that the same phenomena can be explained without any Freudian theory at all.
An ethologist who studies behavior of animals would explain a man’s aggression toward his father as an obvious manifestation of rank quarrels between males in a pack, their fighting for domination. They would say that young girls choose older male partners because they want alpha-males to be their partners. And sexual desire toward mothers ethologists may explain as an atavism we have inherited from our ancestors who had no incest taboo.
A non-Freudian psychologist as well as any reasonable person would say that too violent pedagogical mania of parents is violence over a child’s personality. It may end in a riot or infantilism and psychological dependence upon parents. And instances of this type can be perfectly explained without invention ‘the castration complex’ or ‘envy to the phallus’.
In today’s world where families having one parent are the norm the love and envy of a child toward any of the parents arises from the trauma he gets when the family splits and the parents divorce. And the metaphysical Oedipus complex has nothing to do with it.
Translated by Maria Gouseva
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