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Oedipus Complex Theory: One of The Most Influential Psychoanalytic Theories

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Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory Oedipus complex is one of the most influential as well as divisive theories of the twentieth century. Freud coined the term Oedipus complex to refer to a stage in the development of young boys. He felt that in early development, around the age of five young boys wish to have all their mother’s love, thus, jealousy causes them to resent and even unconsciously wish for the death of their fathers. However, the concept has been greatly dominating the concept. People must understand how this works because it shows why children around these ages act the way they do.

Inspired by Oedipus Rex from Sophocles and his study of the mental actions of his own patients, Sigmund Freud developed the concept of Oedipus. Freud claimed dreams were thwarted by oedipal impulses, and these desires were common to mankind. Opposition to the title of the concept is widespread as many assume that the significance of Oedipus Rex is more profound than Freud argues. Sigmund Freud advances his complex through the substance of the play by shedding light on the tragic and unavoidable prophecy of Oedipus. The renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud created the Oedipus complex. The complex explains Freud’s theory of child development psychosexual phases, especially boys. This signifies the emotions of a boy’s mother’s lust and desire, and father’s jealousy and envy. The boy sees the father as a competitor to gain the love and affection of his mother (Cherry). Likewise, the Electra complex, a term coined by Freud’s pupil Carl Gustav Jung, explains a similar idea of young girls vying for their father’s affection with their mothers (Wiesen). Nevertheless, Freud disliked this concept because it ‘seeks to emphasize the contrast between the two sexes ‘ mentality’ (Cherry). He refers to his theory’s female version as the ‘feminine mentality of Oedipus’ and the ‘negative system of Oedipus’ (Freud, Sigmund Schlomo).

Freud also delves into his theory’s sibling relationships. He believes that relationships between siblings have no independent purpose outside the complex of Oedipus. Siblings of opposite sexes serve as their parents ‘ doppelgängers, where a son may love his sister instead of his mother and vice versa, while siblings of the same gender are competitors of each other, competing for the attention of their parents. The mother gave birth to a second son, Julius, when Freud was about one and a half years old. Freud recalls his younger brother’s feelings of resentment, which absorbed the attention of his family. Less than a year later, Julius died, leaving Freud throughout the rest of his life with a strong sense of guilt. According to Freud, in the third stage of his five stages of psychosexual development, the Oedipus complex arises; the phallic stage, which takes place between the ages of 3-6. Of the five stages I the oral, (ii) the vaginal, (iii) the phallic, (iv) the latent, and (v) the genital, the phallic stage focuses primarily on the genitals. The baby wants the parent of the opposite sex unconsciously, but boys are afraid the father’s going to punish them. This terror, known as castration anxiety, allows the boy to resist his mother’s desire, and gradually the young male progresses into the fourth stage; the latent stage. The boy starts to bond with his father at this point to manipulate his mother vicariously.

On the other hand, a young girl experiences ‘penis envy,’ in which she condemns the alleged castration of her mother. Freud believes that women remain somewhat trapped in the phallic stage unlike their male counterparts, and never outgrow their ‘penis envy.’ This theory is dismissed and denoted by many psychologists, including Karen Horney, as both misleading and patronizing to women. In suggesting that men have ‘womb envy,’ a subconscious desire for a womb (Freud, Sigmund Schlomo), she opposed Freud’s view of women. The creation of the Oedipus complex by Sigmund Freud can be outlined in his own life’s six-stage chronology. Freud felt compelled to learn more about his own psychology at stage 1 (1897-1909), galvanized by the death of his father in 1896. Freud began to develop his theory after having attended a performance of Oedipus Rex in the late 19th century. In phase 2 (1909-1914), Freud suggested the idea that all neuroses (Young) are the ‘physical complex’ of the Oedipus complex. In 1910, during one of his lectures at Clark University, Massachusetts (Burke), the first use of the term ‘Oedipus complex’ also occurred. Stage 3 (1914-1918) is when Freud starts scrutinizing parental incest, concluding that we all have incestuous impulses that need to be suppressed to make us fully functional adults. The story of Oedipus is completed in stage 4 (1919-1926) and Freud applies his theory to religion and social norms in stage 5 (1926-1931). Freud examines the ‘feminine nature of Oedipus’ in the sixth and final stage (1931-1938), later known as the ‘Electra complex.’ Freud argues in his novel The Interpretation of Dreams that the phenomenon of Oedipus is a universal, mental event, peculiar to us, and a source of our repressed, subconscious guilt. He developed this from his study of the psychological actions of his patients and his own; particularly dreams. He looked at dreams as wish fulfillments and embodiments of our innermost desires and fears, frequently involving secret childhood memoirs or fixations like the complex of Oedipus (Freud).

The story of Oedipus is where his theory is mainly supported. Freud claimed the play was highly popular because of its related content; our own could easily have been the harsh reality that the fate of Oedipus. Nevertheless, many are opposed to the Oedipus complex. Psychotherapist Dr. Jeffrey B Rubin claims that Freud’… misread Oedipus Rex, which does not explain the dynamic of Oedipus, and twisted its meaning in keeping with his philosophical preconceptions’ (Rubin). In the play, Delphi’s Oracle tells Oedipus that he is cursed to be ‘the slayer of the sire who begot him’ and ‘to defile the bed of his wife.’ Oedipus leaves Corinth, unknown to him that Polybus and Merope are not his biological parents as a means of evading his destiny. It indicates that Oedipus was trying to save his family, not sleeping with his mother and murdering his son. Oedipus fought and killed Laius, his biological father, during his journeys, and the hand of Jocasta in marriage, who was also his biological mother, was offered as a reward. The prophecy of the oracle was inevitably fulfilled; however, it was not known to any of the characters. Freud consciously omitted two imperative facts about the play from his theory, according to Rubin: ‘Oedipus Rex begins with parental aggression and abandonment, not filial patricide or incestuous relationships between a son and a mother. And the son with supposedly lustful urges and violent tendencies tried to protect his parents and escape the very fate Freud attributed to him ‘(Rubin). Freud ignored all the other influences in the story deliberately and reinterpreted it as a tragic triangle of love between a child and his family. Rubin claims that Oedipus Rex’s true morality lies in the portrayal of humanity which resides in a troubling and almost universal human behavior; ‘the way we unconsciously construct the destiny which we hate and despise’ (Rubin). In the game, the biological father of Oedipus, Laius, discovers from an oracle that ‘he is doomed to die by his own son’s hand,’ and he and his wife order a servant to kill their son. I say this will prevent the tragic fate of Oedipus. The servant instead brings the child to death at the top of a mountain, where a shepherd then saves the baby and names him Oedipus. The shepherd takes the baby to Corinth, where Polybus, the King of Corinth, takes Oedipus in and raises him. After fleeing Corinth, the luck of Oedipus comes true, killing his son, Laius, eventually, and marrying his wife, Jocasta. Once he becomes King of Thebes, he is determined to find King Laius ‘ killer and get rid of his awful plague from the city. As Jocasta states that at a crossroads on the way to Delphi, Laius was killed by robbers, Oedipus starts to worry. He sends out what he knows about the attack for the only living witness. Oedipus receives a message that his son, Polybus, has died and can never kill his own father for now. He is still worried, though, that he may be infested with his aunt, but the messenger attempts to comfort him by saying that Merope was not his biological mother. Eventually, Jocasta understands the truth of the situation and begs Oedipus to avoid contemplating the matter. The shepherd eventually appears and tells the truth to Oedipus; although he has tried, Oedipus cannot avoid his own destiny.

Freud saw this tragic outcome as his theory’s support. While humans try to avoid and control their Oedipal impulses, it is ingrained in our human nature, sadly, and it is inescapable for all mankind. Oedipus was unable to resist his fate, just as humans were unable to avoid the impulses of the system of Oedipus (Freud, Sigmund Schlomo). The experiences and scientific observations of Sigmund Freud enabled him to complete his theoretical evolution of the complex of Oedipus. Oedipus ‘ tragic prophecy represents the town of humanity, in the sense that man is unable to suppress his natural oedipal impulses. This inevitable fate is especially evident in the unconscious state of being of man; his dreams. Even though the complexity of Oedipus causes human beings to live with latent remorse, it is a permanent and inherent characteristic of human nature, according to Freud.  

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Oedipus Complex Theory: One Of The Most Influential Psychoanalytic Theories. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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