The Oedipus Complex


The Oedipal Complex as hypothesized by Freud is based on the ancient Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.  This play tells the story of Oedipus, king of Thebes.  A prophecy was made at his birth that he would murder his father and marry his mother.  Despite efforts all around to prevent the prophecy from reaching fruition, inadvertently, their efforts become their downfall.  However, no one is aware of the truth until Tiresias, the prophet, reveals all to the city.  Oedipus goes through bouts of anger, denial, and fear, but he is finally banished from the city.  The Oedipal Complex is the basis of Freud’s most influential concept of psychoanalysis yet its relevance to modern psychology is tenuous at best.

Freud believed that human behavior and beliefs are controlled by a variety of sexual drives.  He formulated a structure for the “normal” sexual development of a child beginning at birth.  From birth to two years of age is called the oral phase.  The baby receives everything from the mouth, nourishment and comfort.  During this time, the main object of the child’s sexual desires is of course, the mother’s breast.  That desire then transfers to the mother herself and the child falls in love with his mother.  Immediately following the oral phase from age two to four, is the sadistic anal phase.  During this phase, the child has two instincts: one is the love of gazing and the other is mastery.  Also during this period, the new agent of his desire is the rectal orifice.  He takes pleasure in defecation because he is creating something of his own.  In girls, this pleasure translates later in life to the pleasure of child birth. 

The phallic phase, from age four to seven, is the most critical stage in the child’s sexual development.  The child begins to discover his own sexuality and takes pleasure in urination.  The child is forced to deal with his desire for his mother as well as a separation from her.  He recognizes the father as an obstacle to being near his mother.  The child is often times threatened with castration by the father.  However, in normal growth, the child will begin to learn that the world is not governed by his desire.  He must follow the reality-principle as opposed to the pleasure-principle.  The child, now separated from the mother of his infancy, will identify anew with one of his parents.  Usually a male child will identify with his father and make an effort to imitate him.  Through this process, he accedes to the demands of authority and society and develops a super-ego.   Following the phallic phase is a five year latency period.  The child suppresses all of his primitive desires and sacrifices some of his ego for the love of others.  The final genital phase occurs when the child hits puberty.  He begins to desire those of the opposite sex and fulfills his duty in life to produce offspring.

According to Freud, the mental health of a person is all dependant on his handle of the Oedipus complex.  The id is the sex-drive and impulse to fulfill primitive desires.  Even when these impulses are repressed, one has Freudian slips that reveal their hidden desires, often in dreams.  When the repressed returns, the abnormal behavior is called neurosis.  Freud believed that mental health problems are very often the result of neurosis.  However, in modern psychology, the Oedipal complex does not have widespread use.  It is important to note that psychology is a scientific field, not a speculative one.  It requires the use of observation and experimentation to obtain knowledge in an objective fashion.  A great deal of biological research is currently being done to investigate why humans have mental and behavioral problems.  The Oedipal complex is a popular topic of debate but is not an adequate explanation for the cause of disease.  Freud came up with his ideas by analyzing the dreams of his patients and interpreting the mundane to be symbols of their Oedipal complex.  There is no empirical evidence to substantiate his ideas. 

Freud is greatly respected and heralded as one of the greatest psychologists for his development of psychoanalysis.  However, his belief that all people are affected by the Oedipus complex is more than a little absurd.  According to Freud, every child beginning from birth has sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex.  Theoretically intriguing, not many actually believe it.  Every person was once a child but how many remember desiring their parents?  Not many, perhaps none at all.  His ideas are an interesting topic of research and debate but carry little validity in today’s world of logic and science.



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