Introduction

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Many a book about developmental psychology discusses the 'Oedipus complex'.
People note this, but not everyone believes such a symptom really exists.
It is a difficult phenomenon, because it concerns the unconscious. Unconscious phenomena are hard to recognize. One is inclined to ignore them. 
Freud had such ideas, but haven't these been seen as old-fashioned for some time? 
I, too, had taken note of it. I only occasionally paid attention to it. 

The occasion

This changed when I read in a diagnostic report about myself that my own soul might have an Oedipus complex - more specifically, a 'negative Oedipus complex'.
For a while I was perplexed.
Then I changed that statement into a question and I started to investigate it.

My investigation was not an explicit one, but since I was in therapy, I gave extra attention to Oedipal rumble that came to the surface. I noted each instance in a diary. Later, I made a logbook out of  these notes. I than worked up that logbook into a therapy report. At the end of this process, I could write this essay. 

So, this is not an academic lecture about the Oedipus complex but a personal essay. 
Those who want to help people should first dive into their own soul and explore and order the rumble there. 
Perhaps this may help those who are working with their inner world or with others'.
This essay is intended for them.
Do not abuse the personal data mentioned in it.


"Let all became visible, how mean it may be. How deep I should have to go, I will unlock the secret of my birth!"

Oedipus in King Oedipus, Sophocles.


The [..] mystery asks "Who are you?" and the I has no other reply than being who it is."

Korteweg et.al. 1996, pp 55
.

 

Introduction 

There is a lot written about the Oedipus complex. I will not repeat that here, except for mentioning a few authors. I will start telling what is generally known. I then will tell more on the basis of my own experiences, the myth, and recent literature.

Most people know that Oedipus unconsciously killed his father and, also unconsciously, married his mother. Freud has chosen this myth to give a name to what he discovered in his consulting room about the human unconscious.

According to Freud, the Oedipal phase starts at the age of three to five. Freud terms this phase also the phallic phase, a phase in which the phallus has a central place in the child's mind. For boys, this is the penis; for girls, it is the clitoris - the girl has still not discovered her vagina - as well as her brother's and father's penises. 

This is also the phase in which the superego develops the conscience. This starts with internalizing the parental authority - for boys, especially the father. This is also the phase in which guilt feelings develop. 

Freud uses two central concepts for this phase: fear of castration for boys and penis envy for girls. Based on these feelings, the boy starts to respect his father and the girl gives more attention to her father. So, after a period in which the mother was the central figure, the figure of the father now comes to the foreground.  

For the boy, this results in ambivalent feelings concerning his father: rivalry and fear on one hand, respect and admiration on the other. The boy wants to give a baby to his mother. So, he identifies himself with his father and imitates him. So he grows to be a man.

For the girl, this results in much attention for the father. She wants to have a penis, to give her mother a baby, or to have a baby from her father - for a young girl this is the same feeling. The girls develops ambivalent feelings concerning her mother. She keeps a distance, but she also fears losing her. The girl identifies herself with her mother and imitates her. So she grows to be a woman.

 

The phenomenon - or supposition - that little boys fall in love with their mother is generally known. 'Mother's little prince or knight' wants to marry her.

 

The girl, 'fathers little girl', falls in love with her father. She wants to marry daddy and to give him a baby.

 

Parents smile - they have already married each other, a child can see it. Yes, indeed children see this. For the boy, the mother is the wished for partner and the father is the rival. However, the boy does not want  to lose his father. For the girl, the father will be the wished for partner and the mother is the rival. However, the girl does not want to lose her mother. Both the boy and the girl have a problem they must solve.

The positive answer the boy has to discover is to imitate the father. He wants to become just as great and as strong a man as is his father - momma will love such a man.

 

For the girl, the positive answer to discover is to imitate the mother - then daddy will love her.
 

The boy starts his route to become a man. In the course of this route, he will discover that he has to look for his own partner, and thus he does. Frequently, that partner will look like his mother.

 

The girl starts her route to become a woman. In the course of this route, she will discover that she has to look for her own partner, and thus she does. Frequently, that partner will look like her father.

Front image of Jongens, hoe voed je ze op?,
Dutch translation of Raising Boys, 
Biddulph 1999 > 

"So stand real men"

 

The negative answer is just the opposite. The boy wants to please his mother and so he imitates her, not his father. He is loyal to her and cannot miss her. He side-tracks the father who is not important - anyway not a person to identify himself with. 
The girl wants to please her father and so she imitates him, not her mother. She wants to be as great, strong and sturdy as she sees him. She is loyal to him. She side-tracks the mother who may put the food onto the table, but who is not important enough to identify herself with.

Kuiper gives a somewhat different description of the negative Oedipus complex. The boy does not compete or fight with the father, but submits himself to him. He gives up  being 'mother's little knight'. He identifies passively with the mother. 

If the submission to the father has a sexual component, Kuiper sees here the source of passive and masochistic homosexuality. The submission to the father figure is not a positive choice, but a defence. So, Kuiper also sees here the source of later authority conflicts at school or job. He also sees here the source of the Don Juan type of man, the man who unconsciously identifies himself with women, but hides this even to himself, and so acts as a super man. This is not a choice from within, but only a role to play. In so doing, the Don Juan cannot have real relationships with women. He constantly needs new conquests because he cannot live without a woman. 
(Kuiper 1972, pp. 136 and further)

Clearly, different authors have different views on the negative Oedipus complex.

Traces of the Oedipal wishes may exist in the unconscious. Imperceptibly, these ancient wishes will have influence, as we have seen in Kuiper's examples above. For example, for some people it is difficult to keep distance of their parents. They do not grow to be independent, they do not develop their own personality.

This is a description of the Oedipus complex as it is generally known. Most people only speak about a complex if the child did not find an answer, or has chosen a 'negative' answer. In that case there is a problem. The child who has grown good and positively through the Oedipal phase has no problem and, say most people, so no complex. In that case, the whole story will stay unconscious.

There is more to tell, as we will see reading the myth of King Oedipus and reviewing more literature. First, however, I will report my own quest. My quest started with the alarm coming from the diagnosis mentioned above - and with only the basic knowledge of the Oedipus complex also mentioned above. Deeper insights came later and will be mentioned later in this essay.

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