It is normal that the relationship between parents and children must go through a series of stages, which are experienced for periods of time. At first, the parents are responsible for ensuring the good health, education and social and economic stability of their children. Eventually these defenseless beings will learn new tools and information, which will allow them to become independent during adulthood.

However, some of these children and adolescents have difficulties in achieving independence from their parents. Consequently, they do not live a life in which they pursue their own goals and interests, they continue to connect their personal life with family and home. But they will also focus all their efforts on improving the quality of life of their parents, neglecting themselves.

Difficulty coping with adult life and maintaining a life separate from family ties are just some of the first signs. In addition, excessive affection and attention for the father and also the mother is appreciated . This is a condition that has been recognized by the name of Antigone complex, it usually occurs in people of the female gender. Next, we will delve into this topic by analyzing its characteristics, causes and treatments.

What is the Antigone complex?

The Antigone Complex is also known as the caregiver syndrome. This is because it describes a psychological state characterized by showing extreme affection, attention and even sacrifice to achieve the well-being of the parents themselves. It is one of the most common types of complexes today, it is observed that a large part of young adults have difficulties in starting a life of their own and independent of their parents.

It presents multiple psychological characteristics, among which the difficulty in successfully facing adult life stands out . This means that they are individuals who are not yet fully independent, and there is also an inability to accept natural laws such as death. Therefore, they will take extreme measures that guarantee the health and economic stability of the parents, they themselves are in charge of directing these actions.

The first time this mental condition was formally described may be in 1965 by Wolman. In his research, he managed to identify individuals who voluntarily gave up pursuing professional and personal achievements , because they focused all their efforts on maintaining the psychological, physical, social and economic stability of their family members.

What is the origin of this name and what is its relationship? 

The reason why this name was chosen to refer to this complex lies in an ancient Greek history. According to this myth the daughter of King Oedipus with Jocasta was called Antigone , it was the product of incest because this ruler would unknowingly join the marriage with his own mother. But he also committed the crime of killing the king of Thebes who would be his father, and then marrying his own Mother

When the ruler knows the truth, he decides to remove his eyes and voluntarily banished himself away from civilization. During his stay in exile he was accompanied by his daughter Antígona who would faithfully take care of him. She would join him in a life marked by begging in order to survive. She would take care of her father now that he was blind , they continued on their way to Colona located in Attica near Athens. Unfortunately here he would suffer persecution by the Erinyes until his death.

After his brothers Eteocles and Polynices fought in order to achieve the power to rule Thebes, which they would do in turns with a period of duration of one year. But both would end up killing each other which would allow the coming to power of King Creon. Due to the discussions that the burial of both brothers would generate where the only one to be buried with honors is Eteocles, then Antigone decides on her own initiative to bury Polynices in the same way even when she was disobeying the king’s orders.

The end of this story ends with the suicide of Antigone. She is locked inside a cave with limited access to food and water. The prophet Tiresias intercedes for her, who predicts to the king that by not releasing her he would be causing the wrath of the gods. He decides to follow this advice to avoid more misfortunes, however when they open the cave they realize that she had hanged herself. Unfortunately this is reason enough for the king’s son named Hemon to commit suicide as well because he was engaged to her in marriage.

As can be seen in this story, its protagonist Antígona always showed greater interest in attending to the problems that happened to her direct relatives. It is here where it maintains a direct association with the psychological condition that presents these same characteristics.

What are their characteristics?

The main characteristic of this complex is observed in the behavior of the affected people. The first sign is the type of attention they show with their parents, they will usually make any kind of sacrifice in order to guarantee their well-being, even when it affects them negatively. They show an exacerbated feeling of affection that makes them demonstrate their need to take care of their parents.

These individuals often have difficulties to relate affectively within other areas such as relationships and friendship. Both scenarios become secondary or even unnecessary. Consequently, these people will only focus on maintaining emotional, physical, economic and social stability within the home.

Some experts consider that this syndrome is independent of another known as the caregiver syndrome , however in recent years most accept that it can be the same condition. The difficulty in determining whether it was two different situations lies in who are the individuals most likely to develop it. In the case of caregiver syndrome, it is more common in the female population.

In any of these cases, the need to improve the quality of life of the parents is evident To do this, people who suffer from this complex will stop caring for themselves in order to achieve this goal. Despite the possible physical or psychological limitations of the parents they will stay close.

How is it identified? Practical examples 

There are multiple common examples that serve as a reference to understand how this condition works and affect patients. It could be identified as a type of vocation to serve others , but in this case this extreme attention will be focused on the parents. An example of this type is found in people who renounce the possibility of marrying and forming their own family.

Usually people are described who have a lonely life, this means that they do not lead a normal social life. Statistically, it is observed that in most cases these individuals still remain in the family home, by their own decision they decide not to live independently since they prefer to be close to their parents.

Psychologists define these people as exaggerated and abnormal behavior. They completely forget about their own needs because they are constantly thinking about how to help others. It is important to note that it can develop not only in daughters with their respective parents, similar cases are also observed in wives and sisters.

What are your causes? 

Different hypotheses of the possible causes that may influence the development of this type of complex are handled. One of the most important describes the feeling of guilt that is ingrained in some families, which will significantly influence their female members.

This means that women in this family group will feel obliged to give up a life of their own to take care of their parents, it becomes a necessity to avoid feeling suffering or the weight of guilt . Similarly, it is important to mention that in some cultures or societies greater pressure is exerted on the female population to take charge of the home.

It is also important to understand that the closeness that exists between fathers and daughters can be so close that they feel the need to show appreciation. In some cases it may be a situation in which they want to feel that they are useful or capable of caring for their parents, just as they did when they were children.

How is it overcome and what are the most recommended treatments? 

This is a psychological complex that, like others, requires patience and perseverance to overcome it. Understanding that this is a mental condition that causes people to completely give up their personal and social life, it is very important to have the help of family and friends during the treatment phase.

The first stage consists of accepting that you are suffering from an emotional state that will negatively affect the patient himself. The renunciation of having a life of their own generates multiple conflicts that generally only affect the patient, however some close relatives may also be involved. The important thing is to be able to provide the patient with the necessary tools so that he can successfully overcome this condition.

Part of this treatment should focus on treating symptoms that are a consequence of this complex. That is, patients are more likely to experience episodes of anxiety and stress of varying intensity. They tend to have a considerably fragile state of health compared to their relatives, they run significant risks of suffering from both physiological and psychological problems.

It is likely that the person should be cared for not only from the point of view of a psychiatrist or psychologist. Medical consultations can be combined with specialists in respiratory, immunological, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal problems. Likewise, measures should be taken to improve the quality of restful sleep, improve nutrition, perform physical exercise and consume less alcohol or tobacco.

Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy are usually used along with the use of drugs such as anxiolytics, antidepressants and hypnotics. A broader perspective is used to understand the situation the patient is going through. Medical treatments should be able to change abnormal behaviors as well as thought patterns that affect their autonomy.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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