The relationship between parents and children is complex due to multiple aspects, which is why from the beginning there is an evolution that happens through different stages. Undoubtedly there is a special connection between both parents which serves as an example to their children, serves as a reference because that is how they understand how relationships work; and they will also understand how to relate to other people.

However, sometimes they face some difficulties during childhood and adolescence that children face with their parents. One of these situations has been defined with the term Electra Complex, it is basically the competition between mother and daughter to win the attention and affection of the father. Next we will delve into this topic by analyzing its characteristics, causes and how it is overcome.

What is the Electra complex?

Electra Complex is a type of psychological condition that occurs in girls in childhood and that even extends into adolescence. It is characterized by being part of psychosexual development and also expresses attraction to the parent. That is, the girl feels as if she is “in love” with her own father.

The first time this condition was mentioned and described was by Carl Gustav Jung . As a faithful disciple of Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst based on various studies carried out by himself, came to the conclusion that some girls are more prone to developing this complex.

Considering that it is during the childhood stage that the personality formation process begins. Certain experiences influence the development of behavior and thinking , which will eventually continue to be part of these same individuals during adulthood.

The origin of this term is made by association with an ancient story belonging to Greek mythology. It is said that King Mycenae and his daughter Electra maintained a very close relationship. Upon the violent and surprising death of her father, which I consider a tragedy, she decides to plan revenge with the help of her brother Orestes. To carry out this plan, he must kill not only his mother, but her lover as well.

The Electra complex like the Oedipus complex, both are part of the theory of psychosexual development. Both show similarities in terms of symptoms and the sensation of affective and sexual attraction with respect to the parents. However, in the case of the Elektra complex, this only describes the phenomenon that occurs in the female population during childhood and adolescence.

What are their characteristics?

At first it is observed that there are similarities between the Electra complex and the Oedipus complex. It is true that in both cases a strong attraction arises between the boy or the girl with respect to one of his parents, however there are also some differences. On the other hand, in the same way, rivalry arises with the parent who is considered to compete for the affection and attention they seek.

One of the differences described by Carl Jung lies in the emotional bond. That is to say, in this case it is observed that the union between mother and daughter is much more complex, close and concealed; which promotes some compensation in that relationship. In the case of father and son, the complexity is greater, which affects the worsening of the rivalry.

Other characteristics of the Electra complex are described below. However, it must be considered that each girl will develop different behaviors and thoughts in each case . They are as follows:

  • Girls initially feel the same degree of attraction to both parents. Eventually it focuses on the father as part of a self-protection and preservation mechanism for the species.
  • The girl may have concluded that she has been castrated . In some cases, children are afraid of suffering this type of aggression as part of a punishment, understanding that during childhood children do not understand the anatomical differences between both genders.
  • They will show a behavior that will exhibit a very affectionate demeanor , compliments are expressed and different types of attention will be constantly made. The purpose is to have the father’s attention for as long as possible.
  • Discomfort and rejection of spending time shared with the mother is evident At this stage, girls consider that they are at a disadvantage with their parents, then they become a rivalry figure that competes for the love and attention of the father.

Similarly, it is important to note that this is a complex that evolves gradually from a series of phases. Each of them is briefly described below, they are the following:

  • In the first phase, the attraction directed at the mother is created . The combination of the emotional bond between mother and daughter is more intense, compared to that of a father with a son. Approximately this occurs after 3 years of age, this initial attachment will influence the development of the personality.
  • In the second phase begins the development of predilection with respect to the father. Approximately this occurs from 4 years of age, the preference for the mother now focuses on the other parent through a behavior similar to that of falling in love .
  • In the last phase, the recognition of the bodily characteristics that are associated with sexuality finally occurs . Girls of this age discover that they do not have the same genital organs that boys possess, consequently a conflict is created in which the desire to obtain one is expressed.

Psychoanalysts observe that the approach to the mother during this process will be framed by distance and rivalry. It is also the first time that emotions such as jealousy and anger have been experienced, it is accompanied by possessive behaviors with a certain hostility. The girls tried to capture the father’s attention as well as to constantly prefer his company.

Practical examples 

There are many signs that can be identified through behavior. Girls will exhibit attitudes such as giving personalized attention as well as compliments. For them it is important to maintain close contact with the father figure , they will feel proud when they achieve their mission and they will always try to have his company.

They will also react negatively to the absence or possible rejection by the parent. That is to say, the girl will cry or have a tantrum due to the despair of the father’s departure, when he goes to his job for example. Distance is associated with experiencing a period of loneliness and negativity, the constant need for the parent’s company is associated with security and happiness.

It is common for girls to mention comments such as “I’m going to marry my dad” or “my dad is my hero.” In the same way, they will react negatively when the father shows affectionate attitudes with other people, this is because they will feel displaced or excluded from these moments. This is how a behavior based on seemingly inexplicable jealousy and rebellion begins to develop .

How is it identified? 

To identify or make a formal diagnosis of this condition, a series of factors must be taken into account. The first of these is that it will often develop over the period from 3 years to 7 years of age . In case of not being treated in a timely manner, it is possible that the same symptoms continue to appear during puberty and adolescence.

The most accurate way to realize that this complex has developed is through behavior. This drift in the demonstration of permanent and obsessive attentions, there is a mental state of fascination and interest associated with the father. This means that an idol, hero or friend is observed in the father figure; therefore its virtues are magnified by idealizing it completely.

Girls will always compete for their dad’s love and attention. The competition with the mother will become more evident every day, the expressions of affection for the father contrast remarkably with the anger and those that are felt with respect to the mother. Expressions such as “wanting to marry his dad” or “my dad loves me more than my mom” will also be heard. They will show that they feel more protection and support from the parent.

What are your causes? 

Most psychologists agree that this is a common childhood stage for all girls. That is to say, the affective fixation for the father in which there are similarities with the infatuation that is usually temporary . However, the problem arises when he creates conflicts in a rivalry situation with respect to the mother.

Some studies have concluded that there is a brief period of neutrality, this is where emotional ties are created with both parents but eventually one of them is reinforced. Depending on how the relationship between the children and their parents is, it will have an important influence on the development of a complex of this type.

It is also important to consider that some traditional conventions force members of a family to adhere to certain oaks. For this reason, girls of this age idealize or create a fantasy where they are the princesses, their mother the queen and the father the king who will be in charge of protecting them. This translates into an eventual permanent process of seeking security, a feeling that can only be felt in the company of the father.

It is also during this stage when they begin to understand what relationships are like and even their own sexuality. Noticing such simple details as watching mom and dad kiss on the mouth, girls assume that they too must participate in these types of everyday rituals.

In the case of single parents, it is common for them to spend a greater amount of time with their daughters, this is the reason why certain types of rituals begin to be practiced that will be part of daily life within the home. With the arrival of a new female figure occupying the role of a mother, it means that the stability that had been created up to that moment is in danger. Then they will be in a position to compete for the love of their dad.

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

Because this is a condition not yet officially recognized as a disorder, there is also no means to diagnose it or a series of specific treatments. Until now it remains part of the hypotheses or theories because much of the psychology community does not support it. However, if a group of consequences and specific symptoms that are associated are recognized .

Once the first signs of this complex have been identified, steps must be taken to help overcome this stage. To do this, a series of instructions are implemented within the home that avoid ridiculing or magnifying the behaviors exhibited by the girl . Nor should it be encouraged to continue the rivalry game between mother and daughter, as for the father it is up to him to encourage a rapprochement and improvement in the relationship.

The most usual thing is to observe that the behavior associated with the Electra complex disappears eventually, however there are cases where it will be prolonged and increase the fixation extending beyond adolescence. Here it is necessary to seek professional help and apply the use of psychoanalysis as the main resource to solve it. 

The emotional attraction is usually temporary , at some point during childhood all girls develop this type of complex. This means that it can be caused by the natural imitation of the mother’s behavior as part of learning. The application of psychotherapy in a timely manner will prevent future confusion in the roles of family and sexual relationships. The therapy is first intended to help accept this condition and then determine the causes to resolve it.

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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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