The Oedipus complex manifests itself in children who develop emotional and even sexual feelings towards their own mother. It has similarities to the Electra complex , which changes in the gender of children and their attraction to the parent of the same sex. Eventually feelings of rejection and rivalry for the parent also develop.

This could be considered to be a natural process that is part of the psychosexual development of all children . However, problems arise when the same symptoms begin to reappear during puberty. It is considered that when this complex has not been resolved, it will even extend into adult life, it will have multiple negative consequences, especially in interpersonal relationships.

It is currently considered to be one of the main types of complexes that have so far been identified. It is a fundamental concept and one of the main theories made by Sigmund Freud in his contributions to psychoanalysis.

The use of this name is in association with the play of Oedipus Rex written by the playwright of Greek origin called Sophocles. This story tells how a man named Oedipus due to different circumstances marries his own Mother without knowing it, but also during the course of these events he also kills his Father.

What is the Oedipus complex?

The Oedipus complex is a type of complex that is characterized by beginning to manifest itself during the psychosexual development phase of a child. During this stage, the phallic phase occurs where basic sexual desires that react with the opposite sex are revealed . However, in this case the desire is associated with the maternal figure, emotions such as jealousy and anger are experienced.

At first the description of this complex was only of theoretical importance. Eventually, with continuous research, it was possible to formally identify the characteristics described by Sigmund Freud in his initial theory. Basically it is a feeling of attraction focused towards the parent of the opposite sex , children develop an attitude of rivalry with respect to the parent of the same sex.

Another way of understanding this complex is by recognizing the conflicts that love and sexual desires generate in the individual who suffers from it. These have their origin in the unconscious and usually manifest from an early age, depending on the interaction with the parents, affective relationships will show distinctive characteristics in each case.

What are their characteristics?

The first time this mental condition was described was from the studies and discoveries made by Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the 20th century. According to their discoveries during the stage between 3 and 6 years of age , children develop affective aspects towards their Parents.

But also during this same period of time he begins to discover his sexual faculties and the genital organ. Consequently, the curiosity aroused by these new sensations and emotions can result in the development of behavior that is generally frowned upon by parents.

Eventually he begins to feel desires for the mother and to develop a certain competitive behavior with the father . They could experience fear of castration due to these events and also consider the father as a rival.

Other characteristics of this complex are described below, which are revealed in most of these cases. However, it is important to mention that each child develops different behaviors depending on how they relate to their parents. They are as follows:

  • The Oedipus complex usually develops from the phallic phase when the development of sexual desire and lividity occurs Part of the symptoms associated with this complex are shared with those of this phase.
  • It can be presented in two different ways, one is positive and the other negative. In the first case, the attraction felt towards the parent of the opposite sex creates a conflict due to the hatred felt towards the parent of the same sex. In the second case, it is observed that the attraction towards the parent of the same sex is maintained, but hatred and rivalry towards the parent of the opposite sex is noticeably intensified.
  • There is a clear manifestation of preference for seeking the company and attention of the parent towards whom this attraction has developed. Instead, it is easy to notice the dissatisfaction and rejection of interacting with the other parent.
  • The child will feel jealous when he perceives that the parent for whom he feels preference shows affectionate treatment towards other people.
  • Pampering and the need to receive affectionate care for long periods of time are some of the needs that children will try to satisfy.
  • In equal parts children experience loving wishes but also hostile wishes towards both parents . This is an unconscious desire that reveals the development of the intention of an incestuous sexual relationship.

Practical examples 

In the case of children, Mothers do not realize the increased attention they receive from their offspring. Flattery and other expressions of affection are continually expressed that are not detected as something negative. However, they will eventually show defiant behavior towards the other parent; basically a competitive relationship.

During adolescence and the first period of adulthood, some symptoms can continue to be observed. Some of them may be the exaggerated closeness with the mother or father , such as talking on the phone daily or prioritizing doing activities together instead of sharing with friends or romantic partner.

Both children and older people who suffer from this type of complex will frequently ask for the advice and consent of the parent for whom they have developed this attraction. Therefore, they will not lead a normal rhythm of life because all their actions and decisions will be outside what happens in the relationship with the parents.

Whatever decision they want to make depends in large part on the support they receive. It is also possible that they are still economically dependent , which is not positive. Dependence can be extended to other areas such as professional or social.

How is it identified? 

To identify the Oedipus complex, the succession of three phases in which each of its symptoms and manifestations is revealed must be taken into account. It usually occurs around 3 years of age, during this period of time the child will begin to have a much closer emotional and affective attachment with his mother . But he also discovers that he can have the same affection for the father, which becomes a conflict because he also considers him a rival figure.

Children may change their usual behavior to show aggressive attitudes or even disobey the parent . Also at the same time the phallic phase is happening where there is greater interest in how the genital organ works and the sensations that it generates. Due to the behavior that is considered disapproving, the child could experience fear of castration.

It is normal for both boys and girls to show interest in the anatomical differences between the two sexes during this age. According to the statements made by Sigmund Freud, girls tend to feel envy for not having a male organ; on the other hand, boys fear losing their sexual organ and even believe that it is possible that girls have gone through this loss.

Eventually the children begin to appreciate the positive qualities of their Parents, due to the competition they feel to win the sympathy of the Mother they will imitate the behavior of the parent . But it is also observed that it is the initial moment of detachment from the Mother, with which the child will become more independent and show the same degree of interest in other female figures.

It is usually believed that the Oedipus complex only develops in males, however these symptoms can also manifest in girls. This feeling of desire of a sexual nature in relation to the Father is accompanied by emotions such as jealousy and anger focused on the Mother. However, in this case this disorder is given the name of the Electra complex .

What are your causes? 

The reasons why a child is more prone to developing this complex are very diverse. Most psychologists agree that intense feelings of rejection, inferiority, failure, pain, and jealousy ; are just some of the elements that can influence. But in addition, it depends largely on how the child’s parents develop a healthy affective relationship that satisfies everyone equally.

There are multiple theories, each of which focuses its attention on different aspects of human sexuality. From an early age people will begin to develop their own sexual characteristics that may have a heterosexual or homosexual inclination . It is during adolescence when the definitive transformation and definition process takes place, but the withdrawal from parental authority also occurs; which means that you stop having direct influence.

Incestuous fantasies in which you are trying to replace your rival parent can be related to fear of punishment or feelings of guilt . Some experts consider it to be a type of defense mechanism, as a kind of natural response from an emerging personality. The resolution to these desires turns out to be a conflictive process due to the novelty of these new sensations and experiences for the child.

During the childhood stage, different types of defense mechanisms begin to be created , these determine the structure of the personality and condition how this individual is going to face the external and internal world.

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

The first step in overcoming this complex is to acknowledge its existence. Some individuals have difficulties to “grow” or develop as persons, who will eventually have to face adult life. Therefore, it is conducive for children to learn the importance of independence and responsibility , if they will eventually learn to make their own decisions and begin to detach from their parents.

The establishment of romantic relationships depends largely on previous experiences that have been had during childhood and adolescence. Then, the resolution of this complex in an adequate way will allow that in the future this same individual can lead a more normal life.

When children show aggressive behavior and little tolerance for the possibility of interacting with the parent for whom they feel rejection, it is necessary to seek professional therapeutic help. These specialists will be able to treat this disorder through the treatment they consider most appropriate.

For example, through cognitive behavioral treatment, the patient stops resisting “growing up.” That is, in some cases the unconscious fear of facing adulthood and making a life of their own is detected. The attachment developed towards either of the two parents is a form of self-protection, therefore it is important to provide the necessary tools to learn to detach and be more independent.

To ensure a better coexistence within the home, some tips are useful. When children show unbearable behavior through constant tantrums and screaming, it only remains to modify the way in which we interact with the child . It is important to pay attention to these changes. Here are some measures to take into account:

  • Reduce expressions of affection between parents in the presence of the child. This measure will contribute to jealousy being experienced to a lesser extent.
  • Priority should be given to showing dedication and time to the child , in this way avoiding the development of feelings of displacement or guilt.
  • It is important to promote spending time in the company of the parent for whom you feel rejection. This timeshare should be based on fun to compensate for the feelings that this resort generates.
  • You should avoid judging or criticizing the attitudes and behaviors displayed by the child. In this way they will be able to better deal with their own emotions.
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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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