Freud’s ‘Oedipus’ Complex Explained
Hollywood will often shine its light on psychological complexes and create “art” based on the way in which people afflicted with such issues behave. The problem is that they rarely get it right, which in turn leads the general public to have the wrong idea about complexes in general. For example, if you watch ‘Psycho’ you would believe that Freud’s Oedipus complex boils down to nothing more than a boy with a fixation on his mother that drives him to dress and act like her, even after she has passed. A great movie, but the basic premise of Norman Bates’ issues are somewhat glossed over and portrayed in the wrong way. While people now feel that the Bates character suffered from an Oedipus complex, it is actually closer to the truth to say that he was in fact a victim of dissociative identity disorder. That then begs the question as to what Freud’s Oedipus complex really is, and what it means to the person suffering from it.
Understanding the Oedipus Complex
Yes, the Oedipus complex is related to how a boy relates to his mother, but it is more of a struggle with his father than anything else. A boy’s feelings towards his mother change during the psychosexual stages of his development, which can sometimes lead to feelings of desire towards her. That desire is then turned to jealousy and anger towards his father, whom the boy sees as competition for the affections of his mother. The boy will then feel as though he wishes to possess his mother, which means replacing the father in any way possible. What may come as a surprise to many of you reading this is that this is not something that happens during puberty or the teenage years, but rather in the phallic stage of psychosexual development, which usually occurs for boys between the age of three and five. It is at this stage where the sexual identity of the child is formed, with girl’s also going through the same thing. They might have the reverse feeling as boys, with a desire for their father and jealousy of their mother, which is known as the Electra complex.
Resolving the parental conflict
The Oedipus complex, named after a character in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex who killed his father and married his mother, can be damaging to a child if it is not resolved. In order for that to happen, the boy has to identify with his father so that he may grow into a healthy adult. Freud pointed out that true cases of Oedipus complex are rare because the child realistically recognizes that he will never win this type of battle with a man who is obviously that much stronger.
This is like a constant battle between the id and the ego, where the ego has to become stronger in order to create a healthy balance. The boy, according to Freud, becomes aware of the physical differences between men and women, often believing that the mother sex organs came about after castration by the father, who punished the male for desiring his mother. The conflict is resolved when the boy identifies with his father, which leads to the creation of the super-ego. It is this that allows the mind to battle the urges of the id and allows the boy to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents.