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What Is the Oedipus Complex in Adults?

February 12, 2024

7 min read

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Author : United We Care
Clinically approved by : Dr.Vasudha
What Is the Oedipus Complex in Adults?

Introduction

Once upon a time, there was a charming prince who married his mother. No, this is not the plot of a medieval drama that we’re talking about. We’re talking about the Oedipus Complex in adults, a concept from Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. [1]

The name Oedipus comes from a Greek tragedy, a story about a young boy who, unknowingly in search of power, ends up killing his father and marrying his mother. Sigmund Freud also took inspiration from Greek philosophy while conceptualizing the three parts of personality, i.e., Id, Ego, and Superego, originally termed by Plato in his Republic: appetite, spirit, and reason [2].

According to Freud, the interactions between Id, Ego, and Superego during preschool years determine an individual’s basic personality. And sometimes, just like there’s a buffer in your online streaming, there can be a gap in these developmental stages, which may lead to ‘fixation’[3].

What is fixation? During these delicate phases of development, when there’s an imbalance of gratification, i.e., more or less gratification from the parent or guardian, it can lead to the child fixating on that phase of development. As an adult, this translates either into a bad habit such as smoking due to fixation in the oral stage—or unhealthy building of relationships; case in point, the Oedipus complex.

What is the Oedipus complex?

The Oedipus complex is a brief fixation in children during their phallic phase (age 3-6 years), which is also called the Oedipal phase. According to Freud, during this stage, children experience an unconscious feeling of desire for their opposite-sex parent and jealousy and envy towards their same-sex parent.

You might have heard toddlers throwing around “I want to marry my mom when I grow up!” all the time, and there’s also no need for concern as they usually overcome this phase as long as this behavior is treated healthily with warmth, and if parental attitudes are neither excessively prohibitive nor excessively stimulating.

In the presence of trauma, however, there is an “infantile neurosis” that is an important forerunner of similar reactions during the child’s adult life. In this case, this complex, which should resolve as the phallic phase ends, never goes away and translates into adulthood.

What is the Oedipus complex in adults?

A person with the Oedipus complex wishes to possess the opposite-sex parent while harboring resentment and jealousy towards the same-sex parent [4]. A boy, for example, competes with his father to win his mother.

According to Freud, boys are sexually attracted to their mothers and have to find ways to fight many desires:

  • The desire to be physically and emotionally close to her.
  • The desire to possess her.
  • The need to win her affection at any cost.
  • The desire to be her favorite instead of their father.

Electra complex is the term used for girls going through the same with their fathers.

What Are The Symptoms Of the Oedipus Complex in Adults? 

If someone is experiencing the Oedipus complex as an adult, they might be:

Oedipus Complex in adults

  • Envying their father: Not being able to stand the physical intimacy between the parents. The father hugging and kissing the mother makes them jealous.
  • Extremely possessive: Having a strong sense of possessiveness or protectiveness towards their mother.
  • Lacking physical boundaries: They still haven’t developed clear boundaries with their mother. They want to be in close physical proximity when their father is not around and hate being replaced when their father is there. 
  • Admiring their mother way too much: Being constantly invested in her, the way she walks, talks, looks or dresses. Praising her extravagantly for everything. 
  • Getting into verbal spats with their father: Unexplainable dislike towards the father and getting into verbal arguments often. 
  • Having an affinity towards older women: They tend to have relationships with women who are older than them or resemble their mothers in some way or other.

Causes Behind Oedipus Complex In Adults

As previously stated, the Oedipus Complex has its origins in the phallic phase [6] of development. Around this age, the child’s energy is focused on their erogenous zones. This phase is in charge of the proper development of several aspects of the personality, such as gender identity formation and attachment roles.

If the fears associated with this dynamic are not addressed in childhood, the child will develop a complex in adulthood. 

Two possible causes, according to Freud, for the Oedipus Complex are: 

  • Castration anxiety: ​​In boys, it is the understanding that their father is still dominating over them, combined with a worry that the father will emasculate or punish them for their feelings toward their mother. In girls, it may manifest as resentment toward their mother for not having a penis. This resentment is compounded by the awareness that they cannot replace their mother, and as a female child, they may begin to resent their mother even more.
  • Superego: The  resolution of the Oedipus phase for both male and female children comes from finding a solution to these feelings through what Freud called the “formation of the superego.”

When there’s a hindrance in this process, the Oedipal phase morphs into the Oedipus Complex in adults. 

How to Overcome Oedipus Complex in adults

The Oedipus complex is not a disorder but a theory of fixation caused in the crucial stages of development; thus, the best way to deal with it is through a psychoanalytic approach. You can talk about your experience with it in therapy and slowly work over the stigma attached to it. [5] The four key steps towards recovery are:

  • Acceptance: Accept your feelings and stop blaming yourself while finding the strength to get better.
  • Stop identifying: Actively stop seeking partners or qualities that resemble your desired parent.
  • Liberation: Letting go of the unhealed child and believing in yourself to create a safe environment for yourself
  • Channelize: Vent out your emotions in a healthy way to cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself, and start that by taking therapy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Oedipus Complex, based on Greek myth and Freudian theory, reveals the profound influence of early childhood on adult behavior and relationships. It is not a disorder but rather a fixation theory that can be treated with psychoanalysis. Accepting your experience and learning to channel your emotions in better ways are the first steps to overcoming this complex. At United We Care, we have a team of mental health experts ready to provide you with the most appropriate strategies to deal with this. Book a session with one of our experts today and start building the kind of healthy relationships you deserve.

References:

[1] “Freud – Psychoanalysis” in Theories of Personality. [Online]. Available: https://open.baypath.edu/psy321book/chapter/c2p4/. Accessed on October 31, 2023.

[2] Kyle Scarsella, “The Tripartite Soul (Plato and Freud)”. [Online]. Available: https://www.academia.edu/25523818/The_Tripartite_Soul_Plato_and_Freud_. Accessed on October 31, 2023.

[3] H. Elkatawneh, “Freud’s Psycho-Sexual Stages of Development,” June 10, 2013. [Online]. Available: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2364215. Accessed on October 31, 2023.

[4] Ronald Britton, Michael Feldman, Edna O’Shaughnessy, 

“The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications,” Routledge, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=pCpTDwAAQBAJ. Accessed on October 31, 2023.

[5] Loewald H. W. (2000). The waning of the Oedipus complex. 1978. The Journal of psychotherapy practice and research, 9(4), 239–238. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330618/. Accessed on October 31, 2023.

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Author : United We Care

Founded in 2020, United We Care (UWC) is providing mental health and wellness services at a global level, UWC utilizes its team of dedicated and focused professionals with expertise in mental healthcare, to solve 2 essential missing components in the market, sustained user engagement and program efficacy/outcomes.

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