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Oedipus Complex: Everything you need to know

The Oracle of Delphi gave Oedipus the prophecy that one day, he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. Although he tried escaping this prophecy, that’s exactly what he ended up doing, albeit unknowingly.

While Oedipus gouged out both his eyes when he realized what he’d done, this Greek tragedy written by Sophocles became the basis for Sigmund Freud’s most controversial yet most popular theory.

The Oedipus Complex proposed by Freud, refers to a child’s unconscious desire for sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex and a rivalry with the parent of the same sex.

According to him, a boy wishes to possess his mother and replace the father, who the child views as a potential rival for the mother’s affections – to the extent that they find it difficult to tolerate their father sitting close to her or even next to her. Although the child fantasizes about it defying their father, they know they couldn’t do so in real life. Furthermore, they develop ‘Castration Anxiety’, a fear that the father will castrate them as a punishment for his feelings.

The resolution of the Oedipus Complex is said to occur when the child starts repressing his feelings of rivalry towards his father by identifying with him instead. By holding his father up as a role model, he no longer has to fight him. Instead, he learns from him and becomes more like him.

Deriving from the same work, Carl Jung proposed the Electra Complex, which is when Oedipus Complex manifests in young girls having an unconscious desire for their fathers and rival feelings for their mothers. 

The influence of the Oedipus Complex has translated on our screens as well, the questionable amount of films about unhealthy relationships with mothers, like Psycho and Bates Motel. Or perhaps that scene from ‘Back to the Future’ where Marty time-travels to the past and gets kissed by his mother.

Or wanting to murder their dads – basically Star-Wars, The Guardian of the Galaxy Volume II,  Shang-Chi, the Legend of the Ten Rings, How To Train Your Dragon and the list goes on.

But here’s the catch – or the relief- neither the Oedipus nor Electra Complex are recognized by modern psychological authorities like the DSM-5. Freud has always been a controversial figure in the field of Psychology and this theory too has been subject to numerous criticisms.

For starters, the theory was presented in extreme masculine terms and had very little understanding of the female perspective. He hypothesized that just like boys have ‘castration anxiety’, girls have ‘penis envy’, which is described as an anxiety young girls experience upon realizing that they don’t have a penis.  

He even alluded homosexuality to being a result of the incomplete resolution of the Oedipus Complex. Further research in gender and sexualities studies all oppose this because the modern consensus is, it is just a normal sexual experience. 

In the Greek tragedy, when Oedipus finds out he married his mother, he blinds himself in a frenzy realizing that although he possessed eyes, in a more crucial sense he’d been blind the whole time. 

But what excuse does Freud have? And do you believe in the Oedipus Complex?

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