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Oedipus and Electra Complex

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Oedipus and Electra Complex

Did you know that Freud did not come up with the term "electra complex"? He developed the term "oedipus complex" for boys, but he did not come up with a term for the same thing for girls. Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud, developed the term "electra complex" later on.

Theory of personality and gender development

You may have heard of the theory of psychosexual development before. Freud proposed this theory, suggesting five stages to gender development. Gender development occurs during these stages through identification and internalisation.

Identification is where the boy identifies with his father, and the girl identifies with their mother. They identify with same-sex parents due to unconscious desires and fears in an attempt to rectify these issues. Internalisation is where the child then adopts the mannerisms and behaviours of the same-sex parent.

The five stages of psychosexual development are:

  • The oral stage

  • The anal stage

  • The phallic stage

  • The latent stage

  • The genital stage.

Gender development, according to Freud, occurs precisely at the phallic stage when the libido moves to the genitals, which focuses on children aged between three and five years old. During this time, awareness of different genders occurs, and boys and girls know a difference between their genitals.

Oedipus and Electra Complex The human life cycle of development StudySmarterThe human life cycle of development, Freepik

Introduction to the Oedipus complex

Sigmund Freud introduced the term ‘Oedipus complex’, which he described in his psychoanalytic theory of sexual drive. This term concerns children’s sexual development, and he first introduced it in his book ‘The interpretation of dreams’ in 1889.

The term was created as a reference to the protagonist of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a famous tale that depicted the actualisation of a destiny Oedipus Rex attempted to avoid the killing of his father and marrying his mother. Oedipus Rex was not aware of this, as his father sent him away as a baby when the prophecy was first foretold.

Freud highlighted the importance of the unconscious mind and applied it to understanding our behaviour. Conflicts arise due to psychic deterministic, which means that stored experiences from childhood will determine someone’s behaviour in the future.

Oedipus and Electra Complex Oedipus Rex and Sphinx StudySmarterOedipus and the sphinx, Wikimedia Commons

Introduction to the Electra complex

In 1913, Carl Jung introduced the concept of the Electra complex in his book, Theory of psychoanalysis. Freud did not accept Jung’s theory, as he believed the Oedipus complex was applicable to both boys and girls, exploring different experiences related to their gender.

What is the Oedipus complex?

The Oedipus complex is traditionally used to represent boys’ unconscious processes. This theory states that boys’ sexuality awareness begins with their desire for their mother. Boys realise their father is satisfied with their mother and that the father stands in the way of him satisfying his desire.

Dealing with such challenging and complex feelings leads them to frustration, which manifests itself in aggressive feelings toward their father. However, when the boy thinks about competing with his father, he realises how powerful his father is compared to him. Also, at this stage, the boy begins to fear the consequences that might occur if his father learns of his secret desire for his mother.

For example, boys are afraid of being castrated. This phenomenon is known as castration anxiety.

To resolve this inner conflict, the boy begins to identify with his father. This helps him cope with the conflict and leads the boy to desire to be like his father. The child internalises aspects of his father and incorporates his father into his psyche. This then develops into his superego or moral ‘persona’.

When the child accepts his father as part of himself, the boy automatically adopts the male identity. He deals with his desire for the mother by transferring it to other women.

What is the Electra complex?

As we mentioned earlier, Carl Jung proposed the Electra complex as an extension of Freud’s theory of sexual development, specifically addressing the process in girls. Girls go through this process at the same time as boys go through the Oedipus complex. However, girls experience a phenomenon known as penis envy, which relates to the idea of castration.

During the phallic stage, the difference in genitalia is thought to be due to the belief that women have been castrated. Since girls do not have a penis, they desire one. This desire transfers to their father figure, who represents power. He has a penis, and the girls desire him, leading to feelings of hatred and hostility towards their mother.

The girls blame their mother for not having a penis and hold her partially responsible for castration. Nevertheless, the girls are afraid of losing their mother’s love, which is their inner conflict. Similar to the Oedipus complex, the Electra complex leads to identification with the mother and internalisation of her behaviour and mannerisms, and does so by repressing her feelings for her father.

The mother is internalised as the girl’s superego (and gender identity), so we can see how this theory mirrors the one Freud first proposed. Thus, the inner conflict resolves itself. Finally, the desire for a baby replaces the desire for a penis.

Oedipus and Electra Complex Family StudySmarterFamily environment of a boy, girl and parents, Freepik

Difference between Oedipus complex and Electra complex

The Oedipus and Electra complexes in psychology are notorious terms describing the stages of development boys and girls go through as they age. How boys and girls develop has been the subject of intense research in psychology. Many psychologists have put forth various theories to understand these critical stages and explain what each stage entails. These theories have been hotly debated and are still under intense scrutiny.

The Oedipus and Electra complexes refer to the psychosexual stages of development. The terms concern the sexual desire children direct toward their parents of the opposite sex.

There are a few differences between the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex. As stated previously, Freud is the precursor of the Oedipus complex, and Carl Jung is the precursor of the Electra complex.

Sex

While the Oedipus complex is concerned with the conflicts present in the relationships between a mother and a male child during phallic development, the Electra complex relates to the relationship between the female child and her father. Both deal with the awareness of their sexuality, transferring the desires of their parents to the opposite sex.

Related anxiety

During the Oedipus complex, the boy fears castration while the girls feel penis envy. Examples of behaviours that relate to the Oedipus and Electra complexes include:

A male child acting possessive of his mother, preventing his father from touching her. A child that wants to sleep between their parents. A female child claims that she will marry her father when she grows up.

Electra and Oedipus complex in adults

When the conflicts around Electra complex are not addressed, the conflicts will become a traumatic experience, and these problems can develop into adult life. They can develop into unhealthy fixations. According to Freud, these can be harmful when establishing a romantic relationship and can also affect the development of mood disorders.

As you already may know, boys feel attracted to their mothers during the Oedipus complex. During puberty, the desire may fade away, and the boys may develop an aversion when thinking about their mother sexually. However, they may seek out a female partner who resembles their mother.

Evaluation of the Oedipus and Electra complex: Little Hans

According to Freud, the case of Little Hans supports the concept of the Oedipus complex.

He was a five-year-old boy who developed a fear of horses, and Freud did a case study, relying on conversations Little Hans’ father had with the boy. The fear came about from trauma from a past incident, where he saw a horse collapsing in the street.

Hans had mentioned fear of castration before, and he also had a habit of touching his genitals. His mother often threatened to cut his penis off. This may have heavily influenced the fear of castration, but Freud suggested his fear was a fear of his father, displaced onto the horses. The fear Hans expressed of white horses in particular, especially those with blinkers and black mouths, supported this hypothesis. These horses were more similar to Hans’ father.

The horse, according to Freud, was only a symbolic representation of the process he was going through: the Oedipus complex. Hans dreamt that he was married to his mother and had the typical behaviours Freud believed to coincide with the psychosexual stages. However, the theory has also faced criticism.

Freud developed this theory and based it heavily on a subjective interpretation of various behaviours. As we mentioned above, Freud ignored the threat of castration from the mother specifically, which may have caused this fear rather than it being innate. He also relied on retellings from Hans’ father. His theories were heavily biased in favour of his musings.

Freud neglected to properly address girls in his theory, making the Oedipus complex heavily androcentric. While girls in the time frame of Freud’s research had little power, the theory does not translate well into modern times, where they have more power.

The theories also do not translate well into non-typical family dynamics. What happens if a girl is adopted into a family of two mothers or a boy adopted by two fathers? What happens in the case of single parents? Freud’s theory relies on a heterosexual relationship and fails to acknowledge children’s ‘normal’ gender development who do not fit into this paradigm.

Kirkpatrick et al. (1981) divided 40 children aged five to 12 into groups representing their mother’s sexual orientation. This would identify if differences existed between heterosexual and homosexual parental upbringing. They found the gender development of children in either group (lesbian or straight) was no different, showing that gender development is not dependent on the requirement of a typical nuclear family. This finding directly conflicts with Freud’s theory of gender development.

In this study, the children are missing the ‘father’ figure and should develop abnormally and suffer gender development issues, which wasn’t the case.

Oedipus and Electra Complex - Key takeaways

  • Freud introduced the concept of the Oedipus Complex, which described a stage boys go through, and Freud argued girls also go through.
  • In 1913, Carl Jung introduced the concept of the Electra complex, which expanded on this theory and focused on girls, mirroring the Oedipus Complex.

  • In the Oedipus Complex, boys desire their mother and fear competition from their father. They are aggressive and jealous towards their father and experience castration anxiety.

  • The Electra complex mirrors this process. Girls envy and desire the father’s penis (penis envy), and blame the mother for castration.

  • Freud’s case study of Little Hans supports his theory but faces harsh criticism in its lack of scientific validity, modern relevance, and evidence opposing the need for a nuclear family in healthy childhood development.

Frequently Asked Questions about Oedipus and Electra Complex

The Oedipus complex refers to boys, while the Electra Complex applies to girls’ sexual development. Another difference is that Freud introduced the Oedipus complex, but Jung introduced the Electra complex.

The Oedipus and Electra complex is a term related to the theory of psychosexual development. The term concerns children’s sexual desire they direct towards their parents of the opposite sex. There is a sense of competitiveness for the child with the same gender parent.

According to both Freud and Jung, the Oedipus and Electra complexes take place during the phallic stage of psychosexual development. In psychology, these terms are notorious for describing the stages of development boys and girls go through as they age. Gender development, according to Freud, occurs precisely at the phallic stage when the libido moves to the genitals, which focuses on children aged between three and five years old. During this time, awareness of different genders occurs, and boys and girls know a difference between their genitals.

When the conflicts around the Oedipus complex are not addressed, the conflicts will become a traumatic experience resulting in an inability to move on to the next stage of psychosexual development, and these problems can develop into adult life. They can develop into unhealthy fixations. According to Freud, these can be harmful when establishing a romantic relationship and affect the development of mood disorders.

When the conflicts around Electra complex are not addressed, the conflicts will become a traumatic experience resulting in an inability to move on to the next stage of psychosexual development, and these problems can develop into adult life. They can develop into unhealthy fixations. According to Freud, these can be harmful when establishing a romantic relationship and affect the development of mood disorders.

Final Oedipus and Electra Complex Quiz

Question

According to Freud, when do children develop gender identity and role?

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Answer

The psychodynamic theory of gender suggests gender identity and roles develop during the third stage of psychosexual development. When children are aged between three to six years old, they go through the phallic stage.

Show question

Question

Which gender and age do children undergo through the Oedipus complex?

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Answer

Boys go through an unconscious process known as the Oedipus complex around six years old. That persists in the theory that they start their awareness of sexuality by desiring their mothers.

Show question

Question

Why do only girls experience the Electra complex?

Show answer

Answer

The process for girls has another name, Electra complex, and has a different perception to the Oedipus complex.

Show question

Question

Why do girls going through the Electra complex blame their mother?

Show answer

Answer

The girl starts this symbolic process by realising that she has no penis, which leads her to believe that she has been castrated, and her mother is the one blame for it.

Show question

Question

Define the psychosexual stages of development.

Show answer

Answer

Sigmund Freud created the psychosexual stages of development to define the evolving process that 

an individual goes through, from infancy throughout puberty. They concern changes in sexual desires.  

Show question

Question

According to the psychodynamics theory, what happens to a child when they cannot resolve early age sexual conflicts?

Show answer

Answer

The unresolved conflicts lead the child to fixate, i.e., the child cannot cope with certain behaviours or conflicts, which can cause big issues in adult life.

Show question

Question

What is the anxiety boys go through during the Oedipus complex?

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Answer

During the Oedipus complex, the boy fears castration.

Show question

Question

How does the Oedipus complex manifest in adults?

Show answer

Answer

Boys feel attracted to their mothers during the Oedipus complex. During puberty, the desire may fade away, and the boys may develop an aversion when thinking about their mother sexually. However, they may seek out a female partner who resembles their mother.

Show question

Question

What are the differences between the Oedipus and Electra complexes? 

Show answer

Answer

The Oedipus complex refers to boys, while Electra Complex is applied to girls’ sexual development. Another difference is that Freud introduced the Oedipus complex, but Jung introduced the Electra complex.

Show question

Question

What are the Oedipus complex and Electra complex? 

Show answer

Answer

The Oedipus and Electra complex is a term related to the theory of psychosexual development. The term concerns children’s sexual desire that they direct towards their parents of the opposite sex. There is a sense of competitiveness for the child with the same gender parent.

Show question

Question

What happens if the Electra complex is not resolved? 

Show answer

Answer

When the conflicts around Electra complex are not addressed, the conflicts will become a traumatic experience, and these problems can develop into adult life. They can develop into unhealthy fixations. According to Freud, these can be harmful when establishing a romantic relationship and can also affect the development of mood disorders.

Show question

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