The Oedipus Complex
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The Oedipus Complex
To coincide with the release of "A Dangerous Method," the David Cronenberg film which explores the turbulent relationship between sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, I will be publishing a series of classic psychoanalysis articles, beginning with "The Oedipus Complex" By André Tridon
A Dangerous Method (Offical Film Trailer)
The Oedipus Complex By André Tridon (1919)
Before proceeding to describe the neuroses, we must discuss at length a phenomenon called the "Oedipus complex," due to a "faulty relation between children and parents instigated by incestuous longings" and which Freud and his followers consider as "the central complex of the neurosis."
Freud realized that such a thesis would not be accepted readily by the medical and the lay world and in "Totem and Taboo" he writes: "This discovery of the significance of incest for the neurosis naturally meets with the most general incredulity on the part of the grown-up, normal man. . . . Such a rejection is, above all, the product of man's deep aversion to his former incest-wishes which have since succumbed to repression."
Out of some one hundred prostitutes examined in 1911 by the Chicago Vice Commission, one-half " confessed " that they had been first seduced by their fathers. Prostitutes the world over are apt to tell the same story, making it at times more romantic by saying that their father was a well known, rich, powerful man and that they had to "disappear" to save his reputation.
Even if we consider that suspicious selection of a scapegoat with the utmost scepticism, we cannot escape the fact that so many of them selected the same scapegoat, and that if their father did not seduce them, at least their mind had dwelt upon that possibility, had become reconciled to it and perhaps admitted its reality.
The very presence of such a fancy in the minds of so many women points to something which is more than accidental.
The great question in the child's unconscious mind is, "Shall I be like father or like mother?" Upon his choice will depend his normality or abnormality in later life, whether his early leanings predispose him to mental derangement or whether mental derangement leads him back to the situation in which he found comfort during his formative years.
The so called "Oedipus complex" has for that reason been given a great deal of attention by the three schools of analysis, none of which denies its capital importance. Freud, Jung and Adler have made on this subject observations of great value, and any analysis disregarding any part of their findings would run the risk of being woefully superficial. For the three solutions of the problem offered by the two Vienna schools and the Zurich school are often necessary for the complete understanding of one single case.
According to Freud, all neuroses have their foundations laid before the fifth year of life. The impulses which he designates as sexual, a term which must not be confounded with genital, originally arise through the spontaneous yearning of the child to return to the mother's body where its prenatal life was perfect, from a physical standpoint, the child being then protected against all physical agencies, supplied automatically with the most suitable food, rocked pleasantly while being transported from place to place, kept at an even temperature, etc.
We see already why the mother's importance in the child's life, regardless of the child's sex, is so much greater than that of the father. That importance had been pointed out, long before Freud's theories were formulated, by a man who was a profound psychologist, Luther. In the twentieth chapter of his "Table Discourses "he wrote: "One can just as little do without women as one can go without eating or drinking. The reason for this is that we were conceived in the flesh of a woman, fed while in a woman's body, born of woman, brought up by a woman. Our flesh is therefore made mainly of woman's flesh and it is impossible for us to separate ourselves from it."
In other words we are never able to cut off entirely our navel string and woman means infinitely more for man and woman alike than man could ever mean even for woman.
The intense longing of the child for its mother; its fear and anxiety in her absence ; the comfort and security it experiences when resting In her arms are thus, in the Freudian sense, the first impressions of primary sexual life.
The first attempt at disentanglement from the mother occurs when the nursling learns ways of its own to secure certain pleasurable sensations which until then had been connected with the mother's body. It takes its thumb in its mouth instead of the mother's nipple, and then goes to sleep as it would after nursing. It begins to take an evident interest in its own physical functions, in which it discovers new sources of pleasure, urinating or emptying its bowels. Its entire body begins to be a source of many new pleasures. This is the narcist period characterised by an intense delight in everything physical and an enormous overvaluation of one's self.
At puberty a more or less sudden detachment from the mother and one's self takes place, the craving thus freed being directed toward a human being of the opposite sex.
If a young boy at the time of puberty shows a definite interest in little girls of his age and a girl is attracted by boys, their parents may rest in peace. They may have to be watchful, but physically and mentally their children will probably be normal.
The boys or girls, who, after going through the crisis of puberty show no definite inclination to children of the opposite sex, are candidates to many forms of misery, mental and physical.
They may have lingered in the narcist, auto-erotic stage, which is not adapted to modern civilized life, and they will struggle against that handicap all their lives, some being merely discontented and some, broken by the conflict, taking refuge in a neurosis.
They may have had their sexuality differentiated the wrong way, boys being attracted by boys, and girls by girls.
They may have contracted a fixation of their affections on their father or their mother, and the ghost of one of the parents will always haunt them, distorting their views and making their behavior strange and unsocial.
Father and mother can unknowingly pervert their children in the most deplorable way. I do not mean unfit or immoral parents; quite the contrary. Affectionate parents probably wreck the careers of more children than indifferent ones.
The fond mother who plays lovingly with her boy or girl long after they have ceased to be infants, who allows them to come to her bed, mornings or evenings, who lets herself be kissed and fondled by her growing children, is apt to develop in them some Ineradicable abnormality. The boy may remain as completely dependent on his mother as when he was a nursling. He will enjoy the touch and the warmth of her body, the softness of her skin or hair, her kisses, her caresses. In that enjoyment there will not be the slightest conscious intimation of "sex"; It will all be tenderness of the purest type, which to the ignorant observer can be but pleasing and touching. The suggestion that there could be anything grossly physical In such a relation would very justly fill mother and child with resentment.
And yet experience proves that such a boy may become so accustomed to that form of love that he may never be attracted by any other woman. No other woman will offer him as readily sympathy, comfort, warm kisses, willing caresses. Compared to his mother's love, the affection offered by any other woman will appear cold, diffident, unreliable, sordid, a thing to be conquered, not a thing to be secured without effort. The fixation will be even more complete if the mother is young, pretty and can hold her own physically as well as intellectually, against the inexperienced, unsophisticated, artificial young girls whom the boy meets in his social environment.
We have all met the old bachelor who is an ideal son, and whom we hardly dare to ridicule when he praises the appearance and distinction of his homely or dowdy mother, when he bows down to her stupid judgment, on whose wisdom he complacently dwells. He may marry, preferably after her death, some woman older than himself, whose only attraction will be her settled, motherly attitude. If he marries a younger woman, he will in all likelihood make her life unbearable by constantly pointing out the many ways in which she is inferior to his mother, and compel her on every occasion to submit to his mother's authority.
The girl accustomed to too much petting at her mother's hands may develop more frankly sensuous traits than a boy would in the same situation. Mother and daughter being of the same sex are not restrained by the natural reserve which imposes definite physical limits upon the caresses a mother and her son may properly exchange. Many young girls kiss their mother's neck, shoulders, throat and arms as a lover would, and later in life may establish between the caresses of their mother and those of men disastrous comparisons, as to tenderness, security, physical attraction, daintiness, etc. Girls trained that way will be dominated by their mothers, indifferent to men, will make frigid, nagging wives, who will insist on referring all the problems of the household to their mothers for a final decision and will not rest content until their husbands show their mothers the same obedience they display.
Likewise a fond father, treating his boy or girls too tenderly, may impart to them an abnormal disposition. The daughter of the Ellen Key type, who is her father's constant companion, never feels attracted by any man and may some day marry one who, by his age and appearance, is an almost perfect image of her father, is a type frequently met with, and the result of unwise bringing up.
For many obvious reasons, however, the mother's influence is deeper than the father's, for there seldom is as much unconscious sensuality in the attachment of the children for the father as there can be in the attraction their mother wields over them.
The fixation of the affections of the children on one of the parents is only one detail of the picture. It is the love component of the Oedipus complex; it is generally accompanied by a more sinister element, the element of hate. The man with a fixation on his mother usually hates his father, who is his rival; the woman with a fixation on her father hates her mother, and this new source of conflict, as old as the world, as a study of folklore has revealed to us, complicates tragically the plot of the family romance. The disharmony it introduces into the most important relationship in life is quite capable of creating the greatest unhappiness. When we add to this the various sexual perversions attendant upon infancy and childhood fixations, and which shall be reviewed in the next chapter, we can understand why Freud considered the Oedipus complex as the most dangerous destroyer of mankind's mental equilibrium.
Jung takes a slightly different view of the situation. He conceives the existence in the child of a vital urge extending far beyond sexuality, even in the broad sense which Freud gives to the word. The life urge manifests itself in growth, development, hunger and all imaginable human activities.
Although he recognizes with Freud the primal instinct of reproduction as the basis of many activities, Jung refuses to call those activities sexual. While Freud sees in infantile activities a sort of polymorphous perversity, similar to the perversions occurring in adults in later life, Jung sees in those activities the beginnings of fully ripened sexuality, preliminary, non-perverse expressions of sexual coloring.
It is when it comes to a discussion of the habits acquired in childhood that we observe the greatest divergence of views between Freud and Jung.
Jung willingly recognizes that many neurotics exhibit clearly in their childhood abnormal tendencies which In later life will be exaggerated, and that the destiny of those children is deeply influenced by their parents' tenderness, overanxlety, or, on the contrary, by their lack of sympathy and understanding. The child's small, narrow world Is entirely dominated by the parents' Influence, but the child Is not conscious of that fact.
For that reason, Jung does not consider the father or mother as real persons, as a male or a female, but as more or less distorted symbols created by the imagination of the Individual.
The demands made by the child upon the mother, the jealousy exhibited toward the father, are at first connected with the part played by the mother, an unsexed provider of food and warmth, a protector, a help in the satisfaction of natural wants.
At puberty the child abandons his dependence upon the parents to become a self-assertive individual. Upon the measure in which the process has been completed will depend the child's freedom and happiness. And at this point Jung breaks entirely with Freud.
He thinks that by going back to infantile influences, the analyst is imposed upon by the subject who tries to withdraw from the present and seek a convenient scape-goat in his own past.
The neurosis, Jung thinks, is caused by the impending necessity of performing some important task before which the neurotic shrinks, because his previous training has not made him strong enough or bold enough to surmount certain obstacles.
There occurs then a regression to infantile ways which is converted into symptoms and creates the external manifestations of the neurosis.
What is the cause of that regression? Jung says that the dream phantasies of neurotics are really forms of compensation or artificial substitutes for their incomplete adaptation to reality. Those phantasies are merely infantile and if they give the impression of sexuality, it is owing to the frankly sensuous tinge which all the activities of infancy assume.
Jung sees in the father the predominating factor in the child's life. The mother may be the moulding force so far as the children are concerned, but she, in turn, is moulded by the father.
His coptentions are based upon observations made by one of his pupils, Dr. Emma Fuerst, on some 100 persons belonging to 24 families. They prove that the reaction of parents and offspring are curiously similar, and that the husband generally modifies the wife's reactions so that after several years of married life the difference between their reactions may not be more than 1.4%.
This is undoubtedly true of a number of families (maybe of the majority of families) of Latin, Teutonic and Slav stock, and even more so among Oriental races, but it is doubtful whether it describes the actual conditions in Anglo-Saxon nations, in which the domination of the male and the obedience of the female are not characteristic features of community and family life.
Adler presents the subject from an entirely different angle.
Modern civilization having been established upon the principle of masculine superiority, there is a constant antithesis, male-female, strong-weak, authority-obedience, above-below, security-insecurity.
Every human being, normal or abnormal, is born with what Nietzsche calls the will-to-power, and what Adler calls the wish-to-be-above. Normal beings simply exert their utmost endeavors to reach that goal. Abnormal people on the other hand are likely to be worried in the course of their quest by a feeling of inferiority due to some real or imaginary organic deficiency.
Fearful of some obscure handicap, at times, indeed, absolutely unconscious (for the individual with inferior glands, deficient secretions, cannot know positively what ails him) the neurotic expects defeat. In preparation for that eventuality, he seeks excuses for it. He then takes refuge in fancies of a sexual character which may deceive him but which, Adler says, should not deceive the analyst. On this point Adler and Jung are in accord.
A sickly girl who, during her entire childhood, leans upon her strong and healthy father and who, in doing so, tries to rob her mother of her superior position, may comprehend this psychic constellation in the form of incestuous thoughts, thinking of herself as though she were her father's wife. Thereby her fictitious goal is attained.
Her insecurity is only abolished when she is with her father. By taking refuge in her father she finds that heightened ego-consciousness which she is striving for, and which she has borrowed from the ideals of childhood. If she recoils from a proffer of love or marriage, the acceptance of which might mean a lowering of her ego-consciousness, she acts, so to speak, symbolically; all her defensive resources and all her predispositions become arrayed against the prospect which marriage would open to her, of a female destiny.
"The greater her feelings of insecurity, the more stubbornly that girl will cling to her fancy, the more literally she is likely to take it, and as human thinking favors symbolic abstractions, the patient will easily succeed (and so will the analyst) in creating a picture of incestuous cravings."
The constitutionally inferior child, the unattractive child seeking love, the strictly brought-up child, the over-pampered child, all of whom are candidates to a neurosis, seek more eagerly than strong, healthy, independent children to avoid the hardships of existence. They long to banish into a distant future the fate which will confront them some time. They fall back upon their parents, they regress to childhood or infancy.
In adjusting this principle to his thinking and acting, in his endeavor to raise himself to the level of his strong father, even if he has (as some legendary heroes did) to suppress him, the neurotic removes himself from reality and is suspended in the meshes of his fiction.
The same applies to a certain extent to normal children. They too wish to be big and strong like their father. Their fear of the new is often a mere desire to do or say the things father did or said. They, however, do not resort to infantile phantasies to escape life's evils. They defeat the complexes which defeats the neurotic.
The three points of view can be harmonized very easily. Sensuality, authority and egotism may well blend in the unconscious boy of sixteen who is caressing his mother. He may derive an unconscious or a conscious pleasure from touching her fresh skin ; he may also submit willingly and lovingly to her authority; and he may have in her company a deep sense of security.
One of these three elements may predominate, or one or two may be entirely absent.
A boy may hate his father because he begrudges him some happy moments he might pass with his mother, or because his father robs him of a loved plaything. He may resent the fact that his ideal in life submits itself to the caprices of another human being; his ego may feel diminished because his sense of ownership of his mother is directly challenged.
As the task of analysis consists in making all the elements of a neurosis conscious to the subject, the reader can readily see that neither the Freudian, nor the Jungian, nor the Adlerian view should be ignored in unraveling the riddle of the unconscious.
There are three ways of approaching the problem of parental influence in neurosis, three points of vantage from which to attack the enemy. A superficial survey of folk-legends shows us these three points of view represented in the dreams and broodings of mankind.
The archaic gods killed or castrated their fathers. Jesus sacrifices himself, and then father and son renounce the mother, who becomes a virgin. Sargon, son of a virgin, eliminates his father by disclaiming any knowledge of his identity. Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. Aun, King of Sweden, had to kill a son of his every nine years to prolong his life, each time nine years more. Siegfried seeks the mother-image and finds it in his aunt, Brunhilde. The hunted and wounded Siegmund finds motherly sympathy and care In his sister, Sieglinde. Electra, seeking the security she lost when her father died, lavishes love-words upon his substitute, Orestes, and goads him into avenging Agamemnon. The obedience of Tzarevitsh Ivan to his father and his strenuous quest of the Fire Bird are prompted by a desire to inherit his father's kingdom and to assume his lofty position by eliminating him. Princess Sesselya, pursued by her father, finally yields to his substitute, the old king of the neighboring land.
End of Article
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