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Outline your understanding of the Oedipus complex and its significance for psychoanalysis.

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Outline your understanding of the Oedipus complex and its significance for psychoanalysis The Oedipus complex is felt to be one of Freud's most well-known and controversial theories. This essay will analyse Freud's definition of the Oedipus complex and will attempt to explain why it is so controversial. Freud's theory of infantile sexual development will be discussed, as the Oedipus complex is an important stage in this development and finally, the importance of the theory to psychoanalysis will be examined. To understand the Oedipus complex, the origins of Oedipus must be explained. The term stems from the Greek myth of Oedipus who unknowingly killed his father and unwittingly married his mother. This was his fate and in trying to avoid it, both Oedipus and his parents enabled him to fulfil the prophecy (Bettelheim, 1983). Freud used this story to illustrate his theory that there is a stage in psychosexual development when male children start to develop sexual interests in their mother and see their father as a rival resulting in a wish to do their father harm (Storr, 2001, p.33). There is a difference in this stage between male and female children.


The fear of castration and the guilt that he is experiencing for having 'patricidal and incestuous wishes' (Bettelheim, 1983, p.22) leads to the boy repressing his desire for his mother and beginning to identify with his father. The castration complex brings an end to the Oedipus complex for the child as he has rejected his thoughts about his mother. The female version of the Oedipus complex differs from that of the male. The little girl grows to resent her mother after discovering she has no penis. She believes her mother is to blame for this. The female believes that she has been castrated and is envious of boys, leading to the term 'penis envy'. In resenting her mother she turns to 'her father as a love object' (Storr, 2002, p.34). She believes that if her father impregnates her, the baby will make up for the lack of a penis. The end of the Oedipus complex occurs when the female when she discovers that there are men other than her father, who can impregnate her which in turn helps to overcome her inferiority to males (Storr, 2001, p.34). The super-ego; the part of the 'model of the mind' which represents parental authority and social pressures, is said to develop as a result of the Oedipus complex.


It could be the case that to prevent neurosis from occurring requires self-discovery and the awareness of one's unconscious. This could prevent the Oedipus complex continuing to be a destructive force in a person's life. Psychoanalysis may provide the individual the opportunity to resolve the conflicts and to make what is unconscious conscious. Uncovering the unconscious as Bettelheim states 'is the best protection against an Oedipal catastrophe' (Bettelheim, 1983, p.25) as it could be argued that to know and face the Oedipal complex is to free oneself of negative consequences it is causing. In conclusion, according to Freud, the Oedipus complex is a stage in psychosexual development that every individual must pass through to achieve a stable life. Failure to resolve it may lead to neurosis as detailed above. It is felt the Oedipus complex is an important stage in defining sexuality, as children identify with the same sex parent leading to a heterosexual identity in adults. To evaluate the Oedipus complex in a literal sense may not take into the account the metaphorical and symbolic meanings. It is felt that the Oedipus complex, which Freud believes to be the centre of neuroses, is significant to psychoanalysis. The process of psychoanalysis can aid an individual to come to terms with the effect of the Oedipus complex and remove the negative impact it is having.

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