What Freud Got Right: Oedipus Complex

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smoking cigar. Español: Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, fumando. Česky: Zakladatel psychoanalýzy Sigmund Freud kouří doutník. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There he was at six years old running to welcome me home with open arms.  His warm embrace and excitement over greeting me filled my heart with overwhelming joy.  Our son dominated my greeting making sure that my husband did not get close and when he did, he immediately jumped in-between our embrace.  He spoke of all the things he did desperately seeking my approval and interrupted any conversation my husband and I attempted to have.  It was adorable and I loved every minute of it but was not right.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and psychosexual development, coined the phrase Oedipus Complex to describe the sexual attraction a child has for their parent.  He believed that every child wants to have sex with their parent, usually the parent of the opposite sex, and this is why they naturally desire to please or get the attention of said parent.  While I do not agree with the sexual component, there is some truth in a child seeking the attention of one parent to the detriment of the other.  It is almost as if there is some sort of unspoken competition between the child and the same-sex parent where the child uses whatever means necessary to win the competition.  This unfortunately can include using both good and bad behavior to draw attention.

So what can you do?  Well the first step is to realize what is happening which means that you need to observe your child’s behavior as an outsider looking in on the family.  Step back and see if your child is physically getting in-between you and your spouse, if they are interrupting, if they demand attention, and if they play on the deficiencies of the same-sex spouse.  For instance, if you and your spouse are not physical with hugs and kisses, is your child excessively hugging and kissing the opposite sex parent?  Or if you and your spouse don’t talk very much, is your child excessively trying to engage you in conversation?

So what do you think?  Now that you realize what is going on, please understand that this is normal childhood behavior.  A daughter will do this with her father and a son will do this with his mother; there is nothing unnatural about it except for your reaction.  It is naturally pleasing to have such unconditional love and admiration from your child and more than likely you will encourage it with your reaction.  But if you allow your child to come in-between you and your spouse, they will only learn even better how to manipulate others and in the end, this is not a good character trait.  The opposite is also true for if you reject your child’s behavior, they will transfer that rejection onto future relationships in a never-ending desire to seek love and approval from wherever they can find it.

So what can you say?  Discuss this issue with your spouse and agree together on how to handle it with your child.  The first step is to acknowledge your spouse first and then your child each and every time you enter a room.  This subtle message is not a rejection of the child but rather a placement of importance on your marriage.  Your marriage should come first before your child as eventually your child will grow up and leave one day and you will be left with your spouse.  Two individuals cannot become one in a marriage if a child is in the middle.  The second step is to be more physically affectionate with your spouse than your child, reserving only certain types of kissing and hugging for your spouse.  This teaches your child that there is a difference between the two.  The last step is to make decisions together as a couple regarding your child, the words, “I need to talk to your mother or father first” should become a standard in your household.

Too often a parent’s response to negative behavior from their child is to think there is something wrong with them.  If your child is suffering from an Oedipus Complex, their negative behavior is an attempt to get the attention of the opposite sex parent.  By giving your child attention after your spouse, they will learn to trust in receiving the attention and be less likely to repeat the negative behavior.  Freud got this concept right as it is repeated over and over in households and is the unnecessary cause of much frustration and tension.  By realizing that what your child is experiencing is normal and modifying your behavior, your child will naturally adjust theirs.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.