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.

Parenting the tough stuff



If the small stuff like bad test grades, periodic fights with siblings, friendships that come and go, or occasional defiance with food does not faze you as a parent, the tough stuff will.  Sometimes it is a gradual progression, sometimes it comes in waves, and sometimes it hits you all at once.  Whatever the method, the tough stuff of parenting can catch you off guard and leave you questioning yourself, your family and your child.

Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has uncontrollable anger with outbursts so intense that they say hateful things, are uncharacteristically mean, threaten to harm themselves or others, or physically take their anger out on others.  Perhaps you are dealing with a child who stays out all night, comes home acting differently, has questionable friends, lies frequently or displays other signs of potential substance abuse.  Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has withdrawn from most social engagements, has no desire to be with any friends, whose grades are slipping, spend most of their time sleeping or has no interest in things they enjoyed before.  Or perhaps you are dealing with a child who threatens to commit suicide, has marks on their arms and legs indicating cutting, has lost extreme amounts of weight, or seems to do things to gain excessive amounts of attention.  Whichever situation you are dealing with, this is the tough stuff.  So what do you do?

 Don’t deny.  A common philosophy is to blame yourself for your child’s behavior.  This is encouraged in psychology with Freudian beliefs, in society where to admit your child has a problem means that there is something wrong with you, and in our own internal thoughts when we rather blame ourselves than to be honest with the situation.  While your child’s behavior is at some point their responsibility and choice and not yours, there is something to be said for a little self-reflection.  What is your child’s behavior telling you?  Are they acting angry because you are suppressing anger?  Are they demanding attention because they don’t feel loved?  Are they withdrawing because they have been hurt by someone they trusted?  Be honest with the situation and listen to the clues from your child’s behavior.

Deal with yourself first.  Remember the instructions on an airplane, put your own mask first and then help your child.  If your teenage child’s two year old temper tantrum is because they feel overwhelmed with all of the expectations placed on them, then look at the expectations that you have placed unnecessarily on them.  More importantly, look at why those expectations have been placed.  Are you placing expectations on your child that were placed on you?  How do you feel about that?  Or are you placing expectations that are inconsistent with your child’s talents and abilities just because others do the same to you?  Again, be honest with yourself and see your child’s behavior as a reflection of the things you need to address that perhaps you have not addressed.

Do get help.  More often than not, parents bring in their child to therapy to deal with their behavior but do not go to therapy to deal with their own behavior.  It is so much easier to point the finger at your child and drag them into therapy instead of the dealing with your own issues.  Therapy is most effective when the entire family admits that there is a problem and each person deals with their own issues separately and together.  Your child will do far better in therapy when they see you doing better because of therapy.  Be the example that your child needs and get help for your issues.

Many parents will admit that they need help parenting but few will actually take the first step of getting help.  Even fewer will go into therapy for themselves before they send their child however; this is the best method for healing.

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.