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What Exactly Does Oedipus Complex Mean?

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What Exactly Does Oedipus Complex Mean?

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Oedipus complex is a phenomenon in which the child gets attached to one of the parents and exhibits envy and hatred towards the same-sex parent.

Written by

Dr. Asna Fatma

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Pratap Kagitha

Published At July 7, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 2, 2024


The Oedipus complex or Oedipus conflict is based on the psychoanalytic theory by Dr. Sigmund Freud. When a child exhibits abnormally possessive attachment toward their desired parents and jealousy and resentment towards the same-sex parent, it is known as the Oedipus complex fixation or Oedipus complex. This functions differently in boys and girls. The child is often jealous of the same-sex parent and starts competing with them.

The Oedipus complex is based on conflict during the phallic phase of the child's psychosexual development. This condition should be resolved, and a healthy relationship between the child and the same-sex parent should be developed to help achieve a psychologically healthy adulthood.

What Is the Psychoanalytic Theory?

Psychoanalytic theory, given by Doctor Sigmund Freud, is a theory of personality analysis, organization, and changes in personality development. It has undergone multiple changes since its inception. According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, Libido is the source of all psychological energy. Moreover, mental states are influenced by two opposing forces. These forces are called cathexis and anticathexis. Cathexis is defined as a mental investment in a person, a concept, or an object. In contrast, anti-cathexis is associated with blocking needs and urges that are considered socially unacceptable. Human behavior, according to psychoanalytic theorists, is deterministic. It is regulated by irrational forces, unconscious, instinctive, and biological urges. Freud also believed that human behavior was influenced and motivated by life and death-instincts.

What Is Oedipus Complex?

The Oedipus complex or Oedipal complex is based on the psychoanalytic theory proposed by Dr. Sigmund Freud. The Oedipus complex, according to Freud's original definition, is a universal phase in the life of a young boy during which he despises his father and aspires to have relations with his mother. These desires could be unconscious. A child's feelings of desire for their opposite-sex parent, as well as envy and rage toward their same-sex parent, are described in this hypothesis. In simple words, a boy believes he is fighting with his father for his mother's attention and affection, whereas a girl believes she is competing with her mother for her father's attention and love. According to Sigmund Freud, children see their same-sex parents as competitors for the love and attention of their opposite-sex parents. The Oedipus complex is believed to start in the phallic stage of the child's psychosexual development.

There are five stages of psychosexual development;

  1. Oral: During this stage, the growing infant derives pleasure from oral sources.

  2. Anal: The child derives pleasure from the anus and the eliminative functions associated with it.

  3. Phallic: According to Freud, during this phase, the child discovers self-stimulation.

  4. Latent: The child continues to develop, and the sexual urges become quiet.

  5. Genital: This stage is effective from puberty to death and is characterized by maturing sexual interests.

The parts of the body that excite sexual feelings are linked with each of the five psychosexual stages and act as a source of pleasure during each stage. The motivating force underlying conduct is known as psychosexual energy.

What Is the Parent Theory of the Oedipus Complex?

The condition is called Oedipus complex because it is based on a story in Greek mythology. According to Greek legend, Oedipus was abandoned at birth, so he had no idea who his parents were. He discovers their true identities only after killing his father and marrying his mother. Although Sigmund Freud first introduced the concept of the Oedipus complex in his 1899 book "The Interpretation of Dreams," he did not use the name until 1910.

How Does Oedipus Complex Work?

The Oedipus complex refers to a child's desire for sexual intimacy with the opposite sex parent, especially a boy's interest in his mother. Although repression keeps this desire hidden from conscious awareness, Freud believed it nonetheless influenced a child's behavior and impacted development.

Based on Sigmund’s psychoanalytic theory, psychosexual development occurs in five stages, and these stages function for a specific period:

  • The oral stage starts from birth and continues till the age of 18 months.

  • The anal stage is active between 18 months to three years.

  • Third, the phallic stage may start from three to five years of age, and the latency stage may function between five to twelve years.

  • Lastly, the genital stage begins at 12 years and is effective throughout adulthood.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of the Oedipus Complex?

The signs of the Oedipus complex include:

  • The child gets extra attached to one of the parents.

  • Fetish or fixation for one parent.

  • Hatred towards the other parent.

  • Jealousy and envy towards the other parent.

  • Obsession and possessiveness towards one parent.

  • Indication to marry one of the parents.

  • Desires for one of the parents.

  • Craving the love and attention of the desired parent.

What Is the Electra Complex?

Carl Jung postulated the Electra complex in 1913 as a comparable complex to the Oedipus complex but for young girls. In this complex, girls have a strong sense of longing for their fathers and resentment for their mothers. The phrase Electra complex was rejected by Freud, and he considered that the phrase Oedipus complex applied to both boys and girls, though each gender perceived it uniquely. Sigmund called this phenomenon as feminine Oedipus attitude complex.

According to Freud, a young girl is initially bonded to her mother during female psychosexual development. However, she develops an attachment to her father after discovering she lacks a penis and begins to detest her mother, whom she holds responsible for her "castration." However, Sigmund was heavily criticized because the idea is thought to be highly outdated, sexist, and dependent on stereotypical gender roles.

How Is Oedipus Complex Managed?

Children experience developmental conflict at each stage, according to Freud's theory of psychosexual development. These conflicts should be resolved to construct a healthy adult personality. Usually, an unresolved internal conflict faced by a child during a phallic stage leads to the Oedipus complex later in life. Therefore, to overcome the phallic stage conflict and grow into a successful adult with a healthy identity, the child must identify with a same-sex parent.

Id and Ego: The child's understanding of id and ego plays a crucial role in resolving developmental conflicts. It is the primal source of energy that requires immediate satisfaction of unconscious urges. In contrast, the ego develops to balance and mediate between the unacceptable urges of the id and reality. While the primal id wishes to remove the father, the more realistic ego recognizes that the father is far more powerful. In addition, the boy also develops a positive relationship with his father.

  • Castration Anxiety: The boy has castration anxiety, which is a fear of both figurative and literal emasculation, as defined by Sigmund. According to him, the child gets scared that his father might remove his penis as a punishment for his desires towards his mother.

  • The Emergence of Superego: The defense mechanism called identification steps to resolve the conflict. The superego is established at this moment. The superego becomes a kind of internal moral authority, an internalization of the father that tries to control the id's desires and encourage the ego to act according to socially acceptable ways.

What Are the Complications of the Oedipus Complex?

If the Oedipus complex is not resolved or treated on time, it can lead to several complications, including:

  • The child can become mother-fixated or father-fixated, which means obsessed with the desired parent for the rest of their life.

  • The difficulties of developing mature adult romantic relationships.

  • Problems of same-sex competition or competitive behavior towards the same sex.

  • Other psychological problems include anger management, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Although the Oedipus complex was popular, it was also highly controversial at that time. The theory behind the Oedipus complex was heavily criticized because it lacked a factual basis, was a cover for sexual abuse, had stereotypical gender-role assumptions, involved incest, and was thought to be sexist. However, suppose similar signs are noticed in a child (boy or a girl) in that case, it should not be ignored because psychological conflicts during childhood can lead to several psychological problems in adulthood. Therefore, it is highly recommended to visit a child psychiatrist to resolve the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Oedipus Complex?

Oedipus complex is a psychological theory that says that a kid feels exceptionally close to the parent of the opposite sex and feels envious and expresses aggressive negative feelings toward the parent of the same sex.


Is the Oedipus Complex Proven to Be Real?

No, there is not enough evidence available to prove the genuineness of the Oedipus complex that states that every child has a repressed feeling of extreme possessiveness and obsession over the parent of the opposite sex and feelings of envy towards the parent of the same sex as the kid sees them as a rivalry between them and the parent of the opposite sex.


How Does the Oedipus Complex Look Like in Adults?

The Oedipus complex in adults may look like feelings of envy and aggressiveness towards the parent of the same sex due to the extreme possessiveness towards the parent of the opposite sex.


What if a Girl Experiences the Oedipus Complex?

If a girl experiences subconscious sexual attachment to her father from the age of three to six, the term used to describe this condition is the Electra complex.


How Does the Oedipus Complex Affect Relationships?

The unresolved Oedipus complex is known to cause anxiety and confusion regarding relationships in adults and may develop a feeling of competitiveness toward people of the same sex.


Is Oedipus Complex an Actual Mental Disorder?

The Oedipus complex does not have its place in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychologists to diagnose a condition or a disorder.


Is the Oedipus Complex Normal?

Yes, the Oedipus complex is a normal stage that occurs during a child's psychological development, which happens between the ages of three and five.


Do I Have the Electra Complex?

Though the concepts of the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex are not proven and are highly ignored by modern psychology, an adult female may have signs of the Electra complex when she dislikes her mother for no particular reason or when she feels competitive against her mother. Also, she seeks romantic partners with the exact characteristic features of her father.
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Dr. Pratap Kagitha
Dr. Pratap Kagitha



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