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Electra Complex - Female Equivalent of the Oedipus Complex

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Electra Complex - Female Equivalent of the Oedipus Complex

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The Electra complex is often known as the female version of the Oedipus complex and is seen in girls between three to six years. Read the article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Pratap Kagitha

Published At July 5, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 31, 2024

What Is the Meaning of the Electra Complex?

It is natural for the parents and children to love and care for each other. However, a child's behavior largely depends on the upbringing and the environment in which the child grows. The problem arises when the child’s feelings of love, affection, and attachment change into a desire. This is a sign of a mental health problem, and the parents must pay attention to the child. One of these problems has been described in a debunked theory created by Sigmund Freud.

According to Freud, when the child remains stuck in the phallic stage of development, it triggers an Oedipus complex. One of the students of Freud, Carl Jung, coined the term Electra complex to describe this condition in a female. So, Electra complex describes a girl who competes with her mother to acquire her father's affection.

What is Electra Complex?

The Electra complex is nothing but a psychoanalytic term or a debunked theory describing a girl who develops specific feelings towards the parent of the opposite sex, mainly the father. She might develop the desire, possessiveness, and fixation for her father. According to Carl Jung, a child having an Electra complex might show a competitive spirit against the mother. Freud has postulated the same point in his theory on psychosexual development. According to Freud, during the development period, the girl remains attached to her mother but becomes attached to her father when she comes to know that her mother does not have a penis. An important point to be noted here is that the Electra complex is not a term given by Freud; instead, it is an expansion of Carl Jung’s theory that describes the girl child being fixated on her father.

What Is the History Behind the Electra Complex?

Though the term Electra complex is frequently associated with Sigmond Freud, it was Carl Jung who coined this term in 1913. This term is derived from the name of a legendary character of Greek mythology, Electra. She was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. When her father (King Agamemnon) was murdered, she saved her brother and sent him away to a building. However, when he returned from exile, Electra convinced her brother to murder their mother because she felt her mother had killed her father. Sigmund Freud rejected Jung's theory because he was dissatisfied with his views and considered it an attempt to emphasize the analogy between the two sexes.

At What Age Does the Electra Complex Occur?

According to Freud’s theory, there are six stages of psychosexual development. These phases have been formed based on the maturing pleasure sensations and a growing sense of self-identity. The six phases of psychosexual development are listed below:

  • Oral Stage - Infancy to 18 months.

  • Anal Stage - 18 months to three years.

  • Phallic Stage - Three to five years.

  • Latency Stage - Five to 12 years.

  • Genital Stage - 12 years to adulthood.

Sigmond Freud believed that children experience most growth and development between three to five years of age. However, the theory has not been empirically proven yet. According to Freud, there comes a phase in life where children experience the Oedipus and Electra complex as a part of their natural development.

What Are the Causes of the Electra Complex?

The various possible causes of the Electra complex are listed below:

  • The Electra complex might be seen as a transient phase of a child’s development.

  • When the girl undergoes further psychosexual development, she might develop an ego and super-ego that fade away when she grows up.

  • When the feelings of possession and desire for the father do not fade away with development, the Electra complex is likely to occur, and the girl remains in the phallic stage.

  • Some adverse childhood experiences like trauma, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders might cause Electra complex.

How Does the Electra Complex Work and Does It Affect Child Growth?

According to the theory proposed by Sigmond Freud, the most crucial part of the developmental process is identifying the parent of the same sex.

  • The different stages of psychosexual development indicate that the libidinal energy is focused on the different erogenous zones of the child.

  • The problem arises when something goes wrong with these stages of psychosexual development.

  • Normally, the girl is attached to her mother, but when she realizes she does not have a penis like her father, she has penis envy and starts blaming her mother for castration.

  • She develops feelings for her father and wants to possess him because she cannot possess a parent that does not have a penis.

  • She also develops sexual feelings and desires for her father.

  • According to Freud, the girl develops a fixation or a persistent focus on her father, which can lead to anxiety, neurosis, and maladaptive behaviors in childhood.

  • She turns hostile toward her mother, develops a competitive spirit against her, and wants all of her father's attention.

  • She feels bad and wants to push the mother if she talks with her father. As a result, there is a constant rivalry between the daughter and the mother. However, in the later stages of development, the girl realizes that she cannot lose her mother and wants her mother’s love too.

  • Therefore, she becomes attached to her mother again and starts emulating her actions.

  • Following her mother’s actions, she learns about the traditional gender roles.

  • When the girl reaches puberty, she starts getting to men who are not related to her, but some adults fail to come out of the phallic stage and remain sexually attached to their parents.

  • The Electra complex mainly occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development because that is the stage when the girl spends maximum time with her father and practices sexual behavior without sexual contact.

  • There are a variety of defense mechanisms that play a vital role in resolving the Electra complex.

  • Some traits are present in the personality congenitally, which compel the child to love her and compete with her mother.

  • In order to deal with the Electra complex, the unwanted desires and urges must be suppressed from conscious memory.

  • When the girl internalizes her mother’s morality into her super-ego, she starts behaving normally and following society's rules.

Does the Electra Complex Really Exist?

Scientists and psychologists have not accepted the Electra complex, and Freud’s concept of penis envy and the feminine Oedipus complex was criticized. According to recent studies, no strong pieces of evidence are available to check the reality of the Electra complex. As per the 2015 reports, Freud’s idea of the Electra complex has been regarded as outdated because they rely on century-old gender roles. The researchers have specifically criticized the concept of penis envy because they think it is a sexist remark.

According to the Oedipus and Electra complexes, a child needs a mother and a father for proper sexual growth and development. However, this concept has been criticized as outdated. Young girls might develop sexual attractions toward their fathers, but this fact has still not been proven.

Conclusion:

Electra complex is a concept that focuses on the sexual attraction of the girl towards her father. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung gave this theory, but they were criticized because they failed to provide any strong evidence to support the theory. As a result, this theory has become a subject of a joke among most psychiatrists because they feel that a small girl can never develop sexual feelings for her father. So, people must not believe this theory until the researchers have proved it, and the Electra complex is only a notion created by Carl Jung and does not have any scientific proof.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Common Is Electra Complex?

Scientists and psychologists have not accepted the Electra complex. According to recent studies, no strong pieces of evidence are available to check the reality of the Electra complex. As per the 2015 reports, Freud’s idea of the Electra complex has been regarded as outdated because they rely on century-old gender roles. Furthermore, the researchers have specifically criticized the concept of penis envy because they think it is a sexist remark.

2.

What Is the Electra Complex in Psychology?

The Electra complex is a psychoanalytic term or a debunked theory describing a girl who develops specific feelings towards the parent of the opposite sex, mainly the father. For example, she might develop the desire, possessiveness, and fixation towards her father.

3.

What Happens in Electra Complex?

According to Carl Jung, a child having an Electra complex may show a competitive spirit against the mother. Freud has postulated the same point in his theory on psychosexual development. According to Freud, during the development period, the girl remains attached to her mother but becomes attached to her father when she knows that her mother does not have a penis.

4.

What Is the Difference Between Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex?

The Electra complex describes the feminine version of the Oedipus complex. 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. The Electra complex is nothing but a psychoanalytic term or a debunked theory describing a girl who develops specific feelings towards the parent of the opposite sex.

5.

How to Know if a Child Has Electra Complex?

A child having an Electra complex may show a competitive spirit against the mother. According to Freud, during the development period, the girl remains attached to her mother but becomes attached to her father when she knows that her mother does not have a penis. As a result, she may avoid or become hostile toward her mother.

6.

Can Oedipus Complex Be Resolved?

According to Freud's theory, building a healthy relationship with a father can help a child suppress his id's urges to act on his desire for his mother and start to identify with his father, thus resolving the Oedipus complex.

7.

What Happens if the Electra Complex Is Not Resolved?

An unhealthy fixation can develop and remain if the Electra complex is not resolved. The girl, therefore, would continue to experience the envy of the penis.

8.

At Which Stage Does Oedipus or Electra Complex Occur?

According to Freud's theory, the Oedipus or Electra complex develops in the phallic stage of psychosexual development between the ages of three and five. The phallic stage is an essential phase in forming sexual identity.

9.

What Is the Male Version of Electra Complex?

The Oedipus complex is the male version of the Electra complex. 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.

10.

Can a Man Have an Electra Complex?

The Electra complex refers to the female version of the Oedipus complex. However, unlike the Oedipus complex, which refers to males and females, this psychoanalytic term only refers to females.
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Dr. Pratap Kagitha
Dr. Pratap Kagitha

Pediatrics

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