Complex of Oedipus and Electra Complex in young children: the stages of development and what parents need to know to face them better and without trauma

In psychoanalysis Oedipus Complex widely studied by the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud explains one of the most complex stages that the male child around 2 years of age faces. The Complex of Electra is also a psychological phenomenon that leads, on the contrary, girls to be tied to their father, to the point of idealizing it and looking for a man who looks more like him . To overcome this, ask an expert for help and teach the girls to be independent and accept the love between mother and father. But do we know, we parents, how to deal with these complexes in our children to the fullest? Do we know to recognize the signs, symptoms and causes of why such a complex is born in the small / home? Let us try to clarify ourselves by dealing with the most important stages of development of our children and how to deal with situations that , if not taken in time, they can lead those children to grow up with extreme hardships in adult social life.

The Complex of Oedipus: the myth in history, the origins


In psychology we often refer constantly to complex of Oedipus a highly discussed and in-depth concept in early childhood: this is in fact the most critical period with the most changes, which is around the second, third year of life of the child. But what are the origins of this Complex? The name of this complex derives from a work by Sophocles Oedipus king .

The story tells that Laius, father of Oedipus and king of Thebes, had learned from oracle that if he had had a child, he would one day kill him, marry his mother and cause the ruin of his house. Laius, however, generated Oedipus and to avoid the fulfillment of the prophecy, he ordered a servant to abandon the newborn on a mountain. The servant executed the order, but shortly afterwards a traveler passing by by chance heard the child crying and, moved to pity, picked it up and took it to his lord, the king of Corinto Polibo who, having no children and being eager of having one, he raised it as his own.

Once he became an adult, Oedipus had a dispute with a man who, to offend him, told him that he was not the real son of Polibo, but only a foundling saved from death. Then, troubled by that revelation, the young man went to Delphi to ask god Apollo who his real parents were. The oracle of Delphi told him nothing about it, but predicted that he would one day kill his father and marry the same mother. Wanting to escape that fate that terrified him, Oedipus decided never to return to Corinth. But one day, while he was at a crossroads, he came across the carriage on which Laio was traveling, whose coachman took the curve so badly that a wheel passed over one foot of Oedipus. Since a serious quarrel was born, the young man, to defend himself from Laius who was about to kill him, pierced the very father he had never known. Some time later, as he continued his journey, Oedipus met the Sphinx and solved his enigma: “What is the animal that has a voice, that the morning goes with four feet, at noon with two and in the evening with three? “ Oedipus thought carefully and replied: ” That animal is the man, who crawls on his knees in childhood; in adulthood he stands and in old age he leans on a stick “. Having broken the spell, the Sphinx, angry, threw himself from the cliff and died.

Having freed Thebes from that bloodthirsty monster, Oedipus was welcomed by the city as a triumph so much that he received Queen Jocasta as wife, his own mother. And so, although Laius and Oedipus had both tried to escape the terrible prophecy, everything had come true inexorably. The work Oedipus King is a representation of the incestuous relationship that is realized only figuratively in the mind of the child. The Oedipus complex is the basis of Freudian psychoanalytic theory and is placed in what is considered the psychological and sexual development of the child. In fact, the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud in one of his writings has mentioned and studied the complex in depth, becoming one of the cornerstones of psychoanalytic thought. In general, in the history of psychology, the Oedipus complex is a highly disputed theory, of which great consideration is given, especially when we enter the world of infantile sexuality.

Freud talks about it objectively and concrete by focusing on the psychosexual development of the child, which divides into various phases. According to the psychoanalyst, the one relating to the Oedipus complex belongs to the third phase known as the phallic phase where the child is aged between 3 and 6 years. In this “phallic” phase the child develops ambivalent sexual desires towards his parents: the desire to replace the parent of the same sex explodes in him, and to have an exclusive possession of the parent of the opposite sex, in this case the mother.

What is the Oedipus complex in children


The Oedipus complex is defined as the set of feelings of approval and love, almost possessive, by a child for the parent of the opposite sex and on the contrary, of challenge for the parental figure of the same genus.

We can affirm with certainty that this important complex concerns male children who identify themselves in the adult by making their own its values. In these cases, therefore, they will go to feel negative feelings towards the father, who is identified as a rival to overcome. The Oedipus complex is seen as an important process for the formation of the identity and of the self by the child. However, it is not a universal cadence: there can in fact be variations with situations where it can be more pronounced than others. According to the psychoanalytic perspective, however, it is a concept that occurs in all children, though not in the same way.

The phallic phase of the Oedipus complex in male children (3-6 years) Symptoms

Males strengthen amorous projection against mother and move away from the father (rival in love) with which they identify progressively. The child becomes more possessive and requires numerous manifestations of affection from the mother. The complex is part of the phallic phase characterized by the discovery of genital pleasure and sexual differences that allow the child to understand what role he must play in the relationship between the two sexes. The little Oedipus can also get involved in moments of intimacy of parents, limiting the effusions between the two. Everything would be accompanied by fantasies in which the child eliminates his father to marry his mother . In summary, the obvious symptoms related to the Oedipus complex in the 3-year-old child are divided into 3 phases:

1. Phase: Mother-Son Attachment

 how to face the terrible phase of the two years  

  • He wants to have his mother for himself and moves away from his father (considered as a rival in love);
  • Becomes possessive towards the maternal figure, which requires more attention, cuddles and tenderness
  • He gets angry if his father expresses affectionate gestures towards his mother;
  • He tries to intrude on his parents’ sexual intimacy by entering, for example, in their room without knocking,
  • He senses his father’s presence as uncomfortable and expresses his happiness when he takes a journey or is absent from home
  • Demonstrates sexual curiosity for his mother (for example: claims to sleep next to the night).

2. Phase: Castration Complex

Between three and five years of age, the child begins to understand that he is not allowed to seduce his mother (according to Freud, this happens through the paternal references): meeting the limit of the prohibition and failing in these unconscious maneuvers, the child will suffocate his own opposition and will be forced to postpone the satisfaction of his own impulses. The Oedipus complex will eventually express itself through anger attacks and nightmares. This phase is defined by Freud as castration complex : in relation to his desire, the child believes that the punishment inflicted by the father is correct.

3. Phase: Resolution


Towards i 5-6 years the child will gradually give up taking the place of the parent of his own sex, (the father ) rejecting their emotions and passions in the unconscious. At this age, the child shifts his interest from the mother to another female individual outside the family; moreover, he begins to share activities and adopts behaviors similar to those of his father, with which he identifies himself progressively. The resolution of the Oedipus complex, therefore begins when the child understands that he is not allowed to seduce his mother (according to Freud this happens through the paternal references). The Oedipus understands that he cannot freely express his love or hatred for his father and begins to suffocate his feelings . He also believes that the father, aware of his aims, wants to punish him by castration. Fear causes the child to shift his interest from the mother to another female individual and begin to adopt paternal behavior . According to Freud, a poorly resolved Oedipus complex would lead to a long series of psychological disorders, including identification with the mother and attraction for people of the same sex. In fact the Oedipus complex can be called positive if the child manifests a loving projection towards the parent of the opposite sex, while the same-sex one becomes the object of hostile feelings. While it is defined negative when the situation appears upside down, ie the child has an attraction for the parent of the same sex and refusal for the opposite sex parent. Most of the time, however, the Oedipus complex appears in complex form : depending on the individual cases, both parents can be objects of love and hostility, both also in different and variable measure

How to deal with the Oedipus complex: the role of parents

We stated that the Oedipus complex is a fundamental stage in the development process of the child in which the double difference between sexes and generations is sanctioned. Because of the profound importance of this moment it is essential that parents are present and understand their child’s complex. But how? In particular, it is necessary to explain to the child that he will not be able to have the same type of relationship that his father has with his mother, but he will find, over time, another person with whom he can do what his parents do. Generally, during emotional development, the authority of the father sets limits with respect to the child’s wishes. However, if the latter becomes temporarily aggressive or shows excessive jealousy and hostility, the parent must continue to behave as if nothing had happened. Instead, the preferred family figure must seize every opportunity to enhance the other parent. The way in which this is dealt with and overcome depends on how the previous evolutionary stages take place and how the two parents build the relationship with their children. Children subjected to physical and verbal maltreatment refusal and cruelty by parents seem to be more prone to develop problems with emotional intimacy. However, the Oedipus complex can also affect people without particular psychological problems: in the course of their evolution, each faces and generally overcomes this evolutionary period. Initially, the unresolved incestuous fantasies during the growth of a child were related to the development of most psychic disorders including the identification of the child with the mother and the attraction to people of the same sex.The rejection of the parent’s psychophysical affection towards the child can generate feelings of guilt and shame in the child by inhibiting his ability to enjoy his own sexuality and develop healthy intimate relationships.

In conclusion it should be emphasized that overcoming the Oedipus complex should not be underestimated as it is part of the most important moments in the formation of an adult’s personality because it marks two main events: the separation of the family unit, and the identity formation with all its values ​​and in all its many aspects.

Electra complex in girls: myth and birth


The name derives from the mythological figure of Elettra which was daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamenonne who left his wife at home to wait for him when he went to war. Clytemnestra had a lover named Egisto, who killed Agamemnon when the latter returned from the battle. Elettra suffered so much from the death of her father that she harbored, inside herself, such rancorous feelings that led her to order the death of her mother and her lover, precisely to avenge Agamemnon. This phenomenon also takes the name of “ Prince Charming syndrome ” because the women who suffer from it never find their prince charming, the idealized man who, unfortunately, does not exist. This phenomenon has been studied above all by psychoanalysis and perhaps the one who studied it best was the great Carl Gustav Jung according to which, the Elettra complex leads the child to seek possession of her own dad coming into conflict with his mother. The Elettra complex is the feminine analogue of the Oedipus complex, developed by Sigmund Freud. Carl Gustav Joung, however, had perceived a sort of “theoretical void” in Freud’s theory. The Oedipus complex concerned only males and that intense physical and emotional bond between children and their mothers in the early years of childhood. In 1912, therefore, Jung formulated his theory of Elettra complex precisely to fill this void, to broaden the perspective also to female development and not leave it in oblivion.

Symptoms of the Elettra complex in girls

 Children laughing in front of the reproach

All girls, especially during first years of life and up to the age of 6 develop a sort of jealousy towards the mother, who is the woman most attached to her father. This jealousy and this morbid attachment, however, tend to disappear when the child starts going to school, sometimes, however, they do not disappear and degenerate into a real emotional dependency. But what are the symptoms of an Electra complex in the child?

I symptoms of this problem are manifested above all during adolescence and in adulthood when the woman he cannot cope with the loving relationships he lives, often calling them insignificant and still boring. One of the main symptoms is that of often changing boyfriend ; this happens because no man will ever be perfect for those women, because their ideal man will always and in any case be their father, or an idealized man. Stories that continue to end, due to a thousand reasons or better, because of a thousand excuses, such as the need for greater affection, greater love, but above all greater protection. These women, in fact, seek a man who can give them security who makes them feel like children, just like a father.

This tendency leads, among other symptoms, to go in search of a larger man, precisely because the paternal figure tends to be mythologized, often, in fact, companion that these women find is a mature man with an age difference that can be even over 20 years. Finally, many women find the love of their lives after their father’s death, when that impossible love seems to have ended, this time forever.

The 3 phases of the Elettra complex in girls

The girls face 3 phases of the Elettra complex which sees a first phase of attraction towards its mother . In this phase, in fact, Jung was certain that the emotional bond between mother and daughter was much more intense than that between mother and child in the first 3 years of life. This initial attachment then marks the “return” and the need of the child to identify herself with her mother incorporating some maternal characteristics into her personality and internalizing her morality in the “super-ego”.

A second phase is that of Falling in love with his father. So preferably towards the opposite sex. The little girl, around 3-4 years old, starts staring at her father, coming to fall in love with this male figure. The Elettra complex presumably begins when the girls discover they do not have a penis and feel the desire to have what this sexual organ symbolizes. The psychoanalysts affirm that the approach to the paternal figure generates a certain rivalry and distance towards the mother. The child can develop a sort of jealousy and adopt behaviors ranging from possessive affection towards the father to hostility if at a given moment she does not get what she desires from the paternal figure.

The complex of Elettra then goes on to finish with the third phase which is Resolutiva as it happens in the Oedipus complex described above. In this last phase, therefore, the child of 6/7 again feels the need to come closer and identify with her mother. And it is at this point that he begins to show behaviors of imitation and curiosity towards the female world where the child acquires awareness of her gender role.

Jung with his theory emphasized the fact that this phase it was a normal part of the development of girls, typical of childhood, when the bases of affective, social and psychological behavior that will mature in the following years are created. Furthermore, it is necessary that the hostilities dissolve, that the child does not see her mother as an enemy or a rival thus avoiding the establishment of dynamics that could raise walls within the family.

How to overcome the complex of Elettra in girls


If one notices that a girl is too attached to her father, showing an excessive affection towards her and an attitude always more hostile towards her mother, it is necessary to try to talk to her making her understand that her mother and father have a loving relationship and that she will be loved by both equally. It is essential that the child gets used to being independent, managing to get by in some situations, which could be fictitious and created ad hoc, without the help of mum and above all without the help of dad . Now, if a child shows common behaviors like looking for her father’s love before her mother, wanting to spend more time with him or saying that “when she grows up she will marry her father”, we must understand that there is nothing wrong or pathological in this. In the end, the father is a closer male figure and also a reference in many respects, so these fantasies, these games and behaviors will naturally vanish as socialization with peers will become important. In fact, even Jung himself did not attribute a universal or biological value to his theory.

Oedipus complex and Complex of Elettra: universal conclusions?


Both of these concepts investigate the identity formation of the child and the child and manifest themselves underlining some very specific emotions and vicissitudes. It is evident that these complexes do not have a precise and universal symptomatology, also because it is not a real illness, but in general we are faced with a frustrated and vacillating subject who is trying to forge his inner ego. [19659011] The feelings that often emerge from these situations are anger and anger, often uncontrolled and excessive. They represent complex and secondary emotions that the child develops only over time and that date back to the primordial concept of fear. They develop only in the period of second childhood, after 3 years of life . In particular, they can escape in situations of heightened tension and in situations that the child may feel stressful. They can also be verified, indirectly, even during sleep, so the aspect of the unconscious is not to be underestimated. At this point it must be said that the parents, seen as attachment figures, have a crucial role as regards the Oedipus and Electra complex in children : they must help them overcome the complex by stimulating and guiding them in respect of norms and home life. In fact, the child must first understand his role within the family nucleus: the favorite parent must make the child understand that he cannot have the same attitudes he has with his wife or husband. Modern psychology sees these theories of the Oedipus and Electra complexes as outdated approaches, as well as the classic oral, anal and phallic psychosexual phases. In fact, many psychoanalysts do not share these theories, like the German Karen Horney, according to which to say that girls live in a phase in which they are envious of their father’s penis is an offense to women.


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