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  • Maria R. de Almeida

Oedipus complex: Differences between boys and girls


We have all hear about the Oedipus complex some time. Unfortunately, most of those times… what we heard was wrong… What is in reality the Oedipus Complex? It is the love for the opposite - sex parent and the rivalry towards the same -sex parent. However, that is a simplification, it never really exists exactly in that way. There is always a combination: In reality, the child has a strong desire for the opposite - sex parent, but at a later stage, he/she will experience deep anger towards that same parent when he realises he/she does not only belong to him/her. Rivalry with the same - sex parent, in the case of the girl - the mother and in the case of the boy - the father, ends up turning into comradeship or in an identification model. So, the Oedipus complex doesn’t exist on his simple shape but in a more complex one.

In order to understand this concept and what it really means, we need to also bear in mind that in Psychoanalysis, the sexual life becomes very relevant to the individual. Again, we need to be very careful and sharp here: as opposed to what it has been widely and wrongly understood, “sexual” in Psychoanalysis is not “genital”. “Sexual” is anything which is not related to reproduction. In that sense, the “family” is an animal legacy and it is very useful because it helps to reproduce the specie and preserve it. Without schools, society… the child would still be an animal. “Sexual” in the human being, is everything related to the fact that the human being… TALKS. Reproduction has become human, in the sense that the human being has talked about it. There is nothing exclusively instinctive in the human being: even thirst and hunger are psychical.

There is nothing in the human being which is not touch, “diverted” by the language. Everything is touch by the language —> that is what Psychoanalysis called “sexual”. In that sense, the difference between the human being and the rest of the animals is that… as opposed to the rest of the animals, the human being will experience joy and will die. It is not that the animals will not die, but they do not KNOW they will die, so they do not experience joy.

All in all, the Oedipus Complex refers to the child’s burst in the language, that is what is really traumatic for the child.

==> Now that we have a better idea on what the Oedipus complex consists of, let’s see how it happens and how different it is in boys and in girls.

In both, the girl and the boy, the first loved object is the mother.

--> In the boy: The mother continues being the loved object. As the love for the mother gets deeper, the father appears as a rival.

--> In the girl: The mother is also her first loved object, but she needs to swift loved objects in the constitution of her femininity. She needs to swift from the mother to the father. Not only the loved object changes also the genital directive area: at the beginning of the childhood, the genital directive organ is the clitoris later, it will be the vagina. Freud sets out that the vagina doesn’t exist until puberty. It is then when the sexual difference is built. These two questions will take place only in the girl but not in the boy.

So… How does it happens in the case of the girl? love for the father and anger towards the mother. She reaches that position, but prior to that she takes the opposite one: love for the mother and in reality, indifference for the father. Rivalry with the father in the females does not exist in the girl or at least, not with the same intensity. In the boy it is very clear the love for the mother and the anger towards the father. There is always ambivalence in all the relationships - also in the boy. There is a very intense love but at the same time, there is a very intense anger. How does the boy solve this ambivalence? He transfers the anger to the father: he loves the mother and hates the father. However in the girl, there is not such a transfer, the ambivalence is present in the relationship with the mother. The relationship mother - daughter is always a love - hate one. This is very visible even in adult women, not only in girls: they are fighting all the time with their mother. They can not live without her but neither with her.

==> Before we continue analysing the differences between girls and boys, let’s have a look to another basic and very misunderstood concept in Psychoanalysis: “phallic mother” and “castration complex”.

Castration in Psychoanalysis is an imaginary process which happens in the same way in boys and girls. It is something which does not occur to the child but that the child needs to accept that happens to the mother. This is key because along that process the mechanism of “repression” is generated. Primary repression (1 ) leads to the division of the psychic apparatus into conscience and unconscious: the human being is constituted. First thing that the child is aware of is his impotence to survive and hence his dependence on any other human being who is willing to help him so he can survive. This creates an absolute dependency on - normally the mother- the person who takes care of the child and helps him survive. Because of this dependency, the child attributes to this person power and prestige. To this moment, in which the child is part of the mother, it is what Psychoanalysis called “phallic mother” which does not mean that the mother has a phallus but she has what the child has attributed her. The child attributes the mother power and prestige because of his impotency and not because of the potency of the mother. Mother phallic is the mother high with the attributes given by the child. Once the mother desires , the child becomes disappointed —> that disappointment is the castration complex (2). The mother is no longer phallic and becomes the real mother. That is what I can not accept. When I can not accept that it is when I become sick: neurosis, psychosis … are psychical structures to hide that my mother is no longer the phallic mother. It is to deny castration. Because if I accept castration, it means not only that my mother is discredited but also that she desires other things than me: my father, her job, my sisters… So if she desires, I am human and if I am human I am… mortal. By denying the desprestigie of my mother (3), I gain something, what do I gain? The immortality.

Going back to the differences between boys and girls, other authors have talked about the “ Electra complex”. However, it is clearly very different how it takes place in the boy and in the girl. That is why it would not be right at all to talk about “Electra complex”. This complex tends to highlight the similarities among boys and girls when Freud is trying to highlight just the opposite: It is very different the development in the boy and in the girl. There is Oedipus complex in both of them but:

—> For the boy, the castration complex is the end of the Oedipus complex: under the threaten of castration, the boy renounces to the mother and the super ego is built. After the constitution of the super ego he still needs to depersonalise it (4) . In the man, it remains a residue from the anxiety castration (5) which is the disdain for women (6). Because she is castrated, she is inferior (maybe... men should loose esteem for their penis and women gain esteem for their body).

—> For the girl is different: There is a pre - Oedipical phase in the girls (which does not happen in the boys (7)). There are behaviours in the women that can be explained in relation with this phase: There are many women who chose their husband according to his father model but then they display with him the relationship with her mother, which is hostile. They fight with husbands all life. They are repeating what they did before .

The Oedipus complex begins after the castration complex. The girl starting point is that she is “castrated” so she will experience “penis envy”. It is not only men who disdain women, women considered themselves inferior as they are castrated. Why such a difference? In the boy starting point is different: he has penis and fear to loss it. The girl “ does not have” (8) . Exactly because of that lack, she gets into the Oedipus complex.

In this situation there are 3 possibilities or evolutive paths:

- 1. Masculinity complex: Because she compares herself with boys, she concludes she is castrated, she feels unsatisfied so she renounces to all type of sexual (9) satisfaction. She thinks: “I do not have but some day it will grow in me”. In some women, this phase last for years or for the whole life. It can lead to homosexuality .

2. Neurosis: They can not accept they "do not have".

3. The route to femininity: she abandons the mother and access the father. Then is when she reaches the Oedipus complex (11)

How does the Oedipus complex ends in the girl? The girl thinks “ok, I do not have a penis, now what I want is a child”. The child appears as a substitute of the penis (12). This is the moment in the route to femininity that allows the girl to leave the father and go to other men. Penis envy and wish for child are steps needed in the constitution of the femininity. However, this moment can be very problematic and there are women who remain in this phase and that leads to issues (13) : The child is independent, it is not part of the mother: “I want a daughter so she can take cares of me when I grow old”. Children belong to no one, to society. If we see it this way, we will treat children even better (If you have children, think of it… you probably treat better your nephews, for example… because of the distance). We can not “appropiate” our children, nor our pupils. It does not mean that I will love them less but I will love them better. We need to educate children not to stay at home but to leave to the world.

All the individuals go through the Oedipus complex when they are between three and five years old, all in all, is the process through which we are constituted as humans. After the Oedipus complex, we are human beings with conscience and unconsciousness and we all have what psychoanalysis calls four “sexs: male, female, mother and father. These four sets are different psychic positions and come from the identification and choice of loved objects (14).

Lately, “feminism” and fight for equality has become very trendy. However, what psychoanalysis shows is that… women are extremely different from men. We should instead fight to be different. Something is clear: neither women nor men can tolerate … the difference. If only being different was considered as a riches and not as a prejudice!

  1. There is primary repression which is part of the constitution of the human being - as it divides the individual into conscience and unconsciousness. This happens once. Then there is secondary repression which takes place every time there is something the super ego does not tolerate. Then it represses it.

  2. Remember that the castration complex is an imaginary process: what I imaginarily attributed to my mother I imaginarily take it way from her.

  3. If I continue to believe that it is only me and my mother, who saved my life because she is totipotent - and does not need anyone else, even my father to conceive me… I avoid to realise that I was born from sexual reproduction from a man and a woman and then… some day: I will die.

  4. Remember the super ego is the first step to join the culture. “Depersonalise” it means that it needs to be emptied from all the parental figures - or surrogates - it has to be built as structure, not with my father, the teacher…

  5. fear of losing the penis.

  6. Machismo: persistence of the child sexuality in which there was disdain for the feminine gender

  7. In the pre - Oedipical phase she hoped the mother would give her the penis and she didn’t. She then switched to the father but… he did not give it to her either.

  8. At the beginning the girl thinks it is only her (but not the rest of the girls) the only one who is inferior. She does not have because she is silly or someone has cut it because she was a bad girl. Then she realises it is all the women.

  9. Here “sexual” refers to genital satisfaction

  10. This taken to the extreme can lead to homosexuality: they can not choose a loved object without penis (because of fear of castration). Homosexuality has different psychical reason: this would be one. They are men and choose as loved objects a woman.

  11. Castration complex does not end the Oedipus complex in the girl as in the boy but initiates it. Penis envy is what leads the girl into the Oedipus complex

  12. This moment can be very problematic: For example: Women who just want to be with a man until they give her and baby and after they abandon the man: in this cases, the child is a penis, to her it is a part of her body,

  13. It is key that the mother begins to have desire for other things apart from the baby. When children show issues between the age of three and twelve years old is normally because the mother can not desire anything else appart form the child. The child gets sick. Remember that castration is the moment in which the child realises that the mother desires other things apart from him. Then she is discredited. That is why some mothers only desire their children so that the children do not take away the credit they gave her when she said their lives. But if the mother continue to desire the child, the child is now thirty years old and… become a psycotic, or neurotic or pervert… When young children show issues, we need to treat the mother, not the child. As female constitution is so complex, there are many moments in which the female can end up getting sick (taking a psychic position such as, neurosis, hysteria, psicosis..)

  14. These four sexs come from the operations: identification with the mother and choice the mother as loved objet / identification with the father and choice the father as loved object: Function of mother (father)- identification with the mother (father) /choice the mother (the father/ as loved object / male (felame) position


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