The Oepidus complex is a psychoanalytic theory introduced by psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. It refers to a child’s unconscious sexual desire for the opposite-sex parent and hatred for the same-sex parent. Freud believes that the goal is for the child to identify with the same-sex parent. According to Freud, if the goal is not achieved, it may lead to neurosis, pedophilia, and homosexuality. The boy may remain a lifelong “mama’s boy”, giving control of his own life to his mother, often being seen as effeminate.
The term originated from the 429 BC Greek myth, Oedipus Rex. The character Oedipus kills his father in order to marry his mother.
Freud believes that an Oedipal desire is innate in all human and causes much unconscious guilt. Boys direct their first sexual impulse towards their mothers and their first hatred and murderous wishes against their fathers.
The Oedipus complex occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development at age 3-6 years when libido and the ego are formed. During this stage, there is father-son competition for possession of mother’s attention and love. The boy wants to have his mother all to himself. The mother gratifies the child’s desires and the child forms a sexual identity. The boy may be very possessive of his mother and tell his father not to hug or kiss his mom.
The boy directs his sexual desire upon his mother and directs jealously and emotional rivalry against his father because he sleeps with her. The develop union with mother, the boy’s id wants to kill father. But the boy’s ego understands that realistically, father is stronger when competing to possess the one female.
The boy develops castration anxiety, which is the fear of having one’s genitalia disfigured or removed to punish sexual desires. This can lead to to chronic anxiety about other things throughout life, extending to adulthood. It can lead to a fear of death, and feeling of loss of control over one’s life. The boy does not recognize that his unconscious sexual desires are the cause of his emotional distress.
How does the Oedipal conflict resolve? The child wants to remove his father, the competitor for his mother. But he fears his father because he understands that father is superior to him and could prevent the boy from possessing mother. Boy fears father will take away the boy’s penis, castration anxiety, to take away cause of conflict. This anxiety causes the boy to give up his sexual desire for his mother, and redirect his attention to becoming more like his father, who already had his mother. This redirecting of attention is called identification. Instead of being so attached to his mother, the boy spends his attention trying to become manly like his father. He starts to see his father as a suitable role model.
What happens if the Oedipus complex is not resolved? Then the boy may remain “mother-fixated”, very attached and obsessed with their mother. This can extend into adulthood. After puberty, the complex may also resolve when the man finds a suitable substitute for the object of love. The man’s object of love becomes his new romantic partner instead of his mother. As an adult, the man may want to find romantic partners who resemble their mother.
However, if the complex is still not resolved, the man may remain a mama’s boy (a man who is excessively attached to his mother at an age when men are expected to be independent, live on their own, be economically independent, be married, or about to be married). A mother-bonded man is seen to give control of his own life to his mother.