Oedipus, Electra Complexes Bed One Parent, Kill The Other

Uploaded 10/17/2022, approx. 11 minute read

Okay, Shoshanim, I'm still stuck in Budapest, as you can tell. I'm going to be here for a few more days. Should you wish to contact me, samvaknin at Sam Vaknin, that happens to be my name, at

And today we are going to discuss something which fits the entire family. It's family viewing. It's PG-13.

Why children want to have sex with one parent and kill the other? Yes, this is the stuff psychology is made of. That's why I'm in this field. Never-ending surprises.

And this idea that children want to sleep with the opposite sex parent and kill the same sex parent was brought on to you by another Jew, Sigmund Freud from Vienna in Austria, still in Austria for inexplicable reasons.

We're going to discuss today the Oedipal complex and the Electra complex, one invented by Freud and one discovered by a German, of course, Jung. I'm going to try to recast these two complexes in a new light and suggest new etiologies, new reasons for these supposed behaviors, predilections and attitudes to parental figures.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malina Self-Love, Narcissism, Revisited and many other books. I have written many books, but haven't read even one of them.

So you tell me once you get to read my books, how do they feel?

I am also a professor of psychology in a variety of institutions around this shrinking and polluted globe.

The Oedipal and Electra complexes have been first described and identified almost 100 years ago. In a nutshell, the Oedipal complex states that a boy, a child, a male child would tend to be attracted to his mother and would tend to regard his father as a competitor for the attention and love of his mother. So this child would develop patricidal impulses. He would fantasize about getting rid of his father, even killing his father.

And because children are prone to magical thinking, should something bad happen to the father, the child would tend to feel guilty and assume responsibility.

The Electra complex is the exact opposite, the mirror image. It's when a female child, a girl, is attracted to her daddy and regards her mother as the competition. And so she wants to get rid of her mother. When I say get rid, both Freud and Jung had suggested that this is a symbolic act, a kind of catharsis, a purging of the mind. The child creates an internal object which represents the parent and then eliminates this internal object or tortures this internal object or otherwise does bad things to this internal object. Nothing happens in reality, of course. It's all magical thinking in the magical sphere known as the child's mind.

The two complexes, the Oedipal and the Electra complex, have to do with competition with the same sex parent for the love and attention of the other sexed one.

Now, because Freud has been obsessed with sex for reasons which shall remain unnamed, there are hints in his work that he had been molested or even worse by his father. At the very least, he had a very complicated relationship with his father. So Freud's early work, well into the 1920s, was all about sex, sexuality, and especially child sexuality.

Anna Freud, his daughter, carried it forward and became the preeminent child psychologist of her period. But she renounced a lot of his work and especially the over-sexualized approach to child development and growth.

I agree with Anna Freud. I think sex is a very important drive. It has its place even in early life.

But, for example, Freud suggested that the male child, the boy, is sexually attracted to his mother and wants to get rid of his father as a sexual competitor.

But we know that prior to age three, children don't have sexuality. They are pansexual. They have a diffuse urge to merge and to fuse with other people, to interact with them, body and mind. Children don't perceive other people as sex objects.

Actually, well into age three and possibly age four, according to Piaget, age three, children affect themselves. In other words, they're sexually attracted to themselves.

This is known as the narcissistic libido. They are attracted to themselves, not to other people. They don't have object relations.

So very likely Freud had been wrong. Children are not sexually attracted to their parents.

However, they do want to merge and fuse with the parent. They want the parent's undivided attention and love.

In this sense, children go through a phase very similar to borderline personality disorder. They develop enormous abandonment anxiety. And later on, they develop engagement anxiety and they push the parent away in a healthy process known as separation, individuation.

Coming back to the Oedipal complex. The male child is attracted to his mother in order to merge and fuse with her, in order to become one with her, a unitary entity.

The child until age three or even four makes no clear distinction, distinctions between himself and other people. He makes no clear distinction between himself and his mother.

Therefore, regular adult sexual attraction is totally impossible. The child is sexually invested in himself.

But there is this need to become one with the parent of the opposite sex. And it is true that the parent of the same sex is perceived as standing in the way, as an obstacle, as a hindrance and impediment to merging and fusing with the idealized other sex parent.

This is one source of the Oedipal and electro complexes, the need to secure the undivided presence, attention and love of the other sex parent.

But there is a second source and I think it's a much more compelling source. I think that's the real etiology. That's the real causation, causation for the both the Oedipal and the electro complexes.

You see until age 18 to 24 months, the infant is genderless. The infant is pansexual. In other words, no infant has a sexual preference. No infant has a sexual orientation and no infant has a sexual identity.

Sex has no place in the infant's life except as an autoerotic impulse. The child directs his libido and his eros, the life force and the sex drive, directs them inwardly at himself.

The libido is turned towards the child as the sole love object. The child makes love to himself. The child is infatuated with himself, body and mind.

In other words, the child has a relation. The child's first relationship is with himself. It's a full fledged relationship by the way. It has a sexual dimension. It has an emotional dimension and it has a cognitive dimension, but it has one target, the child himself.

The parent, whether it is the other sex parent or the same sex parent, is not perceived as a sexual object. The parent is perceived as a love object, but the infant is merged and fused with the parent.

The infant initially is merged and fused with the mother throughout the period of infancy. This is known as symbiosis. The infant and the mother are one and the same.

When the infant falls in love with himself, when the infant sexualizes himself, when the infant's narcissistic libido is directed inward at himself, when the infant converts himself into a sexual object, the only sexual object, at the same time, automatically, the infant does all these things to his mother because the mother and the infant are one.

When the infant sexualizes himself, he is also sexualizing mother. When the infant develops love towards himself, when he falls in love with himself, when he becomes infatuated with himself, he becomes infatuated with mother because there is no distinction or difference between mother and the infant.

This is known as symbiosis or the symbiotic phase.

What I'm trying to say is that the Oedipal complex is actually autoerotic. The Oedipal complex is a narcissistic infatuation with oneself.

The child doesn't fall in love with his mother. The child is not attracted sexually or otherwise to his mother. The child falls in love with himself. The child is sexually attracted to himself and because mother is part of him, then she is the recipient of these emotions and drives as well. Not because she is external to the child, but because she is a part of the child. She is actually an internal object.

The Oedipal complex actually describes a phase where the child falls in love, cathexes, invests in himself emotionally and sexually, and at the same time redirects all these emotions and drives and urges at his mother because she's part of him.

Both the child and the mother are cathected simultaneously because the distinction between child and mother in the symbiotic phase is artificial. It is only when the child begins to separate from the mother in the separation individuation phase that he begins to realize that mother is not part of him.

And then he faces a dilemma. His narcissistic libido still remains invested in his mother because she used to be part of him. His energy, emotional energy, infatuation, love, they're all invested in himself and in his mother as part of himself.

And this is exactly the Oedipal complex. The Oedipal complex is an integral part of separation individuation.

When the child begins to separate from the mother, pushes her away, begins to explore the world grandiosely, regards the mother as a separate, distinct entity, a secure base, at that point the child is still in love with his mother, is still sexually attracted to his mother because his mother is still part of him.

It is autoerotism. It is not object relations yet.

So Freud got it partly right. Yes, the child does have an affair with his mother, but that's because the child is his mother.

This distinction between child and mother, which Freud had made, is wrong.

After the work of Anna Freud, the work of Erich Erickson, the work of Jean Piaget, we began to realize that Freud's presumption that children are born as entities separate from their parents had been wrong all along.

This would render the Oedipal complex possible only when and if the child falls in love and is sexually attracted to himself, never to an external entity identifiable as the mother.

In other words, ironically, the Oedipal complex is the ultimate manifestation of primary narcissism.

Primary narcissism has been first described and discovered by Sigmund Freud, but he didn't put the two together. Not only did he commit this mistake, but he didn't realize that the child is pansexual.

In other words, the child is not Sigmund Freud. The child doesn't realize that they are women and men. The child doesn't identify genders. The child doesn't understand that opposite genders attract or same genders attract. The child has no concept of sexual attraction or sex drive. The child has this diffuse energy, very much like a light bulb, and he directs this diffuse energy inwards, never outwards. And this diffuse energy doesn't make any distinction between mother and father.

His competition with the father is actually internal. He merges only with the mother. He fuses only with the mother.

So the father has no place in this internal economy. The father has no position in the child's life, no meaningful contribution until much later.

Because the child merges and fuses only with his mother, he regards his father as a challenge, an intrusion, but not on his mother. He doesn't compete with his father for his mother. There's no reason to compete with his father. His mother belongs to him. His mother belongs to the child. His mother is the child. Why would the child compete with his father for his mother when the mother is part of the child? There's no risk here. No danger, no challenge of losing her.

The child can never lose his mother. She's part of him. But the child does push his father awayand he pushes his father away because he's unable to cope with external objects. He copes the child is able to interact only with internal objects.

So his mother is internalized. His mother is introjected. His mother is inside himself.

He loves his mother because she's part of him. He's sexually attracted to his mother because she's within him, and he's sexually attracted to himself. His non-existent self includes actually his mother.

His father has no part in this theater play. His father is not an internal object. He is an external object.

Children up to the age of two years old do not perceive external objects. They do not interact with external objects.

Remember, narcissists are like that. Narcissists remain stuck at this stage. They're two years old.

Therefore, when the father tries to intrude on the ideal or the paradise that the child had established with his mother, the child pushes the father away.

The child wants the father gone because the father reminds the child of the existence of a world to which the child cannot have access, has no access.

So these are the real dynamics of the Oedipal Complex.

I will summarize them for you.

When the child is born and for the first two years of his life, he internalizes his mother. He renders her an introject. She is a part of him. They are one, a single organism.

He does not make a distinction between himself and his mother. Actually, he is not aware of the existence of any external object.

Of course, the child directs his sex drive, his love, his libido, his Eros, whatever you want to call it, the child directs this energy at himself.

The first object the child falls in love with is himself. The first object the child is sexually attracted to is himself.

And because mother is a part of him, then he would be sexually attracted to her too. Because she is him. She is one and the same like him. He would also love her, of course.

But he would not love his father. He would push his father away because the father remains an outsider. The father maintains his status as an external object and the child is unable to relate to external object. He perceives them as threatening intrusions well into his second year when he starts to separate from mother.

When he starts to realize that there is a world out there and that this world is populated by external objects, one of whom is his father.

Of course, the introject complex is the mirror image of all this. Simply change the pronouns and you get the picture.

So I promised you an old family viewing and I kept my word. Thank you for listening.

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