Firstly, in any discussion about ‘the oedipus complex’, it should emphasised that this is most decidely NOT some way-out Freudian myth, but is a reality in humans lives, almost without exception. 

The word ‘complex’ could be defined as ‘a process, or complexity of thoughts or actions brought about by subconscious mechanisms which exist as a result of repression’

Despite all the controversy surrounding the works of Sigmund Freud, it cannot be denied that his influence is felt to this day, and without his contribution to modern psychology many of todays unanswered questions could never even have been posed.

The controversy has been created largely because of the terms he used to describe certain human problems.  Even the term we now are describing “the oedipus complex” is highly contentious as any rational human is going to assert that he/she never wished their father dead. 

Switch to talking about the Freudian expression of “penis envy”  and every feminist movement in the world will leap up in protest, and again, any rational female is going to deny ever “wanting one of those things”

Most people have heard about the “Oedipus Complex” but few know the legend on which Freud based his hypothesis:

The story of Oedipus

Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta. Before his birth it was prophesied that he would murder his father. To avoid this calamity, the child was given to a herdsman who was told to kill him. The herdsman, out of pity and yet fearing to disobey, instead gave him to another herdsman, tying his feet together and piercing them with a stake (which caused him to permanently have swollen feet – hence one meaning of Oedipus which translates to "swollen foot"; it also comes from the Greek root meaning knowledge).

The herdsman took the infant Oedipus to his master, the king of Corinth, Polybus, who adopted him as his own son.

Many years later Oedipus is told that he is not the son of Polybus. To confirm this, he seeks help from an oracle and is told that he is destined to kill his father and mate with his mother. In his attempt to evade the dictates of the oracle, he decides to flee from home to Thebes on the other side of the mountains.

As Oedipus was travelling by horse to Thebes, he came to a crossroads where he met a chariot, which, unbeknown to him, was driven by Laius, his true father. A dispute arose over right of way, and the outcome was that Oedipus killed Laius.

Continuing his journey to Thebes, Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, who stopped any traveller and asked him a riddle that none had yet been able to solve. If the traveller failed, he was eaten by the Sphinx. The riddle was “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?"

The answer was “Man." Oedipus solved the riddle, and the Sphinx threw herself to her death.

The gratitude of the Thebans led them to appoint Oedipus as their king. Oedipus was also given the widow Jocasta (who was also his mother) as his wife. Over the years, Oedipus and Jocasta had four children – two sons, Polynices and Eteocles and two daughters Antigone and Ismene.

Many years after the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta, a plague struck the city of Thebes. Oedipus, with his typical hubris, asserted that he could and would end the plague. He sent Creon, Jocasta's brother to the Oracle at Delphi seeking guidance and finds that the murderer of Laius must be found and either killed or exiled.

In a search for the identity of the killer, Oedipus sends for the blind prophet Tiresias, who warns him not to try to find the killer. In an angry exchange, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the killer and suggests that he is living in shame and doesn't know who his true parents are.

Undaunted, Oedipus continues his search. When a messenger arrives from Corinth with the news that Polybus is dead, Oedipus still worries about the prophecy that he will mate with his mother. The messenger reassures him with the news that he is adopted. Jocasta then realizes who Oedipus is and goes in to the palace to kill herself. Oedipus seeks verification of the messenger's story from the very same herdsman who was to have left Oedipus to die as a baby. From that herdsman, Oedipus learns that the infant raised as the adopted son of Polybus and Merope was the son of Laius and Jocasta.

Thus, Oedipus finally sees that at the crossroads he had killed his own father, and then he had married his own mother, Jocasta.

Oedipus goes in search of Jocasta and finds she has killed herself. Taking brooches from her gown, Oedipus blinds himself and Antigone acts as his guide as he wanders blindly through the country, ultimately dying at Colonus.

That is where Freud got the name from, for his explanation of  “The Oedipus Complex”    

The femine version is usually called  “The Electra Complex”, based also on a Greek myth, in which Electra wanted her brother to avenge the death of their father by killing their mother. 

Surprisingly, that name ‘Electra Complex’ was given by Carl Gustav Jung and NOT by Freud, who rejected the name on the grounds that “it seeks to emphasise the analogy between the attitude of the two sexes”.

Now let us get to layman terms and the actual effects of this complex.  The absence of a male parental figure during the formative years, or the presence of an aloof and unemotional figure, almost always has an effect on the developed adult.  

One of the effects can be a strong ‘mother complex’ where the adolescent / teenager,/ adult, clings, almost pathetically, to the ‘apron strings’.  The ‘King’ Elvis Presley actually going so far as to take his mother with him when conscripted in the US Army and drafted to Germany.  She was installed in a mobile home at the camp perimeter.

Probably the most ‘normal’ of the complexes, and the one which is common to most humans, is where the child (male or female) strives for the sole attention of the mother figure. Appreciate the fact that the mother figure, being the one who feeds, (unlike the father,) provides all the three basic needs – love, nourishment, and security. 

In order to achieve that sole attention, the father figure must be discounted, and the infant experiences those three requirements; love, nourishment and security, plus the birth of sensual feelings (much later to become eroticism) at the knee of the mother.  Come the unconcious realisation that this fixation is unhealthy – then repression takes place, simultaneously separating two main streams of development   …..  affection and eroticism.   Thereafter the person will never again experience those two feelings at the same time (unless pure hypnoanalysis intervenes). 

Many, if not most people, would deny that such a separation has taken place, and it takes a high degree of self-honesty to appreciate that there can be tremendous affection during sexual foreplay, but there arrives a moment where pure eroticism takes over, and for a while the affection is stifled, arising again as the erotic feelings subside. 

Only the ex-analysand, or occasionally the most educated (not to infer academic education) of people, would recall “erotic” feelings, (in reality, only sensual feelings, but themselves the precursor of eroctica) having taken place for the parent, but any mother will confirm that such feelings DID exist in her infant, indeed, in the infant boy’s case the feelings were visibile as they frequently raised an erection.  

It is really only the ex-analysand who is likely to be able to recall such happenings, and even they, post-analysis, will succumb the recollections to ‘disavowal’ – as opposed to the previous repression.

Freud disapproved of the term “the Electa Complex” because he was adamant that both sexes experienced similar feelings at this early stage of development.  In both the boy child and the girl child, the father was a nuisance because he competed for mothers attention. The developing infant has no real concept of the meaning of death.  Indeed a child would blatantly say “I wish you would die” if some adult was being particularly pressurising.  What the child really means is “I wish you would go away and not come back”, so to say the infant actively wished for the death of the father figure is doubtless an overstatement, perhaps let us settle for a simile. 

Even so, the wish for the father figure’s ‘death’ (simile or no simile) does produce guilt in the infant, and we all know that when guilt succumbs to repression then symptoms of neurosis follow in the wake. 

Here, despite Freud’s adamant stance on the similarity of feelings, we must accept that there ARE different reactions in the two sexes.   The boy develops his very first ambition in life as a result of his father;  he wants to be as good as his father, and admonishments such as “eat it all up or you will never be as big as your dad” only contrive to encourage this. 

Soon, as part of natural development, he will produce the further ambition of being BETTER than his father.  The girl child produces the ambition, with the subtle difference, of being good enough FOR her father.